Gender Roles dum dum dum

This has just been one of those days.  Not in a one of those days in that I want to kill everyone and go home and cry about my life, but one of those days where I’m just so pleased with life.  So pleasantly surprised by life and its happenings.  Today was one of those days.  

It started with sleeping in a little, and then two hours of preschool.  Preschool went so well today, that I thought this blog would be about that, but then…..

This evening we hosted English Club, as per the regular happenings of Tuesday night.  Being the lazy person/terribly busy person that I am I was looking for something relatively easy to do.  I settled on hosting a debate.  The topic:  gender roles in the family.

To my surprise, it was a delightful English Club.  I mean really, I thought that maybe they wouldn’t be too into it, and perhaps wouldn’t be so enthusiastic to argue for a side that they don’t agree with.  Instead, both sides did amazingly and argued passionately for their side of the issue.  

Often I do find myself trying to fit Ukraine into a series of small boxes.  I do this without really thinking about, or recognizing it.  I have been sent here in many ways to observe and categorize this culture and this country based on my experiences.  I am asked to do mapping exercises, and to fit this place into our tiny organized boxes.  More than that we are asked to, in many ways, attempt to assimilate to the culture and the people which involves a bit of generalities.  It involves a lot of observation and  then to draw conclusions based on the presented information, while allowing yourself to be presented with new, and perhaps contradictory, information and shifting, changing, and molding your conclusions based on your now deeper and deeper knowledge of the country and culture.  

In this way, I have deduced that largely gender roles are a thing here.  That by in large, women have roles and men have roles.  Now, I’ve come to this conclusion, not because it’s what I want to believe about this place I love, but because of the information I’ve been presented with.  Because of the people that I am around, and the families that I have been exposed to.  

Tonight, as we discussed this topic during English Club, I was so surprised at so many of our men who were taking a real stand for the breaking down of these gender roles.  Young men saying that with the internet, anyone can do anything, and that men and women have equal opportunities in this world to work and take care of a family.  That men can also help take care of babies.  Oh how I loved it.

I was talking later with my friend Olya, and she and I had a really fabulous conversation about gender roles and it has led me to the two things I want to explore further here.

1.  The effect of denominational/religious views on the ideas and implementation of gender roles in the family.  
Olya and I were talking about how she feels like all the boys at the student center really do feel like gender roles are a big thing, and that’s why she might not want to date Christian boys.  She feels like that the bible makes these boys feel better than women, and that they are somehow elevated above us poor females.  I told Olya, that I feel this kind of thing less in The States, but that I also felt like that had a lot to do with the fact that I’m Methodist.  I am in a religious tradition that values women.  One that allows women to hold the highest roles in the church hierarchy.  We empower and validate women and their place and calling in this world, and I think that our family structures reflect that.  I know so many families that are built as partnerships.  So many families where the wants and needs of one do not outweigh the other.  Where the relationship, and all the goings on in it, are a conversation, not a dictatorship.  I think that, in part, that has to do with the way that my church treats women.  With the way that my church enables women to be pastors and bishops.  We affirm everyday the equality of women every time we appoint a woman to serve as a pastor or bishop.  We aren’t perfect, of course, by any means, but we’re trying. 

In other faith traditions that do not allow females to have equal roles to men, and in more fundamental circles, I feel that this idea of male superiority in the household is dominant.  Now, I’m not saying that to infer that women are less respected or loved in these traditions, but I am saying that often it is the case that the role of the woman is more submissive to the man, more dependent on the man.  

I do very much feel like a lot of the folks at the student center are more fundamental in their outlook in general of the bible and its teaching.  Not in an extremist way, but in a super conservative sort of way.  It is the opinion of Olya that the boys at the student center want to help her, not from the goodness of their hearts, but from this desire to be the man and be the head and be this biblical idea of what a man is.  In many ways, I see her point.  I see where she’s coming from.  I think the bible has many amazing things to tell us about marriage and relationships.  I don’t think that that message is primarily that women need to know their role and raise the babies and clean the house.  Olya sees this sort of thing as a problem with the Christian boys, and I hope that we are doing a good job teaching our young men that that is not what God has for us within the boundaries of marriage.  God wants us to have a happy and fruitful partnership with our spouses.  One built on love and trust and faith in God.  One that allows for the individuals to grow closer to God through their union.  

We need to challenge ourselves as a church to teach our boys and girls these things.  We need to challenge ourselves to not just preach to our young people about purity till marriage (another blog post coming soon), but what it really means to be married.  What God has for us through this holy union.  And if in that marriage the lady wants to stay home with the kids while the man works, awesome.  If the lady works and the man stays home with the kids, awesome.  If you both work, if he does or doesn’t do the dishes, if she does or doesn’t cook, if neither of you can cook, if you hire a nanny, if you hire domestic assistance, if you are both dedicated to each other and your careers, AWESOME, as long as that is what works for your family.  As long as that is the responsible conclusion that both parties have come to, and have decided will be best for their family and their walk with God together.  Super duper.  Seriously.  Do what do you do.  But there has to be this conversation.  Communication has to be present for any marriage to work.  And if we’re not teaching our young people that, we are failing them.

2.  The conversation about gender roles is not about you personally.
This conversation isn’t about you personally.  This conversation isn’t about me.  It’s not about the personal choices I have made for me and my family, or that you have made for you and yours.  These are your choices.  If you are happy with them, then I am happy for you.  This conversation is about the greater conversation of women’s rights.  This conversation is not just important for my family, it’s important for this world.  It’s important for the world I want my future daughters to grow up in.  It’s about the world I want my boss’ baby and my new nephew to grow up in.  

This conversation is about why we still discriminate against women in the workplace.
This conversation is about why we still, as women, earn less money than men.
This conversation is about why there are fewer women with political authority all over the world.
This conversation is about why there are fewer women CEOs in the world.
and on and on

This isn’t about my personal choices, it’s about the choices that are being made for me based on my gender.  It’s about people not wanting to hire women because they are ’emotional’ or they would have to pay me for maternity leave one day.  The reason that we still have to talk about gender roles is because all over the world women are being forced into the boxes that men have made for us (though let’s be serious, plenty of women have helped it along).  Boxes that include babies and mops.  We have to continue to have this conversation until one day we look around and realize that women in this world are doing what they want and what they need to be doing.  Whether that is in the family, the church, or the workplace.  I support any woman that makes a decision to stay at home or work.  I support any woman that’s realized her ability to choose her life, but I DO NOT support employers who take away that choice, or men that consider us second class citizens.  I do not support any structure that considers women to be somehow more unreliable or unable to work to their standards.  

This conversation is so much bigger than talking about who cooks the meals.  This conversation colors so many going ons in the rest of our lives.  It colors the way that we look at the world, and how we treat and make decisions for others in it.  When you view men or women as no more than the stereotypes that we have assigned to them in your personal life, that effects how you treat them in your professional life.  

At one company I worked at, I recommended an old friend for a job.  I remember the hiring manager looked at me before my friends’ interview and asked me if she had kids.  I recall saying, yes, and then the hiring manager looked at me, and said, ‘it doesn’t make a difference, it just lets me know what I’m getting into.’  Why did she ask that?  Women with children more often call-out or are late due to child related causes.  Be that illness or babysitter problems.  Men almost never get faced with this kind of question.  Why?  Because even if a man in a household is the one that would leave work for a sick child, it’s not the expectation that he will.  We do not hold in our mind the concept that the man would take on the care taker role, and therefore whether or not he has children is not relevant.  

This is what I’m talking about.  Conversations about gender roles and our concept of what that phrase means for both men and women have to happen.  We have to continue to discuss them so that we may not find ourselves victim to them. 

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Today has been that kind of day, and boy am I happy it has been.  I am so grateful to be able to continue to explore life here.  To explore not only Ukrainian life, but my life and the lives of others as we share this piece of dirt.  Conversations like the ones tonight are sacred, and stretching, and it makes me say, I love my job.

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