I had a unique opportunity on Friday night - I got to hear Stanford law professor Ralph Richard Banks speak about his controversial new book, Is Marriage for White People?. While the main topic of his book is another post for another time, Banks mentioned something about gender roles I felt worth mentioning.
Banks remarked that rarely does our society tell girls growing up that they need to go to school and find a profession, so they can support their husband and children. It's sort of odd to think of saying such a thing to a little girl or a young woman. On the other hand, this is often the message we send to boys.
I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to be whatever I wanted to be - even a profession that would be considered "male." However, I don't think that encouragement--either from family or from society in general--was framed in terms of making sure I could support my family. Implicit in the notion of a woman developing a profession is that she can stop at any time to stay home with her children, while her husband continues working and providing, at least monetarily, for the family.
I absolutely do not see anything wrong with women staying at home once they have children. But, the reality is that a lot of women have become successful and have risen professionally, with plans to continue working even after having children. Specifically in the African-American community, women are becoming lawyers, doctors, and other professionals at much higher rates than men. This inevitably means that many women will end up as the higher earners, or even sole earners, in relationships.
Because of these implicit ideas about gender roles, and the reality that many communities face, it can become somewhat awkward or challenging if a wife is more "successful" professionally than her husband. I have more schooling than my husband, and a friend from law school works while her husband (who also has less schooling than she does) stays at home to care for their children. Does this mean our husbands failed to fulfill their roles as men? Of course, I don't think so, but society and the things many tell their children growing up would say otherwise.
On a related note, given that today is Halloween, I wanted to share this ad I saw on Sociological Images. Gendered Halloween costumes tend to pigenhole little girls as fairies, princesses, and ladybugs, while boy costumes allow for more job-related themes (although Batman and Harry Potter aren't "real" jobs!):
And though these aren't Halloween-themed images, these toys and the labels for children's suitcases also demonstrate the messages we send to little girls. Girls are babysitters, while boys are scientists. The boy's suitcase is labeled "pilot," but the girl's is simply "pilot's assistant." So girls can't be scientists or pilots too?