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Getting Rid Of Gender Roles Won't Smash The Glass Ceiling

We need to get our priorities sorted.

24/08/2016 5:42 AM AEST | Updated August 24, 2016 05:43
Rick Wilking / Reuters
Having a woman in the White House would be great. But that doesn't mean we should scrap gender roles.

As it looks like Hillary Clinton might become the first female President of the United States, it begs the question: should gender roles be scrapped, or are we being a bit hasty?

Gender roles in our modern world just don't do it for us anymore. Who cares if mum or dad is the major breadwinner or stay-at-home parent? Gender roles are unnecessarily restrictive and limit individual potential.

They are also divisive. When men and women take on distinctive gender-based roles, it highlights our differences. Make women and men appear too different and we make it harder to get along, respect each other, and be friends.

Worse still, gender roles can actually promote a battle between the sexes. When one role is valued more than another, it creates a sense of injustice and a need for equal rights -- no one likes to feel oppressed. Besides, gender roles are just a construct of our society, and we can choose to make them whatever we like.

So should we just get rid of gender-based roles? Not so fast.

Men and women have slightly different desires to allow for our physical differences. Why give women breasts, for instance, if they aren't also given a powerful desire to care for and nurture their child? Why give men the extra strength and speed if they aren't given prominent desires to use them to help provide for and protect their family?

There are desires inside men and women that are going to be different and if we don't satisfy them, we won't be as fulfilled as we should be.

Where do gender roles come in?

As Luther Standing Bear wrote in the late 1800s, the Olga Lakota Indians of North America had gender-specific roles. The women weren't sent out to hunt or protect the tribe, but they had a similarly important role; to lay down strong foundations in their children of strong morals and proper living. Their tribe's happiness, and very survival, depended on it. Caring and nurturing was highly valued.

Indigenous Australians, before the arrival of Europeans, had secret meetings of only women and only men -- secret women's business and secret men's business. This helped them to validate and embrace their gender-specific roles. Captain Cook wrote in his journal that these people were much happier than Europeans. Gender roles worked for the Australian natives.

What I discovered from our ancient cousins is that when done well, when our gender roles are consistent with our inner desires, and respected and valued equally, they can work wonderfully and help us live more fulfilling lives.

So yes, we could focus on making the roles of women and men the same. We could even try to treat each other as if we are gender neutral, as if we have no real gender at all. We can make gender roles the problem and ensure important desires inside us are never met. But is assigning gender roles the real problem?

We live in societies that do not appreciate or truly value caring and nurturing; providing and protecting. Making money, having an important career, and becoming powerful are valued far more highly. If we truly valued caring and nurturing, would we really have so many child-care centers? Would so many new mothers be so quick to return to work?

Keeping women locked up at home alone with the kids isn't the answer either, and never was. Ancient tribes never left women to raise their children alone, they always had other women as close supports, and they were all actively involved in the goings on of the tribe -- everyone had a say.

So are gender roles really the problem, or are our priorities?

Could the sense of inequality, the battle between the sexes, the lack of feeling valued and heard, and the violence and frustration in our relationships simply be symptoms of what we have chosen to make more important -- the bigger mortgage, the better car, the higher prestige?

Having gender roles doesn't have to be a problem. In fact, they can actually help us feel more fulfilled. Not giving each gender role equal value, and especially not valuing caring and nurturing, becomes the big mistake.

And having gender roles doesn't necessarily mean giving up choice. It can simply mean choosing to act according to our authentic self.

A grandmother is potentially about to take office of a powerful nation. That's great. But that doesn't mean gender roles should be scrapped. Why not take a leaf from our ancient tribal cousins, learn to embrace our gender differences and roles and, like them, learn to value and respect each other, equally, as friends?

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