Gender stereotypes negatively inform the way we interact both with ourselves and with the people in our lives, shaping the power dynamics and traditional roles within our romantic relationships. So how can we help our partners get over gender stereotypes? These offensive cliches — which dictate how we speak, how we listen, how we behave, how we work, and how we help — limit our ability to be full, complex people.
This particular article focuses on heterosexual relationships and the stereotyping that shapes interactions between straight men and women. Whether we are emasculating stay-at-home fathers, shaming independent women who rely on their own incomes, telling men their emotions are unwelcome, or forcing women to take on a second shift of domestic labor following an eight-hour workday, gender stereotypes, courtesy of the patriarchy, hurt us all in different ways. "[This issue] is true for anyone — whether you are the woman or you are the man," Erika Martinez, Psy.D., licensed psychologist from Envision Wellness tells Bustle. "It doesn't matter. A man can feel emasculated because he is staying home, but a woman can feel a whole loss of her identity" when it becomes solely focused on motherhood.
Keep in mind that you may not have the energy or desire to enter a relationship with a person who needs to be educated about an issue like gender norms. But also remember that every single one of us is conditioned to believe certain ideas, and there was a time when you couldn't articulate or name these flaws in our society either. We all have to start somewhere, and as long as your partner is willing to be challenged and is willing to put in the work required to unlearn tools of oppression, he should be encouraged and respected.
Here are some things you can do to help your partner get over gender stereotypes:
1. Ensure That Stay-At-Home Dads Know They Are Awesome
The number of stay at home dads is increasing in the United States, Denise Limongello, licensed psychotherapist tells Bustle. While one would hope that this shift in traditional family gender roles would make men in this position feel normal and comfortable with the role, our society's media and cultural values continue to emasculate stay at home fathers. Gender stereotypes can result in feelings of shame and failure for men who are not the sole or prominent financial providers for their families — even though such an active parenting role provides countless important benefits to the family. But, of course, the fact that stay-at-home parenting is a historically feminized role results in the general lessening of that position's worth.
So, if a woman and her male partner have children, and her partner is a stay-at-home dad, how can she help him get over the gender stereotypes that are making him feel less than? Martinez stresses the importance of still collaborating and working together as parents and providers.
"As a couple, those people have to sit down and... come to that conclusion together," she says. "I think that many times what happens is that you have one partner that says, 'Oh, I'm making more money; it makes financially mores sense for you to stay home than for us to have a kid in daycare, which is more expensive.' The one partner, whether male or female, gets kind of thrust into this stay at home role. They feel obligated to do that." That's why, if a man takes an active role with his partner to decide that this is the best, smartest option for his family, it feels more like a choice than something he was forced to do because of his smaller income. Hopefully, this will reduce any discomfort he has with the important role.
Martinez adds that encouraging your partner to maintain his identity outside of his parenting role is key to your partner feeling happier generally, and also to maintaining the masculine parts of his identity (however he personally defines masculinity). "I think there has to be opportunities for them to still do that providing," Martinez says. "Whether it's keeping a part-time job, or just doing something that helps them feel like them so they don't lose their identity in being a stay-at-home dad. Keeping a hobby, keeping a kind of side gig. Doing something they love and really enjoy."
Of course, as women, we are very aware of the fact that our domestic and emotional labor is constantly ignored and unappreciated. It is very important to not recreate the behavior that has angered us for all of time. That can simply mean remembering to thank your partner for his parenting role, and letting him know how valued his role is by you. "Making your partner feel valued can enhance your bond and also lead to your partner’s increased motivation to help you and work with you," Limongello says. "Taking the time to thank your partner, as often as necessary, can be a great way to make sure he feels valued and loved in his role as stay at home dad, and, most importantly, respected."
2. Never Feel Bad About Earning More Money Than Your Male Partner, But Value His Role In Financial Responsibilities
Because gender stereotypes have conditioned us all to believe that men are supposed to be the breadwinners, lots of men are uncomfortable with the idea of a woman earning a higher yearly income than them. First of all, nobody's worth is defined by their income, but it's hard to feel that way in a capitalist society. Now, if you are casually dating a man who can't get over your independent woman status, it is up to you to decide if he is even important enough to educate on the matter. But if you are in a committed long-term partnership, both Limongello and Martinez stress including your partner in all family financial decisions — even if it is mostly your money — in order to remind him that he is still a vital part of the team.
"It can be extremely important to make it clear that this contribution is just as important as your monetary contribution and that all money is considered 'ours' instead of 'yours.'" says Limongello. "An example of creating a financial 'team' is to make an agreement to consult each other about money. For example, you can create a ground rule with your partner that you will discuss any purchase over $200 with each other. This collaboration can help your partner to feel just as important as you are in your marriage, even if he isn't technically the 'breadwinner.'"
Martinez agrees, and adds that partners should have lengthy conversations with each other about money values in order to unpack how they each have been taught and conditioned to use and organize money. She explains that this means looking into each others developmental histories, examining how parents managed finances, what families spent money on, etc.
Essentially, more women are celebrating and succeeding in their independence. "A lot of women don't want to depend on a man to take care of them," Martinez says. Understandably, women will then be very proud and protective of their income; it is their "blood, sweat, and tears," Martinez says. However, as she also says, "In any successful relationship, you need to shift from an 'I mentality' to a 'we mentality,' and money is part of that... and that can just mean saying 'We're going to spend the money together, and we are going to make financial decisions together.'"
3. Help Your Male Partner Love His Own Vulnerability
A relationship cannot grow without vulnerability; a person cannot individually grow without being vulnerable. Unfortunately, our society teaches men that vulnerability is a weak characteristic, leading many men to withhold emotions and refrain from communicating. Encourage your partner to open up by letting him know that his masculinity and attractiveness is not defined by a lack of vulnerability, and that you will not judge him for crying or showing fear; you would be happier in a relationship with someone who can be honest with himself.
4. Remember To Validate Your Own Emotions
Our world has quite a long history of oppressing women by labeling their demands and cries of injustice as crazy, emotional rantings not based in logic. That manifests itself in daily interactions with partners when, for example, your calm voicing of behavior that irritates you quickly escalates into a partner claiming you are crazy or overreacting.
As a woman, you may internalize this sexism and stop expressing your opinions for fear of coming off as "crazy." It takes a lot of unlearning, but by remembering that having emotions should not force you into silence and by behaving accordingly, you will challenge your partner's stereotypes about gendered communication.
5. Communicate Your Sexual Desires
Gender stereotypes, of course, also pervade the bedroom and impact how partners communicate with and treat each other in sexual situations. A study by University of Toronto and University of Western Ontario recently published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that men regularly underestimate their female partners' sexual desires; this stems from stigmatized ideas of misunderstood female sexuality. Women feel uncomfortable and ashamed of explicitly expressing their sexuality, and men feel certain that their own libidos are higher — stereotypes that women are frigid and lack personal motivations for sexual desire, and men are mindless sex robots.
Simple communication can challenge these stereotypes. Martinez says,"I think it's frowned upon for women to be overt with their sexual desires... women might try something a little more covert [to get sexual attention from her partner],"and blames this on women internalizing society's slut shaming tactics. "There is an assumption that men should initiate", Martinez says. "The man doesn't always have to initiate and the woman doesn't always have to wait for the man to initiate... Your ability to have a happy successful sex life is dependent on your ability to communicate your sexual needs to your partner."
6. Educate Your Partner About The Second Shift
Does your partner know about "the second shift"? The second shift is a sociological term coined by Arlie Russel Hochschild to describe how, in heterosexual relationships in which both partners work outside the home, it is still expected that women will take care of all household duties after a long day of work while men get to wind down from their work day. This extra load of labor for women, including laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc., is known as the second shift. If your domestic partner never offers to help with basic chores and necessities after you both return home from exhausting work days, you first must explicitly ask for your partner to help you with any specific tasks. And if he is reluctant, then it's time to educate him about the second shift.
7. Throw Down That Gender Studies 101
You have to decide for yourself whether or not the person you are dating is worthy of a relationship if their mindset upholds too many gender stereotypes. However, if you love your partner, but they are merely uneducated about the lengthy reach of the patriarchy and you want to open their eyes, engage your partner in conversations. If your partner loves you, he will want to better understand your existence, and better understand how the patriarchy limits his own existence, too.
These articles about harmful male stereotypes, subtle sexism in relationships, and counterarguments in response to subtle sexism are just a couple of pieces of required reading that you can send your partner's way.
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