My paper from May 1995, continued...
Changes in the Men
A househusband is defined as a married man who does the bulk of the domestic chores and is in the case of families with children, the primary caregiver of the children. He does the cooking and the cleaning, as well as the feeding, playing, and disciplining of the kids. This does not preclude him from working, either inside or outside the home, but in most cases he has left a career, temporarily or not, and fulfills the domestic chores while his wife provides the resources.
The husband changes as a result. The socialization of gender roles is so strong, that “there is a contradiction between the status of being male and the status of someone performing child-care tasks.”6 The change of roles can create changes in personality, restructuring of priorities, and redevelopment of ideals. The men can find new insights into their relationships with their wives, creating a more egalitarian bond. Men’s attitudes about work outside of the home change, too.
In Beer’s study of fifty-five househusbands in New York, men reported both positive and negative affects to the change of gender roles. Many reported a loss of status, or even a loss of respect from their children, from leaving a good-paying job to taking care of the household. Some expressed a feeling of awkwardness as the only father publicly displaying traditionally motherly roles; as one father says, “I felt strange taking her [his daughter] to the park or the Botanical Gardens and being the only father there.”7 Because of their recollections of certain tasks as always done by women, some men report feeling “twinges of , ‘this is not my place.’”8
More telling, however, are the positive responses men gave to the question, “In what ways do you feel different about yourself since you started doing housework?” Many men reported new feelings of competence, self-sufficiency, responsibility, and closer relationships with the members of their families. As one respondent put it, he felt “more complete, more self-sufficient. I find that sometimes it helps my thinking, by doing something like washing dishes; you have some time and space.”9 Their new sense of independence affects their relationships with their wives: “I just feel that I’m sharing, that’s all. The family is a matter of taking part, of participating together. It’s alleviating some of the burden from the wife.”10 They also feel closer to the family, more intimately involved with it: “I feel that I am now a bigger part of my home,”...”I am in much more intimate and daily contact with the kids. I understand them better, I understand women better.”11 Approaching their families with new attitudes about what the appropriate roles for men and women, househusbands inevitably change their relationships with their wives and children. They have a new appreciation for what the traditional female role involves, though it is an unpaid position. They learn firsthand what wives and mothers must do, and what they must sacrifice, in order to fulfill their roles. More egalitarian relationships, though perhaps complicated in many cases by tensions over how tasks should be divided, are the result. A rise in the acceptance of equality by men and women begins with a rise in egalitarian marriages.
Changes in the Marital Relationship
In households where the gender roles had been traditional, with the husband working outside the home and the wife doing the domestic labor, and later were reversed with the husband at home, men face changes in the relationships with their wives. Men may be balancing a new sense of respect for their wives accomplishments with a feeling of ambivalence to the housework itself. Some couples may experience difficulties in dividing labor equally, in finding a balance between different standards for housework.
Although there may be tensions, househusbands are able to see their marriage as a partnership in all respects; the lines between exclusively male and exclusively female roles are blurred. As a result, when the gender roles, which may carry inherent value judgments for many men regarding the inequality of the worth of the work assigned to those roles, become interchangeable, the sense of inequality for the person performing the domestic tasks is diminished, and the marriage operates in a more egalitarian manner.
Traditionally, marriage has followed three patterns: the owner-property pattern, the head-complement pattern, and the senior partner-junior partner pattern.12 The liberation of women through the nineteenth century was essentially to move the relationship closer to equality by stressing the importance of the female sphere; with men cooperating in fulfilling the obligations of the domestic sphere and women cooperating in fulfilling the role of the breadwinner, a new equality in the decision-making power is achievable, even inevitable. A more open and sharing marriage can become a marriage of greater intimacy.
Changes in the Children
As the primary agents of socialization in a young child’s life, the parents and their attitudes about gender roles affects how that child will perceive his or her own obligations as a man or a woman. If a female child grows up with parents who share domestic tasks or with a father who is the primary caretaker of the children, she is less likely to grow up believing that she is limited to a domestic life, or that men are excluded from domesticity. Similarly, a young boy living with a househusband father may grow up accepting that the domestic realm is the responsibility not of the woman, but of the man as well. With the increase in the number of working women, the opportunity for men to take on a domestic role grows, and the culture itself and its socialized norms begin to change.
There is some evidence that children with fathers involved in their lives to the degree that a househusband must be have advantages to children who spend less time with their fathers. For boys, the process of socialization to male roles is heavily dependent on the behavior of all the males that a child perceives. With a father present, a child is less dependent on outside sources, such as television, movies, and peers, for learning the social norms for male behavior. Such a father’s opportunity for influencing his child is enormous, far greater than the father who is most often at work.
Girls, too, depend on role models for socialization when they begin to learn how to form relationships with men. A father in an egalitarian relationship with his wife provides a model for how relationships should be constructed, and the child of such a relationship may be more likely to seek such an equal pairing for herself, as well. Girls can be socialized to believe that wife-battering is acceptable, that the domestic sphere is the woman’s sphere, and that men are the accepted wielders of power in relationships. If the models of relationships in her life are contrary to that kind of imbalance, then she is more likely to assert her own equality in relationships.
The househusband role, though accounting for only a small portion of husbands and fathers, is a role that has tremendous potential for altering the structure of the family, the relationships of the members of the family, and the ways in which both men and women are socialized into an understanding of proper gender roles. A househusband is a father who is deeply involved in the lives of his children and husband who is understanding of the tensions of the female role and able to accept his wife on a more egalitarian level. In both of these roles, husband and father, a househusband has tremendous potential for deepening the intimacy of his familial relationships and opening up new opportunities and perspectives for his wife and his children.
Beer, William R., Househusbands: Men and Housework in American Families.
South Hadley, Massachusetts, Bergin & Carvey Publishers, Inc. 1983.
Lindsey, Linda L., Gender Roles: A Sociological Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc. 1994.
Rotundo, Anthony E., American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1993.
Scanzoni, John and Letha D., Men, Women, and Change: A Sociology of Marriage and Family. New York, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1988.
6Beer, Househusbands, p.73.
7Ibid. p. 77.
9Ibid. p. 78.
10Ibid. p. 79.
12Scanzoni, p. 263.
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