Why the confusion about gender roles is a necessary step

D.H. Lawrence once remarked that, “The future of humanity will be decided not by relations between nations, but by relations between women and men.”

couple standing back to backMen and women are physiologically different, however we both share a common purpose and are spiritually identical.

Our inherent humanity urges us to develop our identities, to succeed where we are able and to live a life that nourishes our souls. To live with purpose. To leave our mark. To grow a family and to take root professionally in a chaotic world.

Our gender roles, which historically defined us and limited our progress towards these goals, are being deconstructed further and further each day.

We have long existed in a patriarchal system where men have had more rights and greater freedoms outside of the home to develop themselves. Take for example the Middle East where women can, even now, be publicly stoned to death for minor social infractions or honour killings still take place.

The dichotomy of a woman’s place

From ancient times, women have been confined to cooking, cleaning and child rearing. If a woman worked outside of the home it was in a subservient role, while men supported the family as key breadwinner.

Despite the lack of rights for women in ancient society, there was widespread worship of the goddess. Paying great homage to a mother figure in both ritual and religion has survived into modern times, even while women struggle for a defined and dignified identity in a patriarchal system.

This dichotomy has seldom been examined for its irony. Certainly in the last 2,000 years men have occupied a position of power, and have been conditioned to express it largely through subjugation and degradation. However, they have had to suppress the development of their emotional responses, it being considered a sign of weakness to betray them either publicly or even privately.

Changing times

It is only in the last 100 years that our gender roles have begun to evolve and change.

In the west, women were plucked from their households and upskilled in order to rebuild workforces and take over the running of the country as battle raged on. They were able to rear their children, tend to domestic duties and take on a full-time job, all at a time of great hardship. When the war survivors returned home, women were reluctant to demurely return to their domestic lives without complaint.

And so began a shift, a movement towards women’s rights and power. At the same time, one of men’s primary roles, fighting to protect the homeland, was being undermined by a change in attitude from the public. Returning soldiers were hardly acknowledged for the sacrifices they had made; civilians who had not gone to war shunned them.

This has been one of a number of factors that has led men into confusion about their roles and consequent sense of disempowerment. They have begun to express emotions, largely anger, resentment and fear. While women have entered the workspace fully realised, many men have felt robbed of their (immature) sense of authority.

traditional housewife and husband By the time the cultural revolution of the late 60s swung around, there was a blanket backlash against conservative and traditional gender roles. Western men started to explore their feelings through spirituality, group bonding and free love. A movement highlighted by the Beatles showed that potentially there was more than just a life of corporate drudgery.

The 60s also saw women evolve amidst a sexual revolution. There was an appearance of acceptability in society for a woman to be openly gay, bi-sexual, polyamorous or monogamous – interestingly, in the UK sex between women over the age of 16 had never been a crime, whereas the criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK did not end until 2013.

The balance of emotional equity in relationships had shifted too and parental roles were now being shared by men and women. Women could now be the breadwinner while their partner stayed at home with their children.

However, many men would still dream of the classical roles of men and women, not least because if a woman can do what a man can do, then from where could he get her approval? This is an elemental need in men, and it would call for a new measure for respect to be found and used as a benchmark (for a sense of self value and self esteem).

In today’s world

The generation born in the 80s and 90s was the first to be raised relatively free from historical gender stereotypes. They have come of age in the 2000s, when women are freer to express their masculine, and men their feminine traits.

However, these newfound freedoms come at a cost. With more women moving into high-powered corporate roles, men are experiencing uncomfortable competition which contributes to their resentment and angst.

There is a strong sense of confusion today between men and women. Is there any wonder that there’s anger? Prolific social media gives us all an opportunity to voice hard views. Unmoving opinions. There’s no dialogue. Despite all our progress, tensions between men and women are being exposed.

So how is this a good thing you may ask?

The only way we can unify and grow in a peaceful society with strong leaders is to encourage open sharing and communication between the genders. To encourage men to share their feelings openly and women to truly value the place men have in both their homes and workplaces. We can do it all, we can be it all. But only if we help each other, support each other and stop competing for space. The only way through it is with curiosity and conversation. We must hear each other out. And we must stand together.

The societal shift we are going through is indeed a necessary one for men and women today. It is helping us come to new ways of appreciating the opposite sex, as well as finding self-worth in one’s own gender – which can only happen through the freedom to fully express ourselves.

Thom Dennis

About Thom Dennis

As a business change consultant, I have been helping executives develop their leadership skills and decision making around strategy, gender and culture for over 25 years. Visit my website, Serenity in Leadership