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How My Parents Defy Gender Stereotypes

By , 18, Contributor Originally Published: November 21, 2014 Revised: November 21, 2014

My parents are by far the two most important people in my life. For 18 years, I’ve seen my mother and father’s views on gender roles differ from other families, especially within my extended family. My parents, especially my father, have had a powerful influence on my perspective on gender roles.

A Family That Defies Gender Role Norms

When I was ten, I noticed that my male cousins, uncles and grandfathers would resort to heading to the couch and watching TV during family gatherings. Meanwhile, the females of the family would congregate in the kitchen. The men and women separated after meals. I assumed that that’s just what people do. My father, however, always stood out from the crowd and was the only male to help the women of the family—regardless of the tasks that needed to be done (cleaning, cooking, setting the table). Even before I noticed this division by genders within my extended family, my father was constantly lending a helping hand. Now I realize, he does not follow nor believe in gender stereotypes or this idea that certain jobs are only for women or men.

Breaking down gender-specific roles, cooperation and respect are like pieces in my parents’ relationship puzzle. In order to have a perfect fit, all of these things must come together.

Around the time I noticed the division of roles in my family, my grandmother told me, “Your father is rare.” Confused, I asked my dad what she meant. He brushed it off, telling me he wasn’t special or unique, but just another average Joe. But you see, he is different, in a good way. Over the years, I witnessed the expectations the husbands in my family had placed on their wives: dinner is prepared at a certain time and women/girls watch what they eat and dress to their husband’s liking, i.e. exposing or hiding cleavage. And the women in my family expected their husbands to work, pay the bills and complete handiwork around the house.

Luckily, even though a majority of my extended family fell into traditional gender roles, I was raised in a home that threw them out the window. I’m a triplet—one of three girls—and it took more than two hands to keep us preoccupied, as well as clean. I have heard stories about my father and mother defying gender role norms. Both of them took time off of work to look after us, becoming self-proclaimed professional diaper-changers. And after we were old enough to enter daycare, both went back into the workforce. My parents agreed that they needed to do whatever it took to make sure that my siblings and I were well looked after, including taking time off of work, bettering their educations for a chance at more advanced jobs and carefully spending money.

Two Genders Working Together

Not everyone in my extended family thinks the same way my parents do. Very recently, my aunt and uncle from Texas came to visit. Over breakfast, my uncle explained to me and my sisters that he was on a complex diet, consisting of extreme amounts of exercise and a healthy intake of food. After he told us about his gladiator-like lifestyle, I saw my uncle roll his eyes as my aunt ordered a pancake. He was clearly perplexed that his wife wasn’t making the same food choices as him. I wondered why it mattered that my aunt was choosing a pancake over granola. Obviously, he wanted to have some input about what my aunt ate. Frustrated by what I witnessed between my aunt and uncle, I asked my father for his opinion. He was just as shocked as I was about what happened. We both agreed that what my uncle did was rude and that he should have respected my aunt’s decision.

My parents’ marriage of 25 years is built on a foundation of respect, trust and not adhering to gender roles within their marriage. Some couples may enjoy more traditional gender roles, but my parents found that those roles didn’t work for them. When I asked my mother how her marriage has been successful for over two decades, she answered, “Respect, respect, respect. It has to be mutual.” My father agreed. “There are no roles in our marriage or in our lives. We are equal.”

Breaking down gender-specific roles, cooperation and respect are like pieces in my parents’ relationship puzzle. In order to have a perfect fit, all of these things must come together.

Amy is a Sex, Etc. contributor who lives in Colorado.

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