Gender roles between the old and the new

In traditional societies and even in modern societies men are expected, as part of their manhood, to be providers. I have, and still advocate that men be providers but I have made it conditional to the type of women they are married to, if at all. Simply put, we must view traditional gender roles in terms of the duties that were traditionally allocated to them and not in terms of the actual gender. If a man works and earns money, he will be financially liable to spend of that money on his family. If a woman works and earns money, she will be financially liable to spend of that money on her family. Part of the unequal system of the past, that treated men as different to women, was because men assumed different roles than women. However, is that still the case? 

The right to earn

Women have fought for the right to earn and have won in many first world and Western countries as well as in some Eastern and Middle Eastern countries. The outside society, the domain of the workplace, is no longer the domain of men exclusively, as it often was in the past. Countless women in society earn more money than countless men. This is a mere function of the economy and we are living at the cross roads between two social orders at variance with each other. In a free market economy people had to hire the best people for the job because it would more readily guarantee higher profits. In the world of yesterday, and arguably in the world of today, men are the best people for most jobs. Men have better work ethic than women, overall, because they’ve been doing it for longer. The outside world rarely accommodated how people feel and whether based on their feelings they were able to work that day or not. 

Men experienced very little down time because they do not bleed once a month for seven or more days, they do not experience epic mood swings as often and they do not fall pregnant. If it were up to enterprise, the free market economy, in the natural order of society, most men would have jobs. Since there are only a set number of jobs, that would leave little jobs over for women aside from those jobs that society had deemed more naturally feminine, like teaching little kids. However, since gender equality laws have been instituted by governments the world over, companies are forced to employ a certain number of women so as to ‘rectify’ the wrongs of the the past. As a function of communism, essentially, women must occupy half of the jobs. In the long run, this would result in a lot more highly competent female employees on the one hand, and shift the economic balance on the other. It would no longer be an option for women to work if they deem fit, but a necessity. 

Often, religious feminists blame men for their failing to provide and therefore resulting in women being unmarried, while overlooking the fact that there are a limited amount of jobs for surplus labor. Since women are also in the job market, this means that these limited jobs will be shared between both men and women. Hence, men who earn less than women or equal to women and fulfil the same function, and who are also unemployed, cannot be breadwinners. At the heart of the problem, women who now have the right to earn have become obligated to earn and they bemoaning that. Incidentally, though, women themselves are a direct influence on the economy and have, by flooding the labor market and reducing the price of labor, been instrumental in the demise of ‘the traditional male breadwinner.” 

Between a rock and a hard place

Contrary to popular beliefs around gender, the issue at hand is a female issue more than a male issue. Frankly, countless men are not that unhappy being single and or playing the field while keeping all their money, their cars and houses to themselves. However, the same can’t be said for women. I’ve witness countless women complaining about having to work, the very ‘right’ that they fought for so valiantly. Women complain about the demise of masculinity, chivalry, and protectiveness. However, women also complain about having to cook or clean, and be mothers. The fact is, the world cannot accommodate the whims of women- as a collective. It’s not that governments aren’t trying to accommodate women more and more in the work place by creating longer periods for maternity leave, having nanny services at work or at gyms, and trying to offset the burden of children and childbirth through more sophisticated means of birth control and the legalisation of abortion. The truth is, no matter what society does to accommodate the liberation of women, it will never be enough. That’s because women were never, historically, given independent will but assumed the function of maintaining cultural mores and social norms. They were part of a puzzle that formed the society, they were not the society itself. They were not placed at the centre and made to be the very definition of existence. Today so much is contingent on women. They are not only responsible for bringing home an income, running the economy (or half of it), but they are also responsible for birthing the generation of tomorrow- the greatest casualty of our feminist experiment. 

The religious feminist men and women

Worse still, is the religious feminist who wants the ‘right’ to work and earn but doesn’t want the obligation or responsibility to spend on her family. One of the biggest contributors to human happiness is responsibility- feeling useful. We have in effect told religious women that they are nothing but chattels, with only one duty- to have sex with their husbands and please them. In exchange for that religious men will spend all their money on said women. This assumes that women themselves do not benefit from having sex and that only men benefit from it. In effect, the religious feminists are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. They want to benefit from a traditional system without being traditional husbands and wives. The man wants his wife to cook and clean, and be a breadwinner at the same time, doubling up on roles. The woman wants her husband to be a breadwinner, cook and clean and pamper her while she saves all her money for expensive bags and shoes.

You’ll find a destitute man struggling while being married to a wealthy woman who is then emasculated by the system because he cannot provide for her according to her status (kafa’ah). Alternately, you get societies in which impoverished men simply cannot marry, nor can wealthy women marry because wealthy women cannot marry poor men though both groups are largely single. This is said to be because religion dictates that poor men cannot marry wealthy women because he would not be able to maintain her financially despite that she can adequately maintain herself and hundreds of poor people. We end up with a mess that we’ve created and then finally when no one can marry, when women sit back alone in their apartments with their money and no man, and when men do the same, we say, let us content ourselves finally because it was never meant to be. 

The solution

Rather than be pedantic about gender roles, both men and women, religious or otherwise, must realise that they have together built or inherited a society wherein it is not possible to have vastly traditional expectations. Men often earn less than women in western countries and can barely afford to maintain themselves, let alone maintain themselves and a woman as a dependant. Women on the other hand do often maintain themselves and even have some casual relationships to cure their chronic loneliness. However, the minute they are offered marriage they want men who are wealthier than they themselves are and who can ‘take care of them’ financially. I argue that we should view marriage as a contractual agreement of cohabitation. In that agreement, both a man and a woman can be breadwinners, or one of them can be a breadwinner and the other one not, according to what they choose to do. There are no set gender roles in the 21st century where we have actively sought to eradicate all inequalities and stereotypes. You cannot ride two trains at the same time. In the past, while women were often not breadwinners, they also worked incredibly hard to look after an often big family (in the absence of birth control) and would do all they can to make life more bearable for their husbands. This was because husbands often worked as manual labourers and had incredibly tiring and difficult jobs. Life was incredibly difficult for everyone. The greatest lie in the 21st century is that we can have it all. We can’t. The price women paid for independence, is just that; independence. 

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