There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are comfortable with sex roles the way they are, and those who aren’t. A woman may chafe at the idea that she has to have children. A man may feel trapped by the assumed imperative that he have the better job and be able to provide for an entire family. (It could be argued that those who like the traditional roles are either just used to them or made to feel that they should want them.)
The different ways that men and women are perceived to be successful in their roles probably go back to our beginnings as human beings. The stronger humans went out and fought and hunted. They protected and they provided. The weaker humans tended to the home and the children (who they were tied to anyway, by childbirth and breastfeeding). But do these evolutionary developments still have cachet in the modern world? And can we break away from our biological leanings anyway?
Radical feminism says that the differences are moot and that there’s no reason why the roles can’t be reversed, or done away with altogether. Other feminists will concede that there are biological differences, but that they needn’t limit a person’s growth as a human being. I happen to believe that most of our differences are socialized into us. I also believe that this socialization hurts men as well as women. If women are able to break out of their society-given (not God-given) roles, then men can as well.
Feminists believe that all persons, male and female, have trouble fitting smoothly into traditional sex roles. They may be happy with them for the most part, but privately wonder why they can’t do things that the other sex does. The father wonders why his wife won’t let him take as active of a parenting role. The wife wants to have control over her own money. The man who doesn’t get custody of his children. The woman who can’t make a living wage. And I’m not even talking about the abuses inherent in sex roles: the father who uses his position to cow his wife and children into submission, the mother who passive-aggressively uses guilt to control her family. Domestic violence. Incest and rape. All these perversions are real problems that come out of forcing people to act just one way, when they might actually prefer to be something entirely different.
Sex roles have their place, but not when they feel like strait-jackets. All people should have the right to pick and choose what they want to be like. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom (and can afford it), then she should be one. If a man wants to be a stay-at home dad (and can afford to be), he should go for it. Society needs to be supportive not constrictive. It needs to make the most of each person’s talents and abilities and not be in the business of stuffing people into roles that don’t fit them.