The other day I asked my newly married daughter how it felt to be married. She replied, “Sometimes I forget that I am married. I’m not used to calling Jeremy my husband. But I guess I’ll get used to it.”
Is it a good or bad thing that she doesn’t feel that different? It’s not surprising, that’s for sure: they’ve lived together for several years. But should we feel different when we become husbands or wives? Does marriage really make a difference?
There’s no definitive answer to that question. But it does call into question the concept of marital roles. How do these differ from other roles, like mother or father, daughter or son, employee, citizen, church member, etc. ? When you act like a wife, what are you doing? This used to be clear-cut: you kept up the home and took care of the kids. You were supportive of your husband. You followed him anywhere. You didn’t have sex with other men (or women). As the old adage says: Marriage makes you one, and that one is the husband.
At first glance it might seem that a wife’s role has changed dramatically. Some husbands stay home with the kids. Women go out of the home to work. A wife may even make more money than her husband. Sometimes the couple follows her job, not his. A woman’s career might be the most important thing in her life.
But have things really changed all that much? It’s still rare for a woman to make more than her husband. Many wives still “take orders” from their husbands. They live where he wants to live, vote the way he votes, keep his house and raise his kids. There may be some semblance of egalitarianism, but especially once kids enter the picture, the woman’s life is less autonomous.
Some would argue that a husband’s role is just as restricting. I don’t disagree. And there is also a whole world of difference between men of my generation (Baby Boomers) and young men today that I’m probably not taking into account. But women still have lower-paying jobs, less prestige, discrimination for being female, especially mothers, and less ability to shed their homemaking and care-taking responsibilities. They still have clear-cut roles they must conform to. The question is: will this ever change?
That’s a question that must be answered by succeeding generations of women. The feminist movement can only do so much; individuals must decide for themselves what roles they want to play and which they want to reshape or reject. The roles need to fit them, not the other way around.