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Men and Women Still View Marriage Roles Differently

”I had wanted to get married,” poet Jill Bialosky once wrote, “but I realized now that I had never wanted to be a wife.”

There’s something about being a wife that causes some women to feel diminished — “an asexual being who is long-suffering and exists only to pop out babies and slide a casserole dish out of the oven every now and then,” as one Slate commentor put it — and others to get all starry-eyed.

But why?

It’s marriage itself, according to sociologist Jessie Bernard, who noted some 50 years ago that how a marriage was experienced depended a lot on whether you’re the wife or the husband. Forget about “two becoming one” when a man and woman marry; in fact, what we really experience is a “his” and a “hers” marriage — a husband’s and a wife’s. In general, she noted, marriage generally benefits the hubby more than the wife.

True, marriage was a lot different in the early 1970s, when women had fewer options. It’s now 2013, the age of stay-at-home dads and breadwinning moms, the age of equal partnerships.

Well, not quite.

Heterosexual marriage, especially among white, educated and well-off couples, is still a gendered social reality and a gendered institution, or so argue sociologists Karyn Loscocco and Susan Walzer in “Gender and the Culture of Heterosexual Marriage in the United States.” The two explore the work of Andrew Cherlin, whose book, “The Marriage-Go-Round,” attempts to explain the high rate of divorce in the U.S. While Cherlin does not take gender into account, Loscocco and Walzer argue that we must:

“The role expectations associated with being a husband or wife intersect with those to which men and women may more generally be accountable… people tend to be accountable to dominant gender beliefs whether or not they act on them and to treat them as shared cultural knowledge whether or not they endorse them.”

Which means even in the most equal of marriages, there’s an incredible awareness of gender and how a wife and a husband “should” act. And that continues to drive “contemporary heterosexual marriage and its discontents.”

And boy, are we discontent!

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