Sunday, February 20, 2005

Gender roles in the neighborhood

I would say that I live in a pretty progressive area within a pretty progressive state. Yet, the vast majority of my neighbors seem to be following traditional gender roles very strictly.

Case in point: yardwork.

Mr. Jane and I both do yardwork. Sure, he is more likely to be the one mowing the lawn, but I chalk that up to the fact that he has less tolerance for tall grass than I do. But most often, when there is yardwork to be done, we're both out there---weeding, trimming, hauling dirt, raking, shoveling, whatever.

On a typical yardwork-y weekend, if you walk down our street you will see me, Mr. Jane, and the rest of the neighborhood men. Occasionally, my next door neighbor and diagonal-across-the-street neighbor will be out mowing the lawn or weeding. But other than that, there are no women in sight.

Fast forward to weekday mornings, the school bus stop on our block. Tons of kids running around. Tons of parents milling around. All women. Zero men.

Our neighborhood is oddly traditional. The men have the careers, the women are all either stay-at-home moms or have part-time careers. During block parties, there is hardly any mixing between the sexes: the women congregate on one side of the street, the men on the other.

I continue to find it odd that in 2005, the norm in our neighborhood is close to what the norm was in 1955. That we seem to live in this bubble of domesticity. That the only ones who deviate from this model are the ones who don't have kids, which would be us and the diagonal-across-the-street neighbors.

And sometimes I wonder, as Mr. Jane and I discuss the possibility of kids, of how we'll structure our lives around them, of having Mr. Jane be the primary caregiver....I wonder what the neighbors will think.


Andy said...

My wife and I had a deal. Whoever was making the most money when she got pregnant would stay working, the other one would stay home and be a fulltime house parent. I am sooooo glad I was making more money when the time came because there is zero chance I would still be sane if I had to stay home with the kids. However she loves it. So luckily things worked out for the best. We are weird for our neighborhood also. My wife worked in tech (artificial intelligence for embedded systems) before she quit to be a full-time mom. We quit going to neighborhood things because she just can't deal with the "never graduated high-school, stay home, weigh 500lbs, watch tv all day" women who make up the large majority of our female married neighbors.

What does Mr. Jane do? Does he teach as well?

Laura said...

Our next door neighbor is also a professor at the same school. The four of us are all often in our backyards doing work on yardwork weekends. I've never really noticed if our other neighbors divide up the work since most of our neighbors don't have front yards to speak of and work mostly in the back. At the bus stop (right in front of our house), it's a mix. Mr. Geeky never goes out because he's just gotten out of bed and is in the shower, but there's two couples where the dad almost always comes and one where the dad comes about 50% of the time. Despite these sort of non-traditional situations, what I've come to realize is that even if these people have non-traditional setups, they have traditional attitudes. In other words, even if the dad is at the bus stop, he thinks the mom should be and often, the mom thinks so too. Thus, why me and the moms don't always click.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Funnily enough, in my previous (VERY traditional) neighborhood in a rural area, there were LOTS of women out taking care of yardwork. It broke down a couple of ways, though: women did plants - flowers and vegetables (though I did see men do vegetables too). Some of this probably comes from the rural thing of actually growing your own food and canning and so on - more "women's work." Men did anything that involved riding large pieces of machinery. ;-) Seriously, everyone had the hugest ride-on mower they could afford, and you never ONCE saw a woman on any of those suckers (the winter equivalent was the snowblower).

Interestingly, in Grad School City I often saw women mowing the lawn - I remembering noting it because it WASN'T the traditional division of labor to me. I wondered if some of these were SAHMs whose lifestyle (staying at home) was contingent on husbands working WAY long hours, so the women took on ALL the housework, indoors and out.

Or they just liked doing it. ;-)

Personally, when we had a house, LDH did everything outdoors-y, but that's because I'm allergic to basically every tree and plant out there, so mowing the lawn is torture (plus, the time I tried it, I got eaten alive - by HOUSEFLIES! not mosquitos, but ordinary houseflies! I didn't even know they could bite! what's with that?).

Jane said...

Andy, Mr. Jane does not teach; he's a programmer and does a lot of freelance/contract his career is much more flexible than mine. But before I went into academia, we had a deal similar to the one you and your wife had. Tenure kind of changes the equation, though, and it's easier for Mr. Jane to go part-time than it is for me. Plus, he has more of a maternal instinct than I do.

New Kid, that is interesting about the women in your old city mowing the lawn. The best I've seen anywhere is 50-50 in terms of lawn mowing split. Strangely, I've also been attacked by flies before too (while hiking!), and I agree that it's no fun!

GM, interesting point about the attitudes being traditional even if the situation is not. Sometimes I wonder how much of this "traditional roles" stuff gets internalized even in those who outwardly reject or go against these roles....not sure what I'm trying to say, but I did find your comment very interesting.

Ianqui said...

Yardwork! Hah. Yeah, we don't really do that in NYC.

But as for the traditional roles stuff, this is something I think about a lot. I think Super G would go bonkers having to stay home with a kid, but then, so would I. Right now he's a postdoc, and that would offer a lot of flexibility, but he won't be one forever. So I guess we'll see who gets the greater responsibility for raising the rugrat someday.

jo(e) said...

I do all of the outdoor work: mowing lawns, shovelling snow, taking out the garbage, gardening, planting trees, whatever, because I am an outdoors kind of a person -- and my husband would rather do chores like laundry or kitchen clean-up, which are chores I hate. When we used to live in a neighborhood, and I'd be out mowing the lawn when I was obviously pregnant, the neighbors would say things like, "Shouldn't you get your husband to do that?" and they would often make sarcastic digs to him, sort of indicating he should be doing all the manly chores. People would have this weird idea that pregnant women just can't do anything physical, like rolling a garbage can to the curb. Whatever.