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Gender roles used to say, actually, they still say…who does what. Women cook the meals and Men take out the trash. Women take care of the kids. Women do the dishes. Women do the laundry. Women shop for groceries. Men check the oil in the car. Women go to teacher conferences. Women vaccuum. Men mow the lawn. Men go to work. Men are in government. Men make the big decisions.

The economic empowerment of women in the past forty to fifty years has changed women’s position in the world forever. Almost half of the population, which was once dependent on men, has taken control of their lives financially.

To be able to say, “I can make my own decisions” is huge. It may sound simple, but when someone says, “Do what I say or you don’t eat,” you don’t have a choice. That was women’s situation not too long ago. Not that every man was like that or said things like that, but women had to rely on men to take care of them rather than being able to work to make their own money. And as much as I would like to believe something different, money is power.

Women’s BOOM presence in the workplace is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years.

Some of it has come because of social revolution, women wanting to be in the workforce and some of it has come out of economic necessity. Out of necessity, poor women have been working outside the home  longer than women from the middle or upper classes who now have careers. Still, social arrangements have not caught up with economic changes. Men and women both have not always figured out how to divvy up the household tasks that previously were taken on primarily by women. This includes raising the children, cooking meals, and cleaning the home.

If both people in a couple work, who does what?

How do we decide who cooks and who cleans and who takes out the trash? Well we can both do all of those things, you say. It doesn’t have to be divided up according to gender.

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have to be, but how do we know what to do? Bottom line is that often it falls to women to do what is traditionally women’s work, which if you work outside the home at all, is rough. And if you add kids to the mix? Women are doing everything.

Lesbian and gay couples have had to negotiate these gender roles in relationships for years. How do they do it? They either follow traditional gender roles according to who is more feminine or masculine in the couple. Or they talk about it and do something different.

Aren’t heterosexual couples doing that too these days? Some are, of course, but many are not. Many couples still live in the ice ages with very strict gender roles, men totally in charge and women completely submissive But for your middle of the road more with-the-times contemporary hip folk, it has somehow has become an understood thing that modern heterosexual couples don’t live by strict gender roles. The woman can take out the trash and mow the lawn and the man can cook and clean.What’s dangerous is that now that women can do everything, sometimes we get stuck doing everything.

You might say lesbian and gay couples are lucky in this aspect because they can start from scratch and with good communication, can make up what needs to happen. Or you might argue that straight couples have it easy because they can more easily use existing gender roles as a base for who does what. Either way, if it isn’t talked about, often one person gets stuck with the majority of the work, on top of their outside jobs and there could be a growing sense that things aren’t what both people originally hoped for.

Bottom line is communication. Couples must talk about who does what. They can’t just assume it will get done.  To assume is to revert back to patriarchal gender roles that leave women not having a life outside all the things they have to do and men not being full participants in their families and homes.

Don’t know where to begin? Here are some questions to get you started, but the bottom line is talk it up!

1. How many times a week can you cook?

2. If one of us cooks, do we agree the other will do the dishes?

3. Let’s try to maintain the house each day, but when do we clean? Do we clean together or do we clean on separate days and what does that mean? (laundry, vaccuum, clean out fridge, clean toilets)

4. How is outdoor maintenance taken care of? Who takes out the trash and what is the schedule for that? Who mows the lawn if there is one? Who takes care of the cars?

5. How do we make sure each child gets equal attention from each parent- and sees each parent participating equally in the relationship? Show them something different than traditional gender roles.

One more thing to consider: if you decide who takes the trash out, do they always do it forever and ever always? Or can who is responsible for these tasks switch? Keep the conversation going. Talk it up!