Identity

Even In Queer Relationships, Outdated Gender Roles Are Rampant

A 2016 study finds that boring gender norms still influence American ideas about who should do chores and take care of the kids in relationships.

by Diana Tourjée
Aug 24 2016, 5:48pm

Photo by Alexey Kuzma via Stocksy

Everyone I know is a high-powered androgyne in an asexual relationship. I thought that there were no gendered behaviors or norms any more. But research has found that gender stereotypes are intrenched in American attitudes towards relationships, particularly when it comes to the assignation of boring things like household responsibilities—including the dreaded cooking and cleaning.

Comprised of 1,025 subjects who were surveyed about how people in relationships should share childcare responsibilities and chores, the Indiana University study "Making Money, Doing Gender, or Being Essentialist? Partner Characteristics and Americans' Attitudes toward Housework" revealed that many seem to be stuck in a 1950s nightmare.

Read more: How Black Domestic Workers Organized Without 'The Help'

Researchers designed eight vignettes, or eight sets of information, about fictional, married couples who were straight, gay, and lesbian. As in the unending queer theory course that is millennial life, gender and sex are distinct factors in their study, and the vignettes reflect this. In order to characterize masculinity and femininity without explicitly identifying one of the partners as masculine or feminine, the researchers assigned them stereotypically gendered hobbies and interests. For example, one male partner was more interested in playing basketball on the weekend, while his husband preferred shopping.

The study aimed to measure how sex and gender, as well as relative income, influenced how respondents would assign each partner the following household duties: "cooking, washing dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, outdoor chores, making auto repairs, and managing household finances." It also measured perceptions of which partner should handle the physical care, emotional care, and discipline of the kids, as well as which partner should retire from professional life in order to slave for them.

The results reveal that dated attitudes about sex and gender roles still shape our perspective in the home: Even for gay couples, respondents assigned traditionally feminine duties like cleaning to the feminine partners by a significant margin. Financially speaking, people were more likely to assign physical childcare and cleaning and cooking types of chores to the partner who earned less money.

All the women I know are too busy eating cheese-covered potatoes to clean.

The sex factor—as in, whether someone is male or female—was a stronger driver than either gender or income in the study, meaning that the share of duties of straight couples were distinguished greatly by sex. "Sex was an overwhelming predictor of responsibility for chores and childcare," Natasha Quadlin, the lead author of the study, told Broadly. "Even after accounting for partners' masculinity/femininity and relative income, chores and childcare tasks were strongly sex-typed—for example, around three quarters of our participants thought heterosexual women should cook, clean the house, do the laundry, and shop for groceries, and almost 90 percent of our participants thought heterosexual men should maintain the cars and outdoor spaces."

Gendered interests were the most influential characteristic in gay and lesbian couples, meaning that non-heterosexual partners who were into romcoms got saddled with feminine duties while their butch counterpart often did not. Gender was more influential among lesbian and gay partners than it was in straight partners, who are all about sex, regardless of which partner actually had more masculine or feminine qualities. "For heterosexual couples, people rely on biological categories of male and female to determine who should be doing chores," Quadlin said. "But for same-sex couples, where both partners have the same sex, social categories of masculine and feminine become more relevant."

To me, these findings are kind of annoying. Men and masculinity are obviously passé; it is 2016 and gender has been divided infinitely, yet stupid chores are being assigned to girly people by a generalizable sample of American citizens. But Quadlin has a different view. She believes these findings show us that "heterosexual men are not immune from stereotypes when it comes to housework," because, "men are overwhelmingly expected to do stereotypically male-typed chores, such as auto maintenance and outdoor chores."

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Quadlin also points out that gendered behavior and income didn't matter much when it came to straight guys, suggesting that only women are persecuted for having stereotypically gendered preferences, such as spending Saturday at the mall and enjoying lighthearted films with hot celebrities. "Even if men are more feminine and earn less money than their partners, they are not expected to do more chores and childcare than they otherwise would," Quadlin said. "Although we often think of masculinity as 'fragile' or 'precarious,' we found that men weren't necessarily penalized for lacking masculinity."

All the women I know are too busy eating cheese-covered potatoes to clean. "Americans' attitudes toward chores and childcare don't seem to have caught up with the times," Quadlin said. "Heterosexual women are often in a double-bind—they're expected to do most of the housework and childcare, and those expectations don't go away even when they out-earn their spouses.

"Although we have policies aimed at equalizing earnings between men and women," she continued, "those policies won't be effective at promoting gender equality if our gender attitudes don't follow suit."