I have to admit that as a little kid I was spoiled growing up with my grandmother around to cook for me. As a former restaurant owner, her Italian cuisine was incredible and I still go over to her house every chance I get. She loves to cook for me and she loves to entertain guests. Even at 87 years old, she lights up when she’s with the family and offers us warm hospitality.
My grandmother was the product of her environment, growing up in an era of traditional gender roles where men were responsible for being the breadwinners of the family, while women typically stayed at home with the kids as the caregiver. My grandma, however, held a variety of roles throughout her life, as a beautician, a chef, a mother, and a wife.
That being said, I was also raised with the belief that a man’s job was to love and take care of the women of his family. To this day when it snows, my sister stays warm inside while I go out with my dad to shovel the snow. When the sewage pipe broke last week, I was the one cleaning it up with my dad — and let me tell you: my sister did not have any problem letting us handle it.
If you ask my grandma, she’ll tell you she had a good life and continues to enjoy caring for her family. You could say she’s only saying that to make the best of the social norms of society that she lived in, but I’d like to believe there are still people out there who aspire to carry on the traditions of our culture in the same way she did.
Today, traditional gender roles often come under heavy scrutiny, typically deriding the family roles inspired by Christianity. Television shows like "Mad Men" portray the worst of men from this era: cheating and abusing their wives while women go crazy living a life within the confines of their home. I should point out that Christianity doesn’t condone mistreatment of women, and the caricature the Left paints of how the Bible teaches how to treat women often takes the form of hateful propaganda.
Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” When taken out of context, that sounds pretty terrible. Later, Ephesians 5:25 says, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.” This is meant to convey the idea of mutual love and respect, sacrificing their lives for each other.
It’s unfortunate that the far left is often prejudiced against Christianity, although I can’t say I haven’t heard some conservatives rudely asserting that “women belong in the kitchen.” Similarly, right-wing media tends to sensationalize the “feminazis” who are militarized against heteronormativity. But as I was explaining to a former Marxist co-worker of mine, attacking the truth of Christians is no different from attacking the truth of a trans person — no one has the right to judge another.
Last semester, I took a gender and sexuality studies class. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as the semester progressed I began to understand that these types of roles and identities were the typical assumptions of most societies.
Examining Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, we discussed the struggle of women throughout history in how assumed patriarchal societies often led to the oppression and abuse of women. We read about horrible acts of violence — men attacking women with battery acid to scar their faces if they didn’t do as they were told, traditionalists beating and abusing women who didn’t dress to their standards appropriately, and a mass rape epidemic committed against women who didn’t fit in with their society.
I hesitate to include more because of how I’ve seen ignorant right-wing commentators simply use these examples to attack other cultures and societies to affirm their own. Still, these are real problems facing that region of the world. Sadly, mistreatment of women is happening everywhere, including our own society, and traditionalists must recognize that everyone has the right to assume the role that they decide.
At the end of my class, I was left with the idea that I didn’t have to hold on to the assumptions that I was raised with. I could be anything I wanted to be and my relationships didn’t have to be based on the culture I grew up in.
To truly grasp the concepts taught in post-modernist based theory classes, college students today have to be prepared to give up everything their parents ever taught them to believe. Typically, conservatives resist this process, but with humility, I took the plunge and was left without any assumption of identity.
But then, when I thought back to how I was raised, we had great times and I love the traditions of my family including the roles that the men took. Even if that means I have to clean up sewer runoffs, that’s OK with me.
I hold no prejudice against anybody who chooses to be something other than a traditional identity and totally respect their rights as I hope they would do for me. As for me and my family, I’ll be searching for a woman to love and honor while carrying out my family traditions.
William Nardi is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Rouser.