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Couple Chat: Gender Roles

March 3, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela

Photography by Jennifer Schaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about gender roles. Here’s what they said.

What traditional gender roles do you feel are important to honor with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up, gender roles were very prominent. The ones I enjoyed seeing celebrated the strength of the mother of the family. The mother tends to get the family unit together, and all members would respectfully obey their mothers’ wishes.

My daughter will be free to choose to live whatever life she wants, and I want her to feel confident and demand respect wherever she is. Women tend to be seen as a source of knowledge and compassion, and I would like to instill that in my daughter as well. She should learn to be thoughtful in the decisions she makes, and understand how it impacts others.

Mario: Before we knew we would be having a girl, we both always thought we would have a boy. One of my concerns was not having a traditional father figure. I created my archetype of a father figure through a collection of influences from role models and family influencers.

Now that we’re having a girl, I need to reflect on what my daughter will need from me as a father. I feel I have to be an even stronger figure for a daughter. I felt content and ready to be an example for a son, but I now have to be even better for my daughter. I need to reformulate my idea of a role model and use both male and female examples. For instance, my grandmother, who fought and led her life the way she wanted, is an example of a strong role model for my daughter.

What traditional gender roles do you want to ignore with your child, if any? Why?

Ana: Growing up in the Latino culture, there were several things I disliked about gender roles. My father constantly pushed me away anytime I wanted to spend any quality time with him. Several times I requested to go fishing with him and my brother, asked to help him fix the car, or just sit and watch some of his favorite western movies with him. He refused and would say that I was a girl and that I should be in the kitchen helping my mother.

That’s what I ended up doing—all the activities that were expected of me as a female: cooking, cleaning, playing with dolls, and wearing dresses. I ended up resenting it growing up, which caused friction between my mother and I as I constantly challenged these roles my parents and society were placing me in.

When I found out we were having a girl, I was excited that I had the opportunity to challenge gender roles with my daughter. I do not want her to experience these situations that only caused me heartache and confusion. As an adult, I am very grateful for the life skills my mother taught me. I just wish it had been something I wanted to learn, not a forced expectation of me.

Mario: Many times I’m at a loss for what a woman should strive to be. I always felt my son was going to have a responsibility to be a good man. I still struggle with what it means to be a good woman. Fortunately, I married Ana.
 
How do you think you can honor and ignore those roles when raising your child?

Ana: I think the best way to honor and ignore these roles with my daughter will be through not pointing them out at all. Modeling positive behavior and not limiting her interactions with either my husband or I should demonstrate to my daughter the best way we’d like her to interact with others and us.

I can’t imagine having any kind of conversation with my daughter in which I tell her that she has to be a certain way because she is a girl and not a boy. Now that my parents are grandparents and are helping raise my two nieces, I can definitely see that they have relaxed a bit regarding gender roles. I’m hoping that by adding another girl to the family, they will focus more on encouraging them to be strong, responsible, smart women, and encourage any interests they may have.

Mario: I want my daughter to learn from the strength and passion of my grandmother. I want her to learn of the irrational success of Ana. How she has become an amazing social climber, regardless of the poverty and abuse she faced, the limitations placed on her, the poor education she received, and the environment she lived in, all while being a woman. Ana is an amazing role model.

I can honor the positive gender roles by providing examples and a strong archetype of both men and women who help society, help their families, and help others. I can also teach her to care for herself and to understand the inherent value she possesses as a person.
 
I can teach her to understand the limitations of others and to not let them affect her own sense of self, her progress, and her potential to improve this world and the world around her.
 
Reflection
Ana: Mario and I always thought that we were going to have a boy. This made Mario very comfortable, and me secretly uncomfortable. Since we found out we were actually having a girl, Mario has been worried about this role and I have felt very secure.

In this exercise, Mario expressed that he needs to be an even better father now that we’re having a daughter. We both agree that we want our daughter to feel strong and confident, and not be confronted with limitations.

I was surprised to discover that we both are worried about some of the interactions our daughter will have with our families, as they still engage in some of the gender roles that we do not want to promote with her. Mario wants to utilize his grandmother and myself as role models for our daughter. On the other hand, he was very surprised with my answer that gender roles do not have to be pointed out to our daughter at all. And he agreed with that concept.

Through this emotional exercise, I finally understand why I wanted to have a daughter – because I now have the opportunity to change the definition of gender roles with her. And now I also understand why Mario wanted a son – because growing up without a father, he wanted to change that experience into a positive one with a son.

Mario and I have both used our anger, frustrations, and struggles growing up to drive us to the successful lives we now live. Although that helped my success, I do not want my daughter’s success to be out of anger. I would rather her success be out of empowerment and through us as positive role models.

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