Tag Archives: gender roles

FOR MEN: Are You a Free Range Man?

blue3There’s a new kind of man surfacing in our culture. He’s unattached. He may be underemployed. And he’s under the radar of most women. I call him a free-range man but unlike the brave, wandering hunter of our anthropological past, this man is a fall out from the rise of women in the United States.

I talk a lot about the rise of women in America – the fact that these days for every two men who graduate college, there are three women, the fact that women make up three-fifths of graduate school students, the fact that women now make up the majority of the workforce, and the fact that in the age 22-30 demographic, women make more money than their male peers. And I often talk about one less welcome fact, that fourteen million single mothers are raising one in four American children.

But what’s happening to men in this culture of soaring and single parenting women? Well, some are struggling in terms of connecting. If they are making money, they may be accumulating assets instead of family. I once met one fifty year old, never married man, with five houses and six cars, and no children. If they aren’t making money, they may be rooming with other free-range men, or even living with Mom under the guise of caring for her. If these free-range men are divorced, they may be exiled from the life-sustaining social community that the ex-wife and kids won in the divorce. I think of the night in 1993 when a recently divorced OJ Simpson watched through a restaurant window, the dinner of his children and his wife’s family celebrating his daughter’s dance recital. Witnesses say they saw him pacing back and forth, like a caged animal stuck behind a barrier. Hours later, his beautiful ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, was dead.

More than ever, working class men are finding themselves single. Their female peers, seduced by education and careers, often come down with a case of what sociologists call, “The George Clooney Effect,” the desire for a higher status man as mate. Of course, the math isn’t in their favor. Many women are missing their fertility window as they wait for a marriage offer from a CEO.

In this month’s Atlantic Magazine, there is a horrifying story of a serial killer who targeted unattached, working class men by advertising on Craig’s List for a caretaker for a secluded farm. The killer seemed all too aware of the vulnerability of this kind of victim, as if their disappearance would go unnoticed. But, as the article eventually revealed, the murderer underestimated one thing — the degree of non-traditional connections these men had. One had a walkie-talkie relationship with a longtime buddy. When just one day went by without a radio blast, he was on the hunt for his friend. Another had a father/daughter style relationship with a young housekeeper, and still another had a sister who wouldn’t quit looking.

Humans are wired to bond. Having secure attachments and frequent social activities affect our biology. But in this era of mobility, loose family connections, and information based jobs, there is a group of able-bodied, thoughtful men, who are being given short shift.

Love’s Contemporary Conflict – Gender Roles


The cool thing about being men and woman in America in this millennium is that we can carve out the lifestyle we want. We can work full time or part-time, we can be mothers/fathers or child-free people, we can choose to get married, co-habit, or live in blissful autonomy alone with our canine. We can choose to be a homemaker or we can be really ambitious outside the home and make enough money to hire someone else to make our home better.

In our love lives, the choices are a little different. Women can choose to have traditional feminine gender roles in terms of care-giving, nurturing, communication, and sexuality or, now that women’s male energy has been liberated through feminism, they can be more male in their style of relating. All this choice is ultimately a wonderful thing, but it’s also creating a whole lot of confusion for couples. Mostly because men didn’t get the memo. They didn’t get it because women forgot to write it.

Gender roles are perhaps the least understood and the most subversive component in our modern love lives. Gender roles are different from gender identity (how we perceive ourselves as women and men) and sexual orientation (which gender we are attracted to.) Gender roles are what we do. The behaviors that reflect our feminine or masculine self as dictated by cultural and familial programming. In couples, much bickering, disappointment, and down-right confusion can be attributed to gender expectations that we are unaware of.

Behaviors that can be related to gender can be far ranging, from money making, to house keeping, nurturing, social scheduling, and emotional teaching and protection. I once lost total faith in a boyfriend when, on vacation, a late night knock at our hotel room door prompted him to suggest a paper-rock-scissors game as the deciding factor in who was going to get out of bed to answer the door. I was horrified. My personal gender conditioning includes a belief that men should function as protectors, first and foremost. Asking a woman to answer a door late at night felt somehow unmanly to me. Of course, I didn’t fully realize it until this event.

On the flip side, there are men who are very happy to have a female partner who’s out there by day carving the carcass with the best of them, but when it comes to social behaviors, they prefer something more traditional. A woman who acts “lady like” (whatever that is) in public helps some men feel chivalrous and masculine.

Perhaps the most contentious battle ground for nesting couples is the argument over who will fulfill which roles in terms of home nesting and maintenance. And it’s a battle that can usually be settled between two open minded people who have love and compassion for each other. That is, until a baby moves in. In the early stages of parenthood, most women are so biologically wired to take on the role of primary caregiver of offspring, that before long, those tired new moms have also inherited most of the home-making duties without their consent. This is not to dismiss the amazing men who become primary nurturers early on because their power hungry wife would prefer to wear a suit than a nursing bra (or simply because her gig pays a heck of a lot more). But you guys are still the minority. And when a once corporate woman, finds herself in the bewildering position of a traditional gender role, it can cause plenty of friction in her love life. And, in case this is news to you, the feeling of anger is the number-one killer of female sexual desire.

The answer is to examine our own gender expectations before we enter into relationships and to express them early on. Discourse is always the way out of conflict. There are some gender role tests available on the internet that can help you clarify your perceptions. And it’s important to be both open-minded to new ideas and clear within yourself about which gender expectations you simply cannot compromise on. Gender roles are a product of biology and culture and they are living, ever-changing part of our relationship landscape.

Married couple having an intimate discussion

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