Roles Don’t Always Have to Be Gender Roles

Megan Rosker gives an honest take on the idea of gender roles and masculine qualities.

What’s good about masculinity? I am embarrassed to admit this question was at first hard for me to answer. I know there are great things about men. I know there are great things about women as well, but I find it’s very difficult to verbalize what these are. It simply isn’t a “politically correct” thing to do. With the rise of the idea of genders being “the same and equal,” what characteristics are left to be assigned to a specific gender? Can I say that my husband makes me feel safe, without someone pointing out that if I just took a few self-defense classes I could feel just as safe on my own? Can I say that my husband is an excellent provider without being told that I should be able to make just as much money?

But the truth is that each gender has its own unique role. They are different and one gender is simply not better than the other. Before the rise of patriarchy and before the backlash of feminism, before all the social mumbo jumbo that now trips us up when we want to speak honestly about what our best qualities are, there was an organic way we would each respond to the responsibilities that are placed up on us.  Granted this was thousands of years ago, before we crawled out from behind the rocks. I’m not suggesting we move back into caves and start hunting with spears. I do think, however, we should question how we would answer this question without the influence of patriarchy and feminism.

Without these influences would it feel so unsettling to say many men are great protectors and providers? They keep their families from harm. They protect them by providing homes and keeping their families well fed and their needs met with the money they work hard to earn.

This is not to say all men are better than women at these things. This is not to say women are bad at these things. This is not to say women can’t do these things, but we need to start respecting the unique and beautiful gifts each gender brings to the world.

Our world would be dim without the imagination and creativity of femininity. In fact we wouldn’t be able to lead our society without the new, imaginative vision that femininity provides our culture. As well our children wouldn’t be as well cared for without our nurturing and tenderness. These are qualities we haven’t valued in our current patriarchy because there is no money associated with them. Since these qualities are not best for protecting and providing and since we are ruled by a male perception of what success is, we deem the most powerful feminine qualities useless.

This simply isn’t the case.

We could look at this way, would a quarterback ever condemn himself for needing an offensive line? Would he condemn himself for not being the biggest, toughest guy on the field? If he did he would be missing the fact that the team can’t operate without him. It requires his vision and his execution to make his team succeed.  Eli Manning would never be happy as an offensive lineman, nor I suspect, would he ever be as talented at it.

That is how I feel about men and women. We don’t possess the vision we need to flourish, the power we need to execute, and the strength we need to carry out all that we imagine without the full expression of both the masculine and the feminine. In this scenario, we simply don’t provide the same qualities.


So what is good about masculinity? In my experience, in my personal relationship with my husband, it is his physical strength, endurance, and fierceness that I love. I love that he embraces his duty to provide for our family with a deep understanding and sense of responsibility. Whatever vision it is that I possess, he provides the support that is needed to carry it out.

It’s not to say we can’t each possess these qualities at different times, but generally speaking this is how our roles are divided. These are his greatest assets.

But the key to finding out how we function best in our relationships isn’t to follow a specific social role. Rather it is best that we each express ourselves as completely as we can without the inhibitions of being “politically correct”. Then we’ll begin to see a more natural and general definition arise of what is the masculine and what is the feminine and we can begin to respect what is good about each.

—Photo daveynin/Flickr

About Megan Rosker

Megan Rosker is the mom of three young children, a former teacher and ed and play advocate. She writes about how to change education and the culture of childhood in America. Her advocacy has been featured in the New York Times and she is the recent recipient of the Daily Points of Light Award.


  1. I agree with a lot of the comments here – and I absolutely see typhon_uncensored’s point.

    In addition, we’re taking a lot of things for granted when start attributing traits to men or women. First, the idea that we all started out that way. Sure, sure, men have more upper body strength, etc, so yeah back in dawn of people, they were the hunters. But anyone think we’re still built like those early people? The fact is, the biological differences between men and women today and in our culture are so small compared to differences in the greater animal kingdom.

    Second, I take great issue with any scientific or otherwise study saying their are great differences between the sexes in terms of personality. OF COURSE THEY ARE. We’ve been taught, since we popped out and were given a pink or blue blanket, that we’re different. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have a study in our societies today to discuss personality or otherwise differences between the sexes and attribute it to something biological – because you absolutely cannot rule out upbringing and culture. Period.

    Finally, much of what we believe to be “back in the dawn of time” differences between what men and women do (e.g. “women are creative!” “men are strong!” ugh) actually come from the dawn of agriculture, of owning property, and of the oppression of the few over the many. They have roots there, not in our swinging-through-the-trees ancestry. And that, btw, is because European culture became strong and is the root of culture most of the people reading and writing here today. The fact that Europeans took over the world has nothing to do with the fact that men generally (but not always) wielded power – but because we had some key things (think guns, germs, and steel). Other societies throughout time have existed in other hierarchies and communities – the fact that they are not the history makers does not mean they did it wrong (they were consumed and destroyed by others for a host of different reasons, or exist today outside our frame of reference), but rather that human beings can exist in many, many different societies. It speaks to the diversity, not their weakness.

    And, you know, I’m getting a little tired of the cis/heteronormativity here. What about the trans? The queer? Those of us that live and express their identities far beyond the gender binary? We’re completely ignoring them.

    • It would be a little more accurate if you said physical strength vs. upper body strength. Men also have more lower body strength too.

      • Even the relative proportions of physical strength between men and women could be a biological construct.

        Men likely have always been marginally stronger then women(15-20% difference in size/mass is actually rather minuscule compared to other mammals in which the male is twice as large as the female _or more_) but the difference in strength may have changed over time due to changing social roles.

        A courtisan is proportionately less strong then a knight then a peasant woman is to a peasant man.

        • the physical differences in terms of strength between men and women is more biological than social. As most know women just don’t have enough testosterone to compete (muscles can’t get as big or dense, bones can’t get as dense, body structure makes the CNS insufficient for firing properly). The courtesan may have less strength than the knight like a desk worker would to a weekend warrior, but the potential is still there (He will gain strength much faster than if he was a woman). Nothing holding him back a courtesan could get up one day and strive for the strength of a knight, the same way a desk worker can wake up and say he’s going to squat 400 lbs., a woman saying she’s going to be as strong as a man at their given bodyweights (say they both weigh 150, and I mean the goals of a man) is being less realistic (though not possible).

  2. Mistinguette S says:

    Essentialism creates so many problems. For example, whose definition of gender counts?

    “Providing homes and keeping their families well fed and their needs met with the money they work hard to earn” is a pretty succinct description of what I was taught is the essence of being a [working class] [black] *woman*.

    A woman, as opposed to being, not a man, but a girl.

    • Misatinguette, I agree completely with your statements. It’s about time we started admitting that most mothers are providers and should be respected as such.

      And it’s certainly time to start saying that every mother has a right to economic independence.

  3. While it is true there are no personality traits exclusively possessed by one of the two binary sexes (the relatively rare “intersexed” can’t be counted in the normal “binary”), on average, for the majority they are quite different:

  4. Matt Casto says:

    I think most educated adults who have been married and associated with other married couples can speak firsthand about the uniqueness of the sexes. I have laughed and argued my way out of many situations over the years using the “i am a man” position. I find myself at times misusing this stereotype but not very often. In recent years science has attempted to quantify what most people already inherently understand. Men and women are different! Does that mean that men cannot possess inherently feminine capacity or that women cannot possess inherently masculine ability? Of course not. In fact, one of the beauties of traditional marriage is that it provided a forum for the sexes to learn about each other, expanding, developing and growing. Most of my best qualities I learned from my wife as I watched her feminine power.

    • But the problem with traditional marriage is that it is male-dominated. There is nothing beautiful about traditional marriage. BTW, I hope your spouse is an excellent provider and protector.

      • ht tp://
        marie: Sorry, but I was offended when the author called herself a girl, especially since she called her husband a man. Phrases like ‘man and girl’ demean women.
        I wanted the author to say that she is the luckiest WOMAN in the world. I wanted her to say that her husband rejoices in her feminine power – her super-logical creative mind, her amazingly strong, flexible body, her phenomenal resilience and determination. I want her husband to admire her strength and brilliance. And I want her husband to be a tender, nurturing homemaker who makes lots of career sacrifices so that she can be at the top of her field.

        if you are the same marie that posted the above.
        then in your world for a het couple, it is not acceptable for a man to be the provider and the woman to homemake, but it is acceptable for woman to be the provider and the man to homemake? it would be one thing if this is how you wanted your own relationship, but as you forcefully advocate it for others too. why would you believe that?

        do you also believe that only women should rule the domestic sphere? that only women should rule the economic, spiritual, political, social spheres etc ?

  5. Janet Dell says:

    OR maybe, just maybe, people spend too much time trying to come up with the right answer, instead of realizing there is no right answer. Live your life, try not to harm others and leave this world a better place than you found it.

    This whole gender thing to me is simply too many people trying to make too much money off other peoples misery. Oprah Winfrey made billions off mostly womens insecurities by telling them everything thing they do is right, that men are wrong and that they are most oppressed class in North America.

    A former member of GMP is doing the same thing though not making billions.

  6. If these traits aren’t unique to men and women, why should we bother celebrating what’s good about a gender at all? It seems the only way to do this is to focus on gender stereotypes, which weaken the people who don’t fit those roles.
    I like that this piece advocates looking honestly at what a person’s strengths are, but I don’t see the need to go the next step and describe those strengths as masculine or feminine. Sure there are wonderful things about the individuals we know, but that’s exactly how we should celebrate people’s qualities: as those belonging to the individual, and not their gender.

    • This!! Exactly!

      The trick is, “observing” differences between the genders does great harm to humanity. Namely, it displaces individuals. Not only does not everyone fit into their gender, but most, in fact, don’t fit completely. There are guys who love to arrange flowers and girls who live to play football. If you say “Well football isn’t very feminine but you go girl” then you’re still marginalizing her. You are, on the face, cheering her on, but at the same time you’re still imposing a negative judgment. It’s like saying something like “Wow, you’re a really good florist for a guy!” The fact is, underhanded compliments and underhanded support don’t do anyone any favors.

      As everyone can observe, there are no traits that belong specifically to either gender. It makes more sense to celebrate people’s accomplishments on the level of the individual, rather than considering them a cheerleader for their gender.

  7. Here’s the thing.

    Patriarchy, distilled to its essence, is men being stronger then women. Yet the (I assume) feminist women on GMP writing about ‘what’s good about men’ are pointing to their husband’s superior strength as what’s good about them. (And, by implication, their own relative weakness.)

    So at the same time as condemning the idea that men are stronger then women or the socialization that makes men stronger then women, they are supporting the idea that the very essence of their relationship to their male partners is rooted in their male partner’s strength and their relative weakness.

    Let’s take the dynamic to its logical conclusion… if your husband was even stronger then he is now, would you love him more? What if he was even stronger then that? What if he was so strong you couldn’t move a step without him?

    In fact this entire dynamic seems really bloody unfair to men. On the one hand feminism wants to dismantle all the social institutions that lead to men getting a sense of being stronger then women and yet, on the other, these feminist women don’t seem to be challenging the idea that their love for their male mates is based on their male mates being stronger then they are.

    No wonder gender relations are in a state of decay!

    • “it is his physical strength, endurance, and fierceness that I love. I love that he embraces his duty to provide for our family with a deep understanding and sense of responsibility. Whatever vision it is that I possess, he provides the support that is needed to carry it out.”

      So you don’t think your husband is a great nurturer? It sounds like you have a very male-dominated marriage.

      Indeed, why isn’t your husband celebrating your physical strength, endurance, and fierceness? It takes TREMENDOUS physical strength, endurance and fierceness to bear a child.

      This article had a lot of pretty words, but basically, it supported the male-dominated status quo. Sad.

      • “Indeed, why isn’t your husband celebrating your physical strength, endurance, and fierceness?”

        She doesn’t give evidence that he is not doing those things.

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