Ditching Father and Resisting Gender Roles

There are other reasons I am leaving Father behind.

[See my previous post, Relationship: Parent, my most-viewed blogpost ever, for my initial explanation of why I’m leaving this term behind.]

For one, I increasingly reject gender roles. The terms Mother and Father are filled with notions of parental responsibility and care (good!), but are also laden with narrowly defined, culturally contrived gender roles (not good). I want to minimize the extent to which I emphasize gender roles  - consciously or subconsciously - in my parenting and in my life in general. Defaulting to the gender-neutral Parent is one, albeit small, way to do just that.

gender roles

Culturally defined gender roles dangerously limit our understanding of who we are and who God created us to be. Men are supposed to be tough and emotionally barren. Women are to be pregnant with care and emotion. Men like sports. Women like crafts. Men hunt and protect. Women gather and nurture.

Hogwash.

Sure, I get that there are some hormonal impulses that drive certain behavioral tendencies based on gender. Yet I also get that gender is not simply binary, and that culture and the power dynamics found within culture define – and limit – our understanding of gender and role much more than do any legitimate hormonal or biological frameworks.

Several years ago, when I worked as a youth director I attended a major youth ministry conference at which one workshop purported to help attendees “confront false sexual identities.” If we had a male in our youth group who acted too feminine (ie, who we suspected of being gay), we were to give him a set of tools and have him do masculine service projects. If we had a girl who was acting too masculine (ie, who we suspected of being lesbian), we were to have her join the ladies of the church in the sewing group or church kitchen.

Seriously. This is horrendous in terms both of its understanding of homosexuality and of gender roles.

But I don’t have to go to a conservative youth ministry workshop to find such gender stereotypes. Turn on ESPN and watch a few commercials. Or turn on Disney Channel during their pre-teen line-up. Walk through a mall. Gender stereotypes are alive and well in the twenty first century, and the pressures for our young people to live up to such gender-based expectations are much stronger than is our lip service about equality.

gender roles childrenAs a parent of three children, I want my children to grow up with fewer gender-based, culturally contrived expectations for their role, behavior, interests and abilities than I did. I don’t want my boy to be told to “suck it up and be a man” when he is hurt on the soccer field, nor do I want my girls to be told to “act like a lady” when they go out to dinner. What the heck does it mean to “be a man” or to “act like a lady”? Both of these admonishments tell children to live up to some contrived norm rather than live into their own identity.

Furthermore, I want my children to grow into their gender identity and affections comfortably. I want them to discover and embrace their sexuality in a healthy manner, guided less by princess tales or hero stories, or pressure to be attracted to or by the opposite gender, but instead by listening to their own bodies and feelings. I want my children to hear from their parents and their church that they are created beautifully in the image of God. I want them to fall in love with themselves, their God, and, in time, with a partner who will love them and see the beauty in them. Overly narrow gender roles stifle this process of healthy growth into one’s gender and identity.

Gender roles are being thrown at our children left and right by what they see on television, encounter in school, and experience in the culture at large. Has progress been made over the past two or three generations? Absolutely, particularly with the growing involvement of girls in sports and sciences, and women in leadership in the world. I am thrilled that my children can see a woman elected Presiding Bishop of our church, and women in leadership in politics, business, and throughout society. The growing acceptance of homosexuality is further sign that our understandings surrounding gender and sexuality are broadening and becoming more inclusive.

I hope that gender expectations will have less of an impact on my kids than they did on my generation or that of my parents … but I’m not sure that’s the case. I just think the impact is different than it was in years past. For all the progress that has been made, I worry about the simultaneous and opposing trend that is sexually objectifying girls, and teaching boys superiority and dominance, at ever younger ages.

As a concerned and caring parent, I want my children to be who they were created by God to be, with fewer gender-based cultural expectations hurled at them. Language has its limits, but it is also quite powerful. The ways I speak with them about who they are, who I am, and who God has made them to be, is one way I seek to minimize the collateral damage of gender role stereotypes in the lives of my children.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Family, Society, Youth Ministry. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Ditching Father and Resisting Gender Roles

  1. Pingback: Relationship: Parent | The Lutheran Zephyr

  2. JAdamK says:

    I think this post is very valid, and some important issues are identified, and I think this post takes a firm stance on addressing the issue, but does so in a more narrow way. For a long, long time, I have viewed gender issues and race issues as incredibly similar. You can’t chose either, and each has been used to put down a set of the population by another set of the population. Both gender and race have created cultural and societal inequalities. This is injustice.

    All those things mentioned in this post will influence children, but in my research I would state NONE of the things a child will be exposed to will influence them as greatly as their own parents. To me it seemed one gist was we should intentionally ignore the gender stereotypes that exist. “I won’t use the term father but instead will use only the term parent.” To me – the reality is out there, whether we acknowledge it or not. For me, I hope to be a FATHER and buck the stereotypes of that. Why would I let the world tell me what it means to be a father? If my son wants to play with dolls that’s cool – it’s a form of using his imagination. If he wants to play with a firetruck, that’s fine too. And both of those would be just fine for my daughter as well. As soon as they are able, I’d talk to them about it- I’d say “isn’t it silly that people call this a girl’s toy or a boy’s toy? And isn’t it silly that some people try to make colors be a boy’s color or girls color?! All these things are gifts from God, and God wants us all to enjoy all God’s gifts! And if we watched a movie we’d watch stuff like Shrek and I’d say it’s pretty cool that she chose something different than what we thought she might. She knew real beauty is on the inside. Children’s movies have made moves to make the female character the real heroine, it’s not just the boys that save the day.

    Some of these gender based assumptions come from a legitimate place – our cultural DNA. We have certainly evolved past our caveman phase (BUT find me an average teenage male that doesn’t have SOME attraction to fire). So we will continue to evolve and that’s wonderful, but the differences between genders comes from somewhere and where it all comes from isn’t all bad. Men used to be the strong providers, mothers used to be the gentle nurturers. I stil hope that my children have at least one parent that is strong, and at least one parent that is gentle, and maybe those roles can and should go back and forth.

    Now coming back to why I brought up the race thing. I don’t think race or gender should used to discriminate a part of a population. Women shouldn’t be seen as second class citizens, nor should people of color. BUT here’s where I differ on this post, I think it’s great to CELEBRATE the differences. People from different backgrounds have different cultures. That’s pretty cool. I love to learn about different cultures, different traditions, differences are good! If everyone in the world was the same 1) it would be a really boring place 2) If God made all of us in God’s image, than suddenly that image just got duller. Men and Women ARE different. Races are different! That’s a good thing, but coming back to it, both men AND women are made in God’s image. We are definitely different but both are invaluable, because of whose image we are made in.

    One other minute statement I disagree on – I would absolutely tell my daughter to act like a lady out dinner, right after I told my son to act like a gentleman. Ultimately those terms are used in reference to people that respect themselves, and respect the people around them. It’s also being polite, not interrupting other people, knowing how to carry themselves. These are just details. But to me these terms are way less about gender than they are about manners.

    If/when I am blessed with children I want to raise them to celebrate the differences among people, but differences don’t make us superior and/or inferior, we are all completely equal. I want my child(ren) to have a father that is different than their mother. She and I certainly are the same, and in some ways very different. Already in life I tend to be more demonstrative/nurturing than my wife, and that’s perfectly ok. Not a typical gender identify, but that doesn’t matter. It all comes back to that ALL of us are made in God’s image. We also all have shortcomings that are the result of humanity, not race, not gender, not ability.

  3. PS anafterthought says:

    In most ways, I think that the gender role stereotyping in the popular media and in the toys for kids is worse than 30-40 years ago. Perhaps the TV writers are just hacks. What is definitely better: jobs that women can aspire to. (And men too, to some extent.) More fathers being involved with day to day care of the children. Stay at home Dads are not such a rarity that they make the news, even though women had always accomplished those same tasks. Both women and men coaching their kids in sports. Women in the pulpit. Women on the church council. [Maybe I'm spoiled, as our first woman church president was about 30 years ago. And we had a young woman preach at least that long ago. I first gave a sermon in church about 25 years ago.] I’m wondering if there has been a backlash or throwback, etc. among the conservatives, even the women in those groups, so some of these issues are hitting the fan more now. Were things like Quiverfull even around 40 years ago? And now there are the home schoolers, where all the girls in the families wear identical dresses. Maybe the pendulum is swinging in two directions at once.

  4. drew says:

    Since you are caving in to the lie of culturally constructed gender roles, I will wake up and cease to follow your blog. Have a nice pipe-dream in the great PC city, spiritually known as Sodom and Egypt…

  5. HEIDI KRISTINA BALTHASER BRUNNER says:

    It It is because of people like you and this stupid PC generation are the reason why for five years my health has been deteriorating, and why all this talk will cause me to have a stroke and kill me.Guess what aman has an anatomical appendage and females do not and have appendages for the nourishment of children.If you don’t believe in the word of God and adhere to laws of nature and creation there is no room for non-descript language in nature,it is what is and everything has a use and a purpose for survival.GET over it you were born a man! you had a MOTHER and a FATHER whether you like it or not,you are NOT an earthworm,Get over your guilt issues and get a life! Why are you teaching in the church? When yourlife is over ,Father is NOT the only thing you will be ditching,and you won’t have air conditioning!My bags are packed for years already, and God Grant me the means after years of absolute misery brought on by people like you,Life isn’t FAIR it’s hard and demands a certain way to survive,And your kind think that destroying the INDIVIDUALITY that God gave us You- YOU and your friends are going to make all the world’s problems go away without any help just non-descript non-gendered,non-role filling,non-job holding,mounds of matter are going to save the world, HOW? soon you will get rid of all forms of communication, and you will not be able to look at each other because it Might OFFEND somebody it will never end, YOU may think that way yourself but you have no RIGHT to use a church pulpit to spread that kind of lunacy,People go to church to here the WORD OF GOD not your personal misgivings about being a man.Martin Luther King Jr,just didn’t have a dream,billions of people have dreams,I had a dream,a dream to live and work and die in a country I love unencumbered by bullying,PC guilt Mongers,I am a WOMAN,MOTHER, DAUGHTER AND AT ONE TIME A WIFE and VERY PROUD to be all of them. No guilt,no confusion,But Above all a devout CHRISTIAN who will not let you and your colleauges ruin OUR FAITH,OUR CHURCHES and OUR COUNTRY!GOD made you a MAN,GOD called you To be a FATHER of HIS CHURCH NOT YOURS,OR YOUR FRIENDS CHURCH HIS! How do you pray? Blessed be the IT,NON-GENDERED,AND THE FILL IN THE BLANK? instead of THE FATHER,SON AND HOLY GHOST? Being called to do the work of the Lord is a blessing and not a means to make A PERSONAL POLITICAL STATEMENT.Get your head back on straight and let a ZEPHYR take away the nonsense in your brain and go back to being a father. FATHER. The word of the Lord is WAY more IMPORTANT than any human ideologies that will not last past this world.Your job is to prepare your congregation to enter the next life,not force your petty ideals on them if you find that you like being called an it, get out of the church and go stand on a street corner, Now Pardon Me While I go Throw up in My Toilet because your way of thinking is illogical,unGODLY, and makes me sick to my stomach,HAVE A HAPPY HOLIDAY FATHER YOU HAVE ALREDY RUINED MINE

    • JAdamK says:

      I am so sorry you are angry and hurt! I pray that you know the joy of our risen Lord! I pray that the peace of The Lord might be with you! God bless you.

    • PS anafterthought says:

      Heide, did you read both blog posts? Did you understand Chris’ longing to be a more involved parent with his children and in their classroom? Did you see how fathers are often shut out of participation simply because they are not the mother? And read the comments to the other post. I believe you didn’t see the full context of his plea for being allowed to be a father, so he’s decided to call himself a PARENT, which he is, a very loving parent, who happens to be the father. If the man in a child’s life is ignored, the man either gets the message and goes away, or that man tries other means of bringing his presence forward.

    • Ms. Pris says:

      I hope you can go talk to someone about your anger and hatred, and get some help.

  6. HEIDI KRISTINA BALTHASER BRUNNER says:

    Sorry I did not respond last night as it was so late,I have read the Blog three times over now, and it still emits conatations of the major guilt complex culture, he would not be teaching my child that type of “hogwash” Forty-six years ago I was born into a family who was in politics,owned businesses and were pillars in the community but also they were farmers, being the only girl,Idid the same work around the farm as the boys,feeding animals, mowing grass,operating major farm machinery, do repair work etc,I was a tomboy,I had as many Barbie dolls as the law allows,but also matchbox cars,train sets,,modl kits of all types,I was a mean and lean racing machine on my big wheel and won the bass fishing trophy at the gun club at eight years old, besting all the adults(by the way,all the men gave me a standing ovation and a toast)and yet I still knew I was a girl,and liked to dress up in my grandmothers ball gowns,ll the women in my family worked in and outside the home for generations,my fathers mother started her own beauty shop at sixteen, and with some of her first money bought Revelon stock,after the war when she married my grandfather(war veteran, Father, Businessman Farrmer) as on his campaign posters, my grandmother bought the family home by herself,bought her own car,and worked took care of the farm and furniture business while my grandfather was in the capitol,she also drove my dad and his teammates to all their sporting events.All they women I know are successful in their carreers and come home and do housework,cooking, and can mow the lawn and do home repairs and yet the word Feminist was never spoken of,and being the tomboy that I am I need my bra and I don’t run around wearing combat boots,I wear skirts and or dresses when going out to eat or to church(I think not dressing up to go to church is disrespectful)I had piano and riding lessons, and to your comment about acting as a lady,I, at my grandmother’s insistence had etiquette and ballroom dance classes,so I could be the perfect politicians wife and the ultimate Washington hostess, I didn’t marry a politician,I’m divorced now.but no matter whether I played with dolls or I was fishing by the lake wearing dresses or jeans I have never been confused about being a woman,I love being a woman ,when I read your blog I was taking a break from making homemade mac and cheese for the holiday and clipping coupons, OH MY,MAYBE I SHOULDN’T DO THAT IT’S STEREOTYPICAL! Acting like a lady denotes being well behaved, which is not a bad thing for either boys or girls when in public or in important company(How do you think my grandfather’scolleauges would have acted to my cousins and I acting like an unruly mess at a public function?Ever since I was born,I was in the public eye and had to act with dignity and refinement as becoming to a Lady,which earned me a reputation of respect until lately,due to a nasty divorce, but still people seek out my advice,but not like they used to because of my health.Oh, and by they way, the men I know including my grandfathers can all cook,do their own laundry,do housework, and make a bed a nurse would be proud of,before my ex-husband to my son, my son could cook,do his laundry, and clean his room by himself, I also taught him to ride his bike,sled ski, ride,flight a kite,I bought him his first skates and took him out to the sidewalk and caught him when he fell until he could stand on his own and bought him his first skateboard.and when he fell,I told him to get up and try it again,I didn’t run and coddle him everytime he fell down and got a scratch,teaching boys sensitivity is one thing immasculateting them is another, you forgot humans evolved and survived by your so- called stereotypes, males were stronger, men did hunt to provide for the family not because that sat around and pondered the meaning of gender roles but because they would have died!the female of the species gave birth to children,they didn’t know why at that time but they did and males did not,Oh., my gosh there was adifference between male and female,yeah it’s called adaptation for the survival of a species.Do you think animal species sit around all day and think about tough it is to be male or female?In reference to cats and dogs, they get neutered without their consent all in the name of birth control for pets,you know 75 80 years ago doctors in America were big into sterilizing unideal humans via Margaret Sanger. cool idea right? God’s wish right? And you cannot believe Jesus condones homosexual behavior and is happy about this PC fad which is what it is.people are not worried about survival anymore, they rely on the government to take care of them(which I’m sure you just drool over) you sit around all day and think Hey! the world doesn’t have enough problems,let’s dismantle all of Jesus’s teachings, because so many people are being treated badly.I am absolutely against gay marriage, in the eyes of God it doesn’t exist,it is a purely manmade political infatuation. The American government has no business deciding what is marriage and who and who cannot get married,What God has brought together let no man put asunder.Now you will say oh God brought these two people together(not exactly, he gave us free will,not the same as embracing the union) but then let no MAN put asunder,God’s law trumps man’s law any day, like I said yesterday I am not going to go out and preach against homosexuality,Jesus says it wrong,no mortal human being will change my mind.I have a gay cousin and I absolutely adore him and want him to be happy,he was raised and confirmed Lutheran and knows what the deal is it is a sin, but that’s between him and God,IF i’m staying out of my beloved cousins business,he knows my views of course and RESPECTS them I respect his I don’t force my ideals on him and I don’t want to be FORCED BY THE GOVERNMENTto accept what I don’t believe in.Gay marriage is not real, there is not any religious basis for it no matter how people twist the scripture around,Being against gay marriage and rights does not mean I am not without compassion,I am a Christian after all,and don’t want violence or anyone to be treated badly.But it’s not the civil rights movement orthe women’s rights movement,when you come down to it it is a LIFESTYLE CHOICE I’m not going to wake up one morning and say I think I’ll be gay from now on,not going to happen,homosexuality has been around since the being of life and that’s why Jesus addressed the issue,this specific issue in his teachings,IT SHALL NOT BE DONE!he’s doesn’t say act violently against such people but love them as thy neighbor,not to be used by certain politicians as a voting block to advance a political agenda to divide this country and replace our current form of government with a single party tyranny.And you yourself said you were uncomfortable with what happened at your camp, So YOU have issues with the treatment of those people.IT’s YOUR GUILT ISSUES DON’T PUSH THEM ON YOUR KIDS,DEAL WITH IT THROUGH PRAYER.GUILT CAN OVERCOME AND CONSUME YOU,IF YOU FELT THOSE KIDS WERE TREATED UNFAIRLY AND YOU FELT BAD ABOUT NOT STOPPING IT OR SAYING SOMETHING THEN,IT’S YOUR GUILT,Of course you want the best for your children,and you want them to be comfortable in their own identity,but falling into a trap of having the children pay for the guilt of the parents is not fair to them.Like I said before, they already have an identity, an identity in Christ, that’s the most important identity to have.love your children like you do and leave the POLITICAL CORRECTNESS OUT OF IT! A little SECRET-When my ex-husband took my son away it tried to commit sucide,I took 70 sleeping pills,and although my neighbor found me and called 911,I died,I left my body and saw them working on me in the ambulance,then I was flying,just my soul, no body,traveling very fast over water and through sky, everything being black and white except for a blinding blue light on the horizon,I saw Heaven and I saw HELL,I saw Carrian and his boat along the river(STYXX if you want to call it that) I was going to Hell and the things I witnessed I have never repeated to anyone,except a few things to a few people,let’s just say I still have nightmares about what I saw, I told God don’t send me there and was trying to swim backwards but I had no body.I said I was sorry and asked to come back.and he sent me back,you have a choice, if you ask to come back you will, but I have lived in misery ever since.Before that happened,OH it would have been cool and hip to support “knew thinking” and I would have gone along with gay marriage and gay rights and all this liberal PC hyped up propaganda, but after I have seen the REAL HELL, there is not a chance that I would support gay rights of any kind, or listen to false teachings of any kind,THE RESULT IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK.I would not wish what I saw on my worst enemies if I had any.Maybe certain people or maybe all people should die and come back to get the true awakening as I did.Take a lesson love your Children don’t listen to Politicans and these Social Justice BSer’s GOD is not confused, a man is a man , and a woman is a woman no matter what you IDENTIFY WITH, Sorry to burst your bubble.I am now going to leave you and begin my gender specific role of cooking lunch and preparing the rest of the food for the picnic, then later, gender specify myself into vacuuming the carpet, cleaning the toilet which I could throw up in almost daily,and do the dishes, then I’ll go back to clipping coupons while watching tennis,praying every minute that GOD grants me the means to get a one way ticket out of CRAZYTOWN!I want to die in peace away from all thisPC baloney that is so “PHONEY”YOU want to feel guilty about something,think about a woman who wants desperately to leave a country whose family came here over 300 years ago,all the memories, all the dreams,enveloped in sick dellusions, someone who cries daily for people who are seemingly intelligent but yet worship false idols and are willing to destroy a country over Political Correctness,you don’t have a clue.ENJOY! ENJOY!

  7. PS anafterthought says:

    I’m sorry you are in such turmoil. I really can’t understand why you call cleaning a toilet a woman’s job when that isn’t in the Bible. Nor is vacuuming. And why are you proud that all the men in your family can do these things, but you want to hog these jobs for yourself? I don’t have a problem with having you argue points with the blog post, but really, you are off on lots of tangents and topics that Christ never brought up. Why are you thinking you can read his mind? That said, I’ll respond to one thing: You say that the government should be able to dictate who we are with, and that is exactly why many people have decided to be in favor of gay marriage, TO KEEP THE GOVERNMENT OUT OF PERSONAL BUSINESS. Ditto for a number of the other issues that the political right wants to put their noses into. For example, I know doctors who are against abortion, but they don’t want the government to tell them that they must read a false statement to their patients, so they can’t come out and publicly support the anti-abortion position, because of the government intrusion into people’s private lives.
    These are complex issues, but your answer above argues for both sides of most of the issues you mention.

  8. Brenda W. says:

    Wow .. some strong feelings have been vented here!

    Veering to a different tangent Chris, when I initially read the title of today’s post (after having also read yesterday’s), I was wondering if you’re going to continue this thread into the church realm (I certainly hope so!). One of my never ending frustrations in church is that God is referred to ONLY as FATHER, while the Bible is overflowing with female parenting images and references to God. As a female who has constantly had to buck cultural as well as religious stereotypes of “what I should be/act/think like”, this is a very important issue for me (I’m 60, and so was definitely raised in the “men are like this, women are like that” age.).

    Many women (as well as men) have had very negative “father” role models … everything from abusers to absentee fathers to fathers who abandoned the family. Defining God as ONLY ‘Father’ seriously distorts the image we paint of what God is like for many, many people for whom the word “father” conjures up nothing but negative images.

    And, for those who HAVE had fantastic fathers, the word still limits one’s conception of what God is like.

    To only talk about God as Father (or King, or Ruler) — all those so called “masculine” type of labels — and exclude the multitude of so called “feminine” descriptions that abound in the Bible, at the very least presents only a partial description of what God is like and at the very worst, totally misrepresents God to those for whom fatherly or masculine images are negative and physically or emotionally threatening.

    Great set of blog posts!

  9. Thanks for writing this. I am surprised at how vehemently some people oppose the idea that men and women are not born to occupy particular roles in this world. Gender is something we do, not something we are. Good for you for standing up and saying so.

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