Saturday, February 17, 2007

Working out role reversal

It has become common to come across stories in the media on role reversal couples, in which the woman goes out to work while the man stays at home to look after the kids.

The stories are mostly positive, which you would expect from a liberal media. For a liberal, role reversal is an encouraging sign of the overthrow of the influence of gender.

Why would liberals want to overthrow the influence of gender? Because some hundreds of years ago liberals decided that to be fully human we need to be self-created by our own reason and will. This is, if you like, the liberal first principle, according to which the rightness of wrongness of things is decided.

Unfortunately, the liberal first principle undermines the legitimacy of gender. Liberals insist that our identity must be something that we choose for ourselves, but our gender is something we don't get to choose, we're simply born male or female.

That's why liberals so often claim that the influence of gender, such as in traditional sex roles, is an oppressive, or "sexist" limitation, from which the "self-defining" individual needs to be liberated.

Toby Green

I recently came across a column in my files by the relationships psychologist for the Herald Sun, Toby Green. The topic of the column was role reversal, and the piece concluded as follows:

Many women agree in concept that it makes sense they should be able to handle the role of breadwinner. It is my experience that it does not work. The women I have dealt with appear to have an innate gender need for their partners to pull equal financial weight or some weight or to look after her.

No matter how militantly we are told a man's use in our lives is redundant, I keep observing the concept only works at a distance. If we are in a relationship with a man it appears to me to be a biological drive to want to be taken care of and nurtured in the classic ways. (Herald Sun 25/4/99)

This short conclusion is obviously out of line with modern day liberalism. What Toby Green is saying is that we have an innate, biologically fixed nature as men and women which gives a natural direction to our behaviour.

For liberals, this is a kind of heresy. It means that we are being defined in who we are by something we didn't choose for ourselves. By something inborn and unchanging. Liberals usually claim at this point that the desire of women to be nurtured by men is merely a product of socialisation; that it's created by education and culture, rather than by an innate drive, and can therefore be altered.

Modern science, though, is tending to favour Toby Green's view, that differences between men and women are hardwired into us, and are not just a product of education or of cultural tradition.


Which brings us back to Toby Green's observation, that in her experience role reversal rarely works. She gives as an example the case of a 33 year old female executive who resented the fact that her fiancé insisted on halving all expenses, including dinners out.

The female executive was obviously able to afford to pay a half share, but she still felt a need to be provided for by her male partner. She explained to Toby Green that,

It's not the money ... It's a form of psychological nurturing and being taken care of, and a signal that he cares.

Personally, I have only known one role reversal couple. They didn't reverse roles out of liberal principle, but because she earned more than he did. Their decision caused a lot of tension in the relationship, because it left the wife feeling stressed and overworked.

Of course, it might be the case that things work out better for some other role-reversing couples. It's important to know, though, that the reason the media is promoting the cause of role reversal is not because it generally leads to happy outcomes. In fact, it's Toby Green's testimony that it doesn't.

Instead, the positive exposure of role reversal couples in the media is due more to liberal politics: to the importance within liberal politics of overthrowing the influence of gender in our lives.

(First published at Conservative Central, 09/05/2004)

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