In search of new reading material for my son, I recently dug out a kids book from my childhood 'He Bear, She Bear' by Stan and Jan Berenstain (written in the 1970s) and was utterly amazed at how empowering it was for its time. For those of you who haven't read it, the book is about a young he bear and she bear who discover they can do and be anything they want to, irrespective of gender. I soon realised this book is clearly to blame for all my 'feminist' rants around the house as to why I'm always picking up dirty socks and doing the washing when clearly I could just as easily 'jump, dig, build or fly'.
The world of gender stereotypes has moved on significantly in the last century - actually, the last 30 years. Nowadays, we barely bat an eyelid when meeting a male nurse. In the same way, seeing a female pilot is no longer a big surprise (although a few of my female friends are pilots and I did jump around the house in delight when one of them recently became a captain). For those who have lived through this era of change, it really has been an exciting time. Women drive buses, fly planes and coach athletes, and similarly there's a growing world of air stewards, chefs and male stylists.
So why, in this modern age, is it still sometimes hard to replicate this same transition as easily on the home front? To this day, it's still common to grow up in a family where mum is the one predominantly wearing the apron and dad brings home more of the pennies. It seems however much we feel we've moved forward, we as a generation are really struggling with what our roles at home should be. I know there have been times, where as a mum of one I've debated, should I be the person who stays at home when the little one is sick? Am I responsible for all the household chores if my husband goes out to work?
I wasn't raised in a 'traditional' household where mum ran the ship at home and dad went out to work. Like many, I grew up in a single parent family with a mum who worked full time. With no male role model in the house, she took on the motherly roles of cooking and washing and I filled the gaps by fixing things around the house, carrying in the heavy shopping and hammering pieces of wood to build our wardrobe (one of the doors hangs slightly lower to this day). Apart from the odd cake bake, I barely knew how to boil pasta when I entered university.
Although I have acquired more kitchen finesse since then, I've married a man who in my mother's generation would have been considered the rare breed of male. A dominant male in the kitchen, he is definitely an example of the progression from our generation. And it isn't just him. These days not only are there more male chefs on TV than ever before but more males to females. I certainly don't plan to look a gift horse in the mouth - but more importantly, this shift in roles is obviously empowering for those who strive to do whatever it is they desire.
The funny thing is, friends are still really impressed by my husband taking on much of the cooking, but there is no such appreciation when I fix the leaking toilet cistern or hammer up all the pictures. As far as I'm concerned the mere label of 'gender roles' no longer exists but the pressures of an older society do still creep into our thinking. It's great we have all this freedom to make choices about who we are, but it seems the transition between the old and new outlook is about finding your feet in your own household, and is a fight many of us are still having.
I find it just as inspiring to watch a man change a nappy as I do to him running a business. I doubt my grandfather ever changed a nappy in his life but perhaps that was because it was never expected of him. In our house we both work, both run a business and both take on the chores. I still do the laundry, but that's because I happen to be home at the better time to do it. Structure still works, it just needs to lose the gender association part of it (a point my husband made when I called on him to change my flat tyre - fair play to him). It's about working to individual circumstances and aspirations. Take a look around you, where do you fall in this progression?