Challenging gender roles


Alisha Naidu, Writer

Frustration filled my head as I heard the question: “So your mom works, and your dad… stays at home?” For what felt like the hundredth time, I replied with an exasperated “yes.” No one seemed to understand, or accept, the non-traditional roles my parents took on: my mom, the breadwinner, and my dad, the homemaker and caregiver.

Growing up, I would always wait for my dad to walk me home from elementary school. When my younger brother was born, my dad left his job in fiber optics to take care of the four kids in our family, so my mom became the main provider for our household. While this didn’t strike me as strange, some of my classmates couldn’t help but notice that my dad was one of the only fathers picking up their child from school, and they often questioned me about it. I never really understood why there was so much confusion: what difference did it make if my mom worked, and my dad took care of the children, compared to the so-called parental roles, where the dad typically has a working career and the mom cares for the children at home? Although others’ surprise regarding the unique parental roles in my family was never a huge concern to me back in elementary school, as time passed and more questions from classmates arose, the existence of rigid conceptions about gender biases in even young children started to worry me.

My parents were able to provide an environment just as supportive as a family with traditional parental positions could foster, yet our supposed unusual gender roles were constantly met with criticism, leading me to wonder why people experienced so much shock from my parents’ defiance of these conventions. In elementary school, when classmates asked me why my mom worked and my dad stayed at home, I didn’t know how to respond. To me, it was normal. But to other students, it was unnatural. Eventually, I became embarrassed about my family’s parental roles and felt uncomfortable talking about them because I was afraid others would perceive me and my family differently.

From what I’ve seen and experienced, gender roles create a false sense of who a person can or cannot be by forcing them into a certain category. By confining someone to behave in a manner deemed appropriate by society and suppressing their full potential, gender roles encourage sexism. Traditional gender roles defined my mom’s responsibility in the family as the caretaker, but since she challenged those stereotypes, others often subtly hinted to her that she should be at home fulfilling her duty as a mother.

Despite the surprise, and even disapproval, that my parents faced when others discovered that they took on non-traditional roles, they continued to make every effort to support my siblings and me, teaching us valuable lessons about independence and acceptance along the way. Even with the challenges of discrimination that women frequently face in the workplace, my mom worked hard to provide a high standard of living for us, often telling me how important it is to be self-reliant. My dad also faced a lot of criticism from the outside. When family friends or other parents reacted to my dad’s role in the family with harsh judgment, he wouldn’t feel shame or fear at the stigma that surfaced; rather, he embraced his unconventional parental role as a stay-at-home dad, saying that he loved being close to his children and being there for them.

Observing the reactions of those who criticized my parents made me disappointed in the restrictions of traditional gender roles. No one should try to control or criticize others for the way they live their lives; instead, they should learn to be more accepting.

My parents have shown me that people can accomplish so much more if they venture out of the narrow mindset that society has established. We need to start taking action against gender roles to introduce long-awaited social equality.