The expectation of taking care

January 23, 2013

Today we have a post from Miranda, who brings up something that hadn’t exactly occurred to me before and articulates it so well: that can add caretaker of relationships and the social sphere to the list of the many things women are expected to be. — RW


Women are generally expected to support the people around them in many ways. We are supposed to be tender, loving and caring. Taking care of people is supposed to come naturally for women and people do not take it lightly when women reject or simply do not fit into this role. (Seriously, you should see the reactions I get when I tell people that I don’t want to have children.) And since women are (supposedly) born caretakers, naturally. women are expected to support those around them physically and emotionally. But recently, I’ve become more aware of the expectation for women to support others socially too.

Women, especially women in heterosexual relationships, are expected to not just take care of people, but to take care of relationships. They are expected to make plans for holidays, to send out holiday/birthday/sympathy/whatever-else cards, to make plans for the couple to meet up with friends. People around my fiancé Kyle and me ask me what we are doing for the weekend or for the holidays, not Kyle. Although Kyle and I rarely make plans for us without discussing it with the other, people outside of our relationship see our roles differently that we do. I am expected to know what is going on in our social life and Kyle isn’t. This upsets me both because women are given this huge burden and because men are belittled in the process. People act like men aren’t capable enough to keep track of a social calendar or know what’s going on in their own lives. And even if women aren’t expected to do all the chores ourselves, we are still expected to know what needs to be done around the house, to keep track of errands that need to be taken care of, and to assign tasks and chores appropriately. As if men don’t know that the holidays are coming and that someone needs to make travel arrangements.

Women are even expected to take care of people outside of their families. We are expected to take care of all of the people around us, including at work. If someone in the workplace is sick or in the hospital, a woman is usually the one who is collecting money to send them flowers or making sure that everyone has signed the get-well card. Women are expected to take care of pretty much everyone they come into contact with or have a relationship with.

I think the media really perpetuates this idea (look at Phil and Claire’s relationship in Modern Family), where the man just can’t handle being a full adult and needs his wife to be a mother figure rather than a partner. It’s insulting that husbands are seen as extra children. Sometimes in TV men are shown as simply being too busy to worry about relationships. Men aren’t expected to take care of relationships because they have more “important” things to do. Taking care of social calendars and relationships and events are considered a woman’s sphere, and I don’t think it’s an accident that those things are also seen as trivial. In either case, men just aren’t expected to know anything about their relationships or social life. It’s not even something that people question, it’s just a given.

I’ve really started to notice this since I’ve started planning my wedding. From the moment my fiancé, Kyle, and I started announcing that we were engaged, I have been bombarded with questions. Have you set a date? Are you having it in your hometown or his? Who will be your bridesmaids? Have you looked at dresses? And on and on it goes. I thought this was pretty normal — weddings are exciting and although I’ve never been super into weddings (I had never really thought about my own wedding until I got engaged), I can understand that other people are. It does tend to stress me out a little though, because I have no idea where to even start with planning a wedding. I asked Kyle if he was feeling the same kind of stress and he told me that people didn’t interrogate him the same way they did me. And it hit me that because I am seen as the caretaker in the relationship, I am expected to know these details and Kyle isn’t.

When it comes to wedding planning, I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. I haven’t been to many weddings and I haven’t dreamed of my own since I was a kid. I am starting from scratch and so is Kyle. But Kyle is expected to be starting from scratch, while I am expected to already know this stuff. I think that people kind of brush it off because weddings are “girlie” and men just don’t “need” to know about them, but I really think it all comes down to women being expected to be caretakers of relationships, and, naturally, the keeper of the datebook, the wedding binder, and the list of all the relatives’ allergies and quirks. I am expected to know and care about the tiniest details, while people are just thrilled when Kyle knows anything about the wedding — he gets praised for even knowing that we’ve set a date or picked a venue. Honestly, I know more about how to fix a garbage disposal than I do about how to plan a wedding, but I am the one who is expected to learn. And if our wedding fails to impress people or something goes wrong, it will be on me. Because not only do women get all the responsibility of taking care of relationships and the social sphere, we also get all the blame when these aspects of life don’t meet others’ expectations.

Miranda was born in a town too tiny to name in Texas 23 years ago. She moved to Arizona before she was 4 and she’s lived there ever since. She went to Northern Arizona University and graduated last spring with a degree in awesomeness/communication studies. She now lives near Phoenix, AZ with her fiance and two very cool cats Benjamin Linus and Hobbes. They are more than slightly obsessed with television. You can read about her adventures at What You Like, Not What You Are Like, the blog she very recently started.

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