Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 49, No. 3, 1993. pp. 71-85
Traditional Gender Roles: Do They Make, and Then Break, our Relationships? William Ickes
University of Texas at Arlington
Despite societal pressure for change in traditional gender roles, the coevolution of genes and culture may still lead us to be attracted to poteraial mates whose appearance and behavior is stereotypicaUy masculine or feminine. This attraction is ironic in light of a growing body of research evidence indicating that the relationships of men and women with traditional gender roles are far from optimal—and are generally worse than those of androgynous men and women. These seemingly paradoxical findings may reflect the conflict between what our genes and past culture dispose us to do and what our present culture prescribes. When men and women play out in their own behavior the respective masculine and feminine gender roles that have traditionally been prescribed by their culture, do their close relationships benefit or suffer? In this article, I propose that, in this period of changing gender role expectations, both types of effects occur. When men and women first meet, their enactment of traditionail gender roles may benefit their relationship by promoting mutual attraction and facilitating the mutual perception that the other is a potentially desirable mate. Ironically, however, the seeds of these relationships may contain their own pwison. From even their earliest encounters, the partners' respective enactment of their traditional gender roles may begin to undermine their relationship by fostering the kind of female/male miscommunication that has recently been documented by writers such as Henley and Kramarae (1991), Maltz and Borker (1982), and Tannen (1987, 1990). Perhaps as a consequence of this miscommunication, men and women with traditional gender roles will also tend to describe their relationThe author would like to thank Arthur Aron. Val Derlaga, Martha Mann, Susan Sprecher, and Barbara Winstead for their insightful comments on a previous version of this article. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to William Ickes, Department of Psychology. University of Texas at .Adington. Arlington, TX 76019-0528. 71 0O22J1537.'93/O900-O071J07.OO.'1 C 1993 The Soci«y for ihc Psychological Sradv ofSocuU lssiics
ships as relatively unsatisfying (e,g,, Antill, 1983; Ickes & Barnes, 1978; Lamke, 1989), The goal of this article, then, is to explore what seems to be a fundamental paradox; that despite an apparently strong initial attraction to each other, men and women with traditional gender roles have relationships that are far from optimal—and are generally worse than those of androgynous men and women. After describing a number of research findings that lead us to this paradox, I offer some speculation about how this paradox might be explained, if not resolved. The Fundamental Paradox During the past 15 years, the research literature has clearly documented what I will refer to as the fundamental paradox; that traditionally masculine men and traditionally feminine women have relationships that are far from optimal. This empirical finding is paradoxical, or at least counterintuitive, with respect to the seemingly logical assumption that one's society prescribes and encourages the adoption of traditional gender role orientations because of their time-tested utilit)' in promoting the effective socialization and social integration of its members. Implicit in our gender role socialization is the belief that males ought to adopt a traditionally masculine gender role and females a traditionally feminine one because everyone will get along much better that way (Ickes, 1981, 1985; Ickes & Barnes, 1978), In fact, however, various research findings suggest that problems evident in the initial interactions of masculine men and feminine women become even more dramatically apparent in their cohabitation and marriage...
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