As part of our marriage planning class, Jason and I took a long personality assessment. First we filled in multiple choice bubbles about our own answers (which inspired some scan-tron nostalgia). Then we did the same thing, with the same questions, about our partner. Then we met to review the results of how we see ourselves versus how our partner sees us with one of the Marriage and Family Therapists who leads the class.
Luckily, this assessment didn't present any real surprises or major concerns for our future compatibility. We know each other pretty darn well and we know what we're getting into. We balance each other well, with his optimism and calm approach contrasting my neuroses and tendency towards negativity (or, as I call it, realism and planning for the worst while hoping for the best). It works, and now we have a therapist's seal of approval too. (Actually, they don't give seals of approval, though that might be handy for couples with in-law issues.)
One thing we will continue to work on is the way in which stress (my stress) impacts our relationship. I am generally a stress-mess. My shoulders are knotted and gnarled with stress. My health deteriorates with stress. And a lot of that stress comes from my job. Don't get me wrong - I have a great job doing something I enjoy and believe in, and I get to work with other brilliant committed people. I'm very lucky. But the tradeoff is hellish hours, never feeling good enough, and feeling like I never accomplishing enough.
So I was initially amused when the therapist tried to elicit more information about my long hours, stress, and transition to management by asking "do you work in retail?" In the moment, I didn't think much about it because I was focused on the the real issue of how we deal with the impact of stress in our relationship. But throughout the day I started thinking back to that comment and getting a little ticked off. And then I got really ticked off.
Let me be clear, I have nothing against careers in retail. I've worked my share of retail and barista jobs back in the day, and I always treat shopping support and service workers with human respect. Heck, depending on where you work (high end designer stores) the best salespeople can rake in upwards of $60,000 a year on the floor from commissions, making it a viable career-type job. But still, I don't think she was asking if I work at the Tiffany's boutique just down the road.
I'd like to think her comment was related to confusion about my business casual attire (our office embraces California Casual. I was wearing dark jeans with a cute shirt and blazer) contrasted with my discussion of responsibilities. Even better would be if it was some sort of compliment on my incredible fashion sense (bwahahahaha!) possibly related to the amazing gold shoes I picked up at a resale shop for $12. But really, I know her comment was related to my being a woman. I think her default must have been to assume that women work in the service sector or caretaking roles, which might lead to a conclusion that management + late night hours = retail professional. Yes, it's possible. But it's also possible that I work in a challenging office environment where I've worked my way up the chain and have earned my project management rights... just like she'd be likely to assume of a man. No man working long hours would ever get asked if it was because of "retail."
I am a smart woman with a high-powered job. My hours are long because I have a boatload of responsibilities advising major corporations and not because I'm dealing with inventory shipments at 9pm. My stress is the sort of stress related to impossible levels of multitasking. And if Marriage and Family Therapists in forward-thinking cities are still using bullcrockey gender defaults to frame their understanding of people and their relationship dynamics, then it limits all of us in imagining what our marriages can be and what our particular, healthy relationships might look like.
Overall, I have to say I've truly enjoyed our marriage planning course and think it's provided a lot of real value, especially with the hard questions and topics that we work through as couples and as a class. And the best parts are the conversations that continue at home, when we expand upon the topics from class. But I've noticed a disturbing tendency for the class' two therapists to discuss Men and Women in broad-stroke gender stereotypes and to see communication and challenges as traditionally gendered. But I don't neatly fit into the gender mold and neither does Jason. And neither do most LGBTQ couples. Nor do a lot of us.
While there are certainly some biological differences between the sexes, I'm convinced that many of our assumed gender-related traits are learned via socialization and gender expectations about what it means to be a "good" girl or "good" boy. "Deviant" behaviors are punished by peers (boys who like art and music are "pussies") and behaviors fitting the prescribed gender narrative are subtly rewarded (Susy is so well-behaved, she gets an A!). That gender narrative is incredibly limiting and narrow, especially for a couple where the man is an artist and musician and where the woman is decidedly not well behaved, and it has no place in our broad-stroke discussions about how partnership functions and communication is enhanced.
I don't think our therapist meant anything specific in her comment, and I think it was probably a subconscious association. But if the people we rely on for help and advice about building healthy marriages are relying on assumptions about gender and interpersonal relationships, I think that's a problem. My marriage won't be built upon stereotypes and their assumptions - we're building it around us and our peculiarities, desires, and individual needs. And in our particular situation, many of the traditional tables have been turned: I'm the one working late, I'm the one currently earning more, I'm the one who's a bit more boorish about her opinions whereas Jason's the one making a home for us when he gets home from work with his garden and his delicious cooking and his household organization.
As our marriage gets closer, I get the uncomfortable sense that I'm about the get subtly punished again because I probably won't fit into the "good" wife narrative. My I-hate-folding-laundry behavior will be seen as unconscionably deviant. My inability to bake a cake (or anything, really) and the associated disinterest in putting a Kitchen Aid mixer on our registry means I'll be a terrible wife (and even worse for broadcasting my domestic shortcomings to our entire guest list.) And, even worse, I'm muddling through the implications of raising children while attempting to balance this high-powered career. Because suddenly my high powered career is no longer seen as good, and no longer assumed to be a point of pride for a bum-kicking career girl. It becomes another way in which I'm failing as a wife and mother, as defined my the standard gender tropes.
Retail. With one word, it suddenly hit me how hard this wifey gender thing might be. And sometimes, I get tired of fighting back to try and break the mold. And sometimes, I wish I hadn't destroyed my back playing rugby for so many years, so that I could fight back even harder. Yeah, that's right: rugby. So take that and stuff it up your gender-assumption piehole. A piehole which I obviously didn't bake.*
*though, now that I think about it, pieholes are actually mouths, so I definitely didn't bake any. But the line sounded so much better when I thought it referenced bake-able pie that could tie in with the Kitchen Aid mixer line. Mmm pie.