(Phew. Thought this was going to be very poor menz and nasty ladyz but it is not. Gender equality there: good for relationships. Traditional gender roles, not so much.)
Many men seem to believe that gender equality will cause relationship problems. But is this the case? One way of approaching this issue is to look at what happens when couples shift away from traditional family roles, with men taking on more responsibility in the home. Studies of couples who live together suggest that greater equality in earning income and sharing of household chores is associated with greater relationship stability and having sex more often.
Indeed, when husbands take on a greater role in housework, shopping and childcare, it seems to result in lower divorce rates. Likewise, when fathers take paternity leave and contribute more to homecare, it results in greater marital stability.
More broadly, one study showed that men who said they were in relationships with feminist women reported greater relationship stability and sexual satisfaction. The authors of this study concluded that, far from disrupting heterosexual relationships, greater gender equality in a relationship was healthy – for both women and men. Other research has also suggested that men who eschew traditional cultural scripts of romance tend to have more satisfying and committed relationships.
There’s also a darker side to traditional relationships. The dominant role for men in relationships is problematic for wider society because it can socialise men into a culture of violence. Research consistently shows that men who more strongly endorse traditional gender roles, including in relationships, are more likely to report a history of sexually coercive behaviours, are more likely to blame the victims of rape and are more accepting of intimate partner violence.
But why does equality make us happy? One reason might be that endorsement of traditional cultural scripts of romance places a heavy burden on men, just as it does on women. Having to “perform” according to traditional scripts limits expressions of individuality and behaviours – ultimately making it harder for two people to develop true intimacy. In fact, men are increasingly expressing frustration at relationships that force them to follow the male-initiator cultural script for precisely this reason.