Rep. Phil Gingrey Says That We Need To Teach Traditional Gender Roles In Grade School

Experts say what's most important is that a child is happy and cared for. Phil Gingrey's comments are another attempt to throw society back to the 1950s. Image @PolicyMic

Experts say what’s most important is that a child is happy and cared for. Phil Gingrey’s comments are another attempt to throw society back to the 1950s. Image @PolicyMic

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) spoke to the House about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on Tuesday, saying that he believed young boys and girls should be given classes on traditional gender roles within a marriage. According to his line of thinking, there are things that fathers do better than mothers, and vice versa, and apparently children should know that. From The Huffington Post:

“You know, maybe part of the problem is we need to go back into the schools at a very early age, maybe at the grade school level, and have a class for the young girls and have a class for the young boys and say, you know, this is what’s important. This is what a father does that is maybe a little different, maybe a little bit better than the talents that a mom has in a certain area. And the same thing for the young girls, that, you know, this is what a mom does, and this is what is important from the standpoint of that union which we call marriage.”

There are several problems with this idea. First of all, what’s it going to teach the boys and girls who are already aware that they’re “different” in some way? Those who are already getting an inkling that they might be gay or trans or even bi? That’s going to reinforce the idea that they’re different and don’t fit into society, which is not what they need to be learning. Their orientation and their gender identity are not choices, thus it’s wrong to teach children, either directly or indirectly, that who and what they are is wrong; make them feel like they need to change, and tell them that they’re failures when they find they can’t.

Another problem is the very simple fact that every marriage is different. Trying to teach “traditional” gender roles in a society in which they’re no longer relevant, by telling young boys and young girls what works and what doesn’t, can convey to them that there’s no flexibility when it comes to making a marriage work, when it comes to raising a family.

Besides that, traditional roles are very limiting for both women and men. Gingrey may have qualified his comments by saying that all of his daughters and his daughter-in-law work but they’re mothers when they come home; however, there’s little doubt that when he talks about “traditional gender roles” in a marriage, he means that the woman takes care of the children (whether she has a career or not), while the father works full-time, takes care of other things, and spends some time with the children. There’s nothing wrong with this… if it works. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and children should not be taught that there’s only one role for them if they want their marriages to work when they grow up.

An opinion piece appeared in April in The Atlantic which asked whether or not children actually care if their parents adhere to traditional gender roles. The writer’s own four-year old daughter apparently doesn’t; according to the op-ed, when he pressed her about whether she thought it was strange that Daddy stays home and Mommy works, she didn’t see what the problem was.

The author, Matt Villano, went further, speaking to several family experts about the issue. One such person, a family therapist in Seattle, said that children tend to see “parent” –  not “mom” and “dad” – when it comes to who is the nurturer and who is the structurer in the family.

Another expert, an assistant professor of psychology at the Weill Cornell Medical College, told Villan0 that the key is to deny limitations, that flexibility is what’s needed in parenting.

Not the rigidity inherent in trying to enforce “traditional” gender roles.

With Generation X and the Millennials adhering less to the traditional roles our grandparents lived, the teaching that Gingrey is proposing could be damaging in another way: children growing up in “non-traditional” homes, whether that’s a home with a working mother and stay-at-home father, a home with same-sex parents, a single-parent home, or any other “non-traditional” structure, could be led to wonder why their family is “wrong.” Given that experts say that what’s most important is that the child is cared for and happy, rather than who’s doing the nurturing and who’s doing the structuring, Gingrey’s comments can only be taken for what they are: another conservative attempt to throw our society back to the 1950s.