Normative Gender Roles Can Be Freeing | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Bethany Mandel during a Newsweek podcast debate on the role of women in religion. You can listen to the podcast here:

In the Jewish world, women are pretty much universally expected to work because their husbands are doing more important things like learning the Torah. This leads to a lot of burnout among mothers when they're expected to do it all— have four to eight kids and work full time.

I think that probably women in the evangelical community who are boxed out of the workforce are miserable; I know that the women who are pushed into the workforce in the Orthodox Jewish community are miserable. I'm not sure if there's a solution which doesn't make women miserable.

I don't think that there's a solution that can really happen on a societal and cultural basis. I think that there's a lot of personal choice in here that is not discussed, acknowledged and honored.

I always tell new parent friends, at the end of the day, you have to remember that we're mammals. Babies function on instinct because they're really blobs until at least two or three months old. My husband keeps on telling me that our two-week-old loves me so much. No, he doesn't: I smell like his food source. The only way I'm able to work is with him is by holding him. He has to be touching his food source at all times, because he's a mammal, and I'm a mammal.

Women have a different role, especially in the first couple of years. And I think that that's evolutionary and biological because that's the only way the human race survived for as long as it has.

I think that there's a reason for socially and historically normative gender roles. I personally like leaning on them. I like that I'm not the breadwinner; I would find that stressful. I like being home with our children, I like that it is my area of expertise. I find it helpful within our family dynamic to have a parent who is the primary caregiver, a point person on the domestic side and on the childcare side.

I can think of no exception in which my husband has ever stepped into that sphere and stepped on my toes. He trusts my judgment with every part of how we run our household, doctor's appointments, our children's education, paying the bills, all of those things are on me and I find that to be liberating.

traditional normative gender roles can be freeing
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I've watched my friends who tried to have it all and the biggest source of their disagreement with their husbands when they have children is the mental load. They resent that they are expected to work full time, and also carry a significant portion, if not the vast majority of their household mental load. I think that having me bear that completely, has been somewhat freeing, because I don't carry that resentment.

Bethany Mandel is an editor at Ricochet and cohost of the LadyBrains Podcast. Her writing has appeared in the New York Post and The New York Times. She is homeschooling her five children.

The views in this article are the writer's own.