Gender’s Separate Spheres

Posted on February 9, 2012 by


In a previous post, A Lady made this astute observation:

I think a lot of men want their wives working because we’ve destroyed the same-sex mingling spheres that allowed housewives and husbands to have plenty of social interaction that wasn’t employment-related. Some of this was creative destruction, some of it more intentional, but here we are and there it is.

Often the justification for a woman to work outside of the home is so she doesn’t lose out on social interaction with other adults. As sad and true it may be, this type or reasoning is indicative of the type of society we groom adults in. Our society is heavily employment-centered versus community-centered when it comes to social outlets. Often we don’t hear of the community get-together as much as we hear and participate in the after work happy hour, or the party a coworker invited everyone to attend. Community gatherings are now limited to places of worship, but beyond that it’s difficult to find ways to mingle with the same sex.

There was a day where there were “men-only” groups and places to frequent, just as there were “women-only” activities. With the rise of feminism, it was deemed any club just for males was sexist and was a hindrance to women’s opportunities within society. Hence, women entered the workforce en mass and women forced their entry into men-only groups.

This intermingling of the sexes has made the workplace the primary center of socialization. But, are we really socializing? Are we really making friends and genuine relationships?

Often what occurs is after someone leaves a job, any existing friendship ended. Without other shared interests, friendships are difficult to maintain over a long period of time. The intermingling of the sexes primarily within the workplace is a superficial effort for socialization, as the primary impetus for a workplace is to work. Not to make friends and socialize.

Historically, when it came to community gatherings and social events were also the place for the opposite sexes to interact. There wasn’t anything weird about an older man approaching a younger woman at an event, whether it was to talk, dance, etc. It was often through these exchanges where people met and then married. This was expected and encouraged. These interactions were appropriate because men and women knew that they had their spheres to turn to for interaction, and didn’t need the social events with the opposite sex in order to meet their social needs. It was also in these interactions where men and women learned how to act around each other for romantic interest. Gatherings with men and women served a different purpose.

Now, we have no spheres and the workplace is used to this need. Without the separate spheres to help men and women meet their social needs, people lose out on the benefits of same-sex interaction. Loneliness becomes a normal part of life for many people who do not work outside the home. The loss of gender spheres has given rise to a new form of ageism, where “I just can’t relate to that person because they are 5 years older than I am.” Men and women currently congregate into sub-groups of age cohorts.

This becomes problematic for courtship and marriage for various reasons. One, the intermingling of the sexes teaches women that their husbands or potential husbands can be their BFF’s too, and this really kills a lot of mystery in a marriage. Without these spheres, men and women also lose out on beneficial “teaching moments,” and these are best if done organically. How can men learn to be men and women learn to be women, if we think it’s acceptable for men to teach women on how to be women? And we know what a disaster it is for women to teach men how to be men!

Can we bring back the spheres? If not, what can we do with this knowledge?