One of my students' assignments was to keep a journal and respond to various questions that would be posed throughout the semester. I've been collecting journals the past week or two, and while I haven't been grading them based on their content, students do receive a number of points based on the amount of effort they put forth (cosistently writing two to three sentences versus two-thirds of a page, for example).
One of the questions I had posed was whether gender roles have a place in a marriage: My students have been saying that there is indeed a place because each gender is better at different things, and they bring "different things to the table."
I make the distinction, of course, that while each individual brings something specific to the table, this might have much less to do with particular traits that allegedly belong to a specific gender. I cook because my mother taught both my brother and I how to cook; I find it easy to plan meals, and it takes me a lot less time to plan, shop, and prepare meals than Ed, whose mother does not especially enjoy cooking, and therefore did not teach Ed these skills. If the situation were reversed, I would expect Ed would likely cook more than I. (And it's not that Ed won't cook; he absolutely would, if I asked him too, but I find it easier than he does.) We both do laundry; we both clean and tidy up. Ed tends to do things that require reaching and putting things away, mostly because some things get put in awkward, which can be more easily done when one is 6'4" and has comparatively longer arms.
And we definitely both bring different things to the marriage that are more reflective of our individual traits than gender. We both work on the household finances, as well as our own individual finances. We don't have a joint checking account yet (mostly because we just haven't really gotten around to it), but I pay for groceries, Ed pays the mortgage, we both pay various household expenditures, etc. Gender doesn't really play a part here.
Many students in my classes - the men especially - opine that women are more nurturing, while men provide more financial assistance. I have yet to see proof that one of us is more nurturing than the other; there are times when Ed needs more care, and there are times when I do. I certainly don't feel that I'm responsible for most of the emotional aspects of our marriage.
The man providing more financial assistance is certainly true in our case, if only because Ed earns more than I do - at least for the time being. I have a broader education, and more of it, as well more marketable skills than he does, which means I may have greater earning potential (if the economy ever repairs itself). However, I would argue that many women feel as responsible for being able to provide financially for the family; at least, I feel it very keenly that I can't contribute more to the household. This is not necessarily my fault, and except for extremely rare cases, one partner is always going to make more, even if that difference is a relatively small amount, but I would like our salaries to be more even.
So what's this all say about our own gender roles in our marriage? I suspect such things are much more fluid than the men in my class realize.