Are Traditional Gender Roles Messing With Your Romantic Life?

Are Traditional Gender Roles Messing With Your Romantic Life?

For all the progress we’ve made in the name of gender equality, there remain a large number of strongly-held ideas about traditional roles in romantic relationships shared between men/masc presenting people and women/femme presenting people. Recent data shared by dating app Bumble highlights that despite 88 per cent of surveyed Aussies sharing equality is important in romantic relationships, 80 per cent believe that traditional gender roles impact dating still.

Bumble refers to this as the Romance Gap.

The data, which was sourced via research conducted by YouGov, found that whether it came to social ‘norms’ like men taking the lead in dating or women playing it cool in the early stages, 65 per cent of people felt pressure to “behave in a way that is less true to who we are”.

In addition to that, 60 per cent of surveyed Aussies shared that they feel gender roles make dating more difficult.

We spoke with Chantelle Otten, sexologist and Bumble app relationship expert and Lucille McCart, APAC Communications Director at Bumble about these trends to get a better idea of how they influence romantic relationships and what we can do to better navigate this issue.

First of all, what are the most harmful trends that popped up in Bumble’s data?

Bumble dating app
Dating app Bumble explores the impact of gender roles on dating. Getty

While it can be argued that all the traditional gender role trends that came up in the research Bumble highlighted are unhealthy, there are a few that really stood out to both Otten and McCart.

Otten stressed that the data shows “we all need to evaluate our thinking to make change”, but in particular, the beliefs that women shouldn’t appear ‘too clingy’, that men shouldn’t show emotion and that women need to find a life partner before they’re ‘too old’ felt most harmful to her.

When speaking about the expectation that women avoid appearing ‘desperate’ she shared that “In my opinion, a lot of people will mistake assertiveness with desperation and this type of thinking can lead to bad behaviour, mistreatment and unhealthy relationships”.

On the topic of toxic ideas about men expressing emotion, Otten shared that she would “like to see us flip this thinking and start to support sexy men who are expressive and good communicators”.

“More than a third of Australian men are expected to avoid appearing to care too much or show too much emotion, while only 22% say this is expected of women, too. This is really sad. A huge part of what we are fighting for as a community at the moment is communication. That involves saying things like ‘I don’t understand that’, ‘I feel judged’ or ‘this is triggering to me,’” she explained.

Then, when speaking about the perception of an ‘expiry date’ for women, Otten shared that this is one of the more common worries she sees in her patients. It’s something that causes people to enter into, or stay in, relationships that aren’t serving them which is never a good thing.

“Women start to roll into their 30s and they begin to think they need to ‘settle’ because if they get ‘too old’ no one will want to date them,” she said.

“Entering into the wrong relationship, because you don’t want to wait to find someone that works for you because you’re worried that you’re running out of time is problematic in itself and is something that I think we all need to address in our ways of thinking.”

Does moving away from gender norms impact your dating life?

One of the bigger questions we wanted to address here was whether or not pulling away from traditional roles in dating appears to impact the romantic connections you make. Because we can talk about how harmful trends are all we like, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still scared of what it looks like to move away from them.

When we asked Otten and McCart about these fears and their thoughts on them, their sentiment was clear. Yes, maybe it will mean you won’t be compatible with some people who hold onto these old fashioned concepts. But they’re probably not who you want to be dating, anyway.

McCart shared that there are two pieces of advice she has for this issue.

“Firstly, rejection is a gift,” she said.

“Dating is a process of elimination – we are ruling some people out and inviting others further into our lives, and doing our best to have fun along the way. Rejection will always sting, but ultimately anything that helps you work out if someone is right for you is actually positive.

“Secondly, there is always going to be people out there who aren’t ready for an empowered woman (or man, or non-binary/GNC person) who is ready and prepared to break away from tradition.”

On this, she shared that the earlier you learn this about a potential partner, the better. Because, in short, “what waits for you on the other side – a healthy relationship where you can set your own terms – is so worth it”. 

Otten added that the main goal in dating is to find someone who supports you and accepts your authentic self. “If you feel like you’re in a relationship or dating scenario that has you feeling like you’re ‘undateable’, then my strong recommendation would be to rethink that relationship,” she shared.

It’s these people who challenge gender roles who often find partners who level up.”

Tips on letting go of gender roles

Dating app Bumble explores gender roles in romance. Getty

Okay, so we’re all clear that traditional gender roles are limiting and all-around pretty negative for relationships. So, how can we take steps to let them go?

On this, Otten shared that the key thing to keep in mind is that you should be having fun. Forget the rules and just focus on making enjoyable, healthy connections (on dating apps or elsewhere).

“Maybe you want to take a moment to work out what your values are, what your goals are and what you want from the dating experience,” she suggested.

“…If we all continue to do better, and challenge these narratives, then together we can make real change.”

McCart added that in the end, these expectations that influence our relationships are just social constructs; they only have a hold on your life if you allow them to.

“You have the power and the ability to make your own rules and live, and date, the way you feel is most authentic to you.”

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