Gender Roles and Shame

Gender Roles and Shame December 9, 2010

After a very long day of renewing residency/immigration papers together, I asked my husband if he could help me pick up around the house and sweep the kitchen. He replied that he was beat and just needed to veg for a bit. Almost immediately I was overwhelmed with shame.

I stumbled out to the kitchen and looked around at yesterday’s crumbs all over the floor. I waded into the living room through the piles of laundry the girls had scattered across the floor that morning. Tears pushed at my eyes. What was wrong with me? This was my work, my job. What had possessed me to ask my husband to pull my weight as well as his own? I should be able to keep up with this work by myself, in fact, if I was keeping up with it, the room wouldn’t look like this in the first place.

That was when Ms Pooky threw a glass onto the kitchen floor from her perch atop a chair. I banished the baby without explanation to the basement with my husband, and left her screaming in protest as I stomped back to the kitchen and began sweeping up the shattered glass.

Within a few minutes my husband arrived with the screaming baby in tow, asking if I had dumped the baby on him as revenge for not wanting to help out. I yelled something about a glass breaking, and then we yelled at each other for a few minutes. In the middle of the argument, I remembered my promise to myself to be honest about what I was feeling, and I let it all out.

I told him that I was feeling as if I was the worst wife ever, and that I was ashamed that I had asked him to help clean. He replied that I had just as much right to ask, as he had to say no.


In a lot of ways it was easy to say that I am a perfectionist. People nod their heads and smile knowingly, and they share how they are perfectionistic themselves. Say that you struggle with shame and you get blank stares. And yet the 2 are inextricably linked. Perfectionism comes out of shame, and in the last year, I’ve been discovering the areas of shame in my life for the first time.

Shame is the lie in your head that tells you that you are not worthy of love or acceptance. Shame tells you that you are an inadequate person/wife/mother etc. until you perform to a certain standard. Shame tells you that you are bad, with nothing to contribute to anyone.

I had an understanding of my role as a wife and mother influenced by years of lies told me by my parents, my christian education and reading, and even several years of church attendance to solidify it all.

So many messages: “The woman should be a quiet, meek, keeper at home.” “The wife exists to serve her husband and children, this honors God.” “If you were ever this defiant to the husband you will have someday, that would enrage him.” “The root of all your problems is love of self.” “The wife is to be submissive to her husband, as unto God.” “Greet your husband with a clean home and a smile, he should have no worries or concerns about his home since you should have it under control.” “Your highest goal in the bedroom should be to please and satisfy your husband sexually, if he feels neglected he could be led into sin.”

After recognizing that those lies were just that, lies. It’s been getting easier to reject the shame-filled messages. Now I can look in the mirror without hearing my mom’s “encouragement” to try just one more diet. I can walk into my kitchen and see the counters that have not been scrubbed in a few days, and my first thought is no longer my Dad’s voice saying “ this room is a pigsty”.

It has been such a breakthrough for me to realize that my marriage can be a partnership of mutual respect, I do not have to be a quiet cheerful fake. That my house does not have to be cleaned to the standards of some idealized republished housekeeping book written by a Victorian era woman with servants. That I can let myself be vulnerable in the bedroom, I am not a performance oriented wind up toy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t goals, dreams, or things I am seeking to change and grow through, but now I change for me. I work to achieve the dreams I have for myself, not to become the person anyone else tells me I should be.

It’s hard for me to believe that I am worthy of love just for being who I am. But I know that I am a much better “me” than the “ideal” I was trying to chase for so long.

What are some of the ways you have felt you had to earn love?

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