When I was 16 years old I discovered the wonderful world of fantasy role-playing – from damsels in distress and heroic elves to dungeons and dragons – role-playing was what I was doing while my peers were getting laid.
I find this somewhat ironic as role-playing is now something I do while I’m getting laid. Gone are the dungeons and damsels in distress only to be replaced by… well sometimes still dungeons and damsels in distress – but I digress. Role-playing is interesting, and not just in a Japanese college girl meets tired businessman kinda way. More in a the-roles-we’ve-been-trained-to-play-since-we-were-kids way.
If I turn the page of just about every other male magazine these days (and probably most of the female ones) I see only one archetype of a man. He has a smile that would give Dentine advertising execs an erection, a six-pack that would make Breweries proud, and the dress sense that gay men everywhere would kill for. That’s all okay though, the bigger problem for me is that this guy is a man’s man of the highest order, he’s a high-flying millionaire executive that spends his weekends running marathons, his evenings as a volunteer fireman, and every other Sunday he helps out at the local kids charity. He’s playing the man role perfectly.
There’s a problem though. This somewhat historical idea of a man only works if he’s paired up with a somewhat historical idea of a woman – and that, my friends, just ain’t about to happen. Look, you could suggest that your better half leaves the man stuff to you; after all, there’s still a ton to be done in the kitchen. You could suggest that. You just shouldn’t, unless of course you want to see how effective she really is with those kitchen knives. The upside is, she probably knows how to get the blood out of your shirt. (Launder in cold water for 15 minutes. Add ammonia if needed – you’re welcome.)
You see, contrary to popular opinion, women apparently are able to think for themselves; they have ideas even. The scary thing is that I’ve come to realise a few things of my own: their ideas are better, as are their operational skills, so is their work ethic, and their ability to execute.
Where does this leave us?
Don’t stress about it too much lads, all is not lost, that jam jar ain’t gonna open itself y’know.
So, what does this all have to do with role-playing though? Lots. The gender roles we’ve been playing have changed. The women know this; it’s just taking a little longer for the penny to drop for us.
I met this couple at a dinner party recently, she’s the up-and-coming executive at one of SA’s big banks; he, on the other hand, is currently an out of work builder – and by currently, I mean for the last two years.
It turns out that every day this woman gets up, goes to work, and wins the bread. The husband, meanwhile, gets up, hits the gym, ostensibly tries to get work, and maybe potters around the garden. All good so far. However, this is where things get interesting.
At some point in the dinner party (after the halloumi, grilled, but before the steak), we got to discussing the things that we would or wouldn’t do around the house, “Just don’t ask me to do the shopping,” our gym buddy laughed, “I hate that.” Everyone laughed with him. Everyone, except his wife. You see he’s not joking, he really does believe that doing the shopping is, and I quote, emasculating. I shit you not.
Some time later, after a few more bottles of wine (red), it came up that she had better not expect him to be a stay-at-home dad when their kid arrives in a few months. He’s happy to be a dad, and to stay at home, just not to be a stay-at-home dad – that’s just not cricket. What blew me away were the nods of approval from some of the other men around the table. I’m shocked, but I get it, that’s how (many of) our parents did it. Dad went to work, Mum got us ready for school, Dad came home, Mum prepared dinner. The system worked fairly well, there were a finite amount of tasks to be done, and a finite amount of hours to do it in. Mum and Dad simply divvied it up and everything worked fine.
So, the way I see it is, if one person is at the office all day earning money, the other person has to pick up the slack at home. It’s not about gender roles, it’s about time. I asked the guy over dessert (crème brûlée) how he would cope if his wife quit her job to look after the kid. He said that that just wasn’t an option at the moment. I then gave him my best knowing stare with eyebrow raised, but alas, it was a waste of a perfectly good eyebrow – the guy just didn’t get it (and if his wife’s face was anything to go by, he won’t be getting it at home in the near future either).
The sad reality is that this guy isn’t alone; hell, he’s not even in the minority. There’s one of him at just about every dinner party you’ll ever attend. Seriously, as my mate Craig says, every dinner party has someone that everyone else thinks is a douchebag. If you can’t spot him – it’s you.
The bottom line is this: the traditional gender roles are about as relevant today as the fax machine. Sure, we all still have them, and occasionally they get used, but we all know it’s just a matter of time. My recommendation is this: leave the role-playing for the bedroom, it’s a heap of fun, and those French maid outfits are as sexy as hell (especially when she’s wearing it). For everything else, if it needs doing, and you have time, get it done. It’s not emasculating and may actually help you get some. Of course, if getting some doesn’t interest you, there’s always Dungeons and Dragons.
By Richard Mulholland
Published by Playboy South Africa July 2012