This summer I am working on a guest dude ranch in Colorado. And so far, it has been one of the best learning experiences that I have ever had. From the beginning, I knew it was going to be a big adjustment from my life at William & Mary. I just didn't realize the extent to which this change would be present. Sure, I expected a change in the weather (none of that steamy Williamsburg humidity), and an alteration in my sleeping pattern (5:45 AM is a bit earlier than arising at 10 or 11 every morning). But I wasn't ready for the narrow gender norms that I have encountered in this part of the West.
First of all, I don't want to generalize a very diverse region of the country, but the western society that I am in right now is very specific about the roles that men and women play. Men are focused on hard and heavy labor, like cutting bales of hay, or chopping wood. Women are in charge the rooms and the meals. If one of the guys I work with sees me lugging a big water cooler, or a heavy load of laundry, they automatically offer to carry it. However, if all of the girls have been in the kitchen for an hour, scrubbing dishes, there is no offer to help. The kitchen is strictly for females.
I find it difficult to figure out my own personal stance on this type of society. There are definitely pluses with these fixed gender roles. I've become used to guys opening doors for me, telling me I look pretty and not meaning it in a forward or creepy way, and getting me something if it's across the ranch. Those aspects are definitely not a bad thing.
But I still feel like I'm back in the 1800s when we serve the guests and the men first, and wait to eat after we have cleaned up the dining room and kitchen. I can't imagine being at home and seeing my mom slave over a dinner while my dad waited at the table. It's just not what I'm used to.
I also find myself a little offended when the fixed gender roles turn negative. I have heard guys called a “sisssy,” or “gay,” because they didn't want to finish a piece of meat, or because they offered to help clean up dirty plates. Just yesterday one of my co-workers said that men and women brains were developed so differently, that women were automatically better at serving and cleaning than men are. I'm not kidding.
After taking a sexuality class last semester, I am more informed and sensitive to the subject of gender and sexuality. Maybe I'm thinking too far into this, or maybe I just have too much time on my hands (not as likely as the former). Or perhaps my college life is just such a completely different atmosphere that gender doesn't play as big of a role. Either way, I'm genuinely happy that I have experienced this lifestyle. It may not be how I want to live the rest of my life, or how I want the people around me in my normal life to act, but it has definitely opened my eyes to the varying gender norms in place today.