She's the handyman, he stays home. How one married couple maintains fluid gender roles
This story was created as part of Ideastream Public Media's “Sound of Us” audio storytelling workshop. We are featuring stories about marriage. With the proportion of never-married people 40 and older at an all-time high, our community storytellers explore why they got married or not — and, if they are married, how they're making their unions work. Tell your own story!
I grew up with very traditional perspectives of gender roles in marriage, but my personality didn’t fit what a wife should look like in the most traditional way. I was like, 'So I’m gonna cook, clean, take care of the kids and work a job, and all you’re gonna do is go to work?'
It just seemed so unequal. I couldn’t squeeze myself into that role.
I wanted to talk to a couple who have been on a journey of what gender roles have been like for them and how they’ve transitioned from one set of roles to another.
So I talked with Ron and Francine Hollis — both financial services consultants in the Cleveland area — about their marriage and their gender-role journey.
"Ask me maybe like 10 years ago, it was just like, the wife stay home with the babies, the husband go out and work, and those are your gender roles, so figure it out! But we’ve had quite a journey… a bit more complex!" Francine said.
Ron and Francine have found their relationship to gender roles to be fluid, but it took them a while to get to that point.
"Our first conversation was at a party," Ron recalled. "She asked what I did for a living. Financial services is what I was doing. Then she proceeded to corner me for an appointment."
"Oh, come on," Francine chimed in, laughing. "You leave out that you followed me around the party, came and sat next to me on the floor — which I know now was difficult for him ‘cause he’s not that flexible — so obviously, he wanted to continue the conversation. But that’s OK. We’ll leave it right there."
A traditional start
For the first eight years of their marriage, Ron and Francine followed pretty traditional gender roles.
"Francine did not work outside the home. Francine always just expressed a desire to stay at home with the children when they were little," Ron recalled.
"I was gonna take care of my kids 'cause I didn’t want my baby going to nobody else to be taken care of. I was just like, until you can talk, you ain’t going nowhere!" Francine explained.
Even after the kids were settled into school, Ron and Francine were still pretty traditional in their roles. Part of that was due to the beliefs that Ron held for such a long time.
"I was very set on the fact that a man should be the provider, a woman should be at home with their children, ideally. Francine asked me to back it up biblically and I couldn’t. So, it really helped me take a hard look at why, where does that come from?" Ron said.
Even in those early years, Ron and Francine broke some gender norms. Ron took the trash out and could change an occasional light bulb, but that was about the most handy thing he did around the house.
"She’s the handyman of our relationship," Ron said of Francine.
"I am," Francine agreed.
The big switch
Things really took a turn a few years ago, when Francine started studying for a master’s degree in clinical counseling.
"I think I came into marriage knowing that I would have a voice, share how I felt about things, and expected to be heard about those things," Francine said. "And thank the Lord, that is the type of man that my husband is, where he was gonna hear my heart."
Ron said they're in a completely different space now.
"Since Francine finished her last semester, she’s actually now taking a very active role in our business and I’ve been staying home with the kids," he said.
They run a financial consulting business, with Francine at the helm and Ron being the primary caregiver for the children.
"I love the fact that our son gets to see his dad taking care of him, being his primary caregiver, and what a sweet gift that is," Francine said.
As for raising their kids, they’re practicing a more flexible approach to gender roles.
"It really is fluid to me. I don’t see myself being rigid about gender roles. I wouldn’t be rigid about it with our children," Ron said.
"I’m going to teach both my kids how to cook and… well, at this point, their daddy might teach them, ‘cause now he cooks the meals!" Francine added.
After listening to Ron and Francine, I definitely have a different perspective on the possibility of marriage with regard to gender roles.
"It doesn’t have to be the way that you grew up or what you’ve seen other people do," Francine said.
I’ve realized that the gender role conversation is specific to each couple. If you have mutual respect and see marriage as a team effort, the positions of the team are interchangeable, as long as the mutual goal is met.
Dr. T Carter is a writer, editor and consultant formerly based in Cleveland. She is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion for women, and specifically Black women.
Thanks to Literary Cleveland for its partnership on this series.