What do gay women do in the bedroom?
It is a conundrum, I have found, that seems to weigh heavily on many an inquiring heterosexual mind. Who makes the bed, for example?
Who folds the laundry? Who pulls out the drill to hang a picture?
A new study, presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, found that when it comes to same-sex couples,
most Americans believe the “more masculine” partner and the “more feminine” partner should be responsible for stereotypically male and female chores.
The study also found that people were more likely to consider there to be a distinct “man” and a “woman” in lesbian relationships than they were when it came to gay male couples.
Probably, you know, because the idea of there being no male presence at all in a relationship is utterly unfathomable.
I’ve spent most of my relationship years in same-sex relationships. During this time many a moron has asked me “who is the man?” Normally I have ignored these people.
However, this study made me rethink my views. If there’s a way to get out of doing the cooking and cleaning, I’m interested.
And if that means having to proclaim yourself “the man” in a relationship, then so be it.
So was I an Amy or a Jennifer? After considered analysis I decided my enthusiasm for the Fast and the Furious franchise made me more of an Amy.
But what about my girlfriend? Could she be an Amy too? How would sociology deal with that? I promptly texted my girlfriend with the Amy/Jennifer preferred-activity quiz.
“I just really feel like I can’t be defined in a multiple-choice format,” she replied.
This is typical of the way in which women can never give you a straight answer and a very Jennifer thing to say. Ergo, according to the court of heterosexual opinion, she should be doing more grocery shopping. Phew!
The ASA isn’t the first organisation to conduct a studly like this.
Research suggests that same-sex couples have more equal relationships than their heterosexual counterparts and share more childcare responsibilities.
Nevertheless one person still tends to end up doing more of the chores. Indeed, a 2015 study by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) found that there were only two household tasks in which same-sex couples were more likely to share responsibility than heterosexual couples: laundry (44% versus 31%) and household repair (33% versus 15%).
However, there was no evidence to suggest gendered household responsibilities in same-sex couples had anything to do with one person choosing to roleplay “the man” and one “the woman”.
There is still a huge chore gap in heterosexual America; one that has barely closed in the last 10 years.
If housework is finally going to become more equally allocated among straight couples then perhaps the best thing for everyone to do would be to sit down with their partners and have a long discussion about whether they’re an “Amy” or a “Jennifer”.
By the end even the most hardened essentialist might be convinced that gender isn’t just a performance – sometimes it’s a farce.
But how does one even figure out who the more feminine or masculine person in a relationship is?
Physical appearance is obviously a major factor in how people initially pigeonhole you. Interestingly, however, the ASA study didn’t touch on physical appearance at all. Rather it asked people to look at vignettes describing fictional couples.
The study introduced stereotypically gendered traits via interests (for example, a preference for action movies versus romcoms) and then asked participants to assign household chores to each couple.
(It should be noted that the survey responses came from a nationally representative.
These people were 92% heterosexual, so responses don’t necessarily reflect how LGB people think.)
For example, one of the vignettes concerned a couple called Amy and Jennifer.
Respondents were told that Amy (a reporter) and Jennifer (a physical therapist) worked the same hours, but Jennifer makes more than double Amy’s salary.
On the weekend “Amy usually wants to play basketball if they are going out, or watch an action movie if they are staying in. Instead,
Jennifer would rather go shopping or watch a romantic comedy.” Because she liked romcom and shopping, most people decided Jennifer was the woman in the relationship, which meant she did the stereotypically woman’s work.
When I quizzed a number of my gay friends about their allocation of household tasks in a highly scientific
WhatsApp focus group, some noted that they’ve sometimes found themselves slipping into stereotypically Amy/Jennifer situations.
“When I’ve dated girly girls I find myself feeling more masculine, inclined to hold the door, pick up the check more, etc,” noted H.
“I think gender roles are similar to sexuality,” said M. “It’s fluid and can change based on the person you are dating at the time.”
Sometimes your gender role can also change based on the task at hand.
My friend V notes that she often jokingly plays up being the femme one in her relationship in order to avoid taking the garbage out.
Ultimately I think Judith Butler had the last sensible word on all of this. “Gay is to straight not as copy is to original, but, rather, as copy is to copy,” she famously wrote.
In other words it doesn’t matter where you are on the sexuality spectrum – all gender is performance.
While some feminists have seen butch/femme dynamics as regressive – a misguided reflection of heterosexual norms
– Butler views this performance as effectively unveiling just how constructed heterosexuals norms are in the first place.
After all, once you start unpacking the mental process of figuring out who is best suited to take out the trash based on who’d rather watch Fast 7 or Love Actually,
it’s hard not to realize that maybe the idea of “feminine” chores and “masculine” chores is really a lot of nonsense.