The Difference Between Sex and Gender Roles in My Marriage


“Before our marriage, I didn’t think much on how my femaleness colored parts of me in different ways than my husband’s maleness did.”

By Danielle Vermeer

Pregnant_800When my pastor first asked to grab coffee to talk about my blog, I was afraid. I ran through a litany of questions, attempting to probe the potential reasons why she would want to talk with me about my writing. Would she be skeptical of my beliefs as a Christian feminist? Would she question my salvation because I am a hybrid Catholic/Christian? Unfortunately, both inquisitions have happened before in my experiences with church leaders who encountered my writing, and so I went into our coffee date prepared for the worst.

It turns out she simply wanted to learn more about me, my writing and how the core topics of my blog—marriage, faith and feminism—were lived out in my marriage and life. One of the first questions she asked was if my husband and I do anything in our marriage precisely because he’s a man and I’m a woman.

When she first asked, I paused in typical George Michael Bluth-style for ten seconds too many, racking my brain for an answer. This woman beside me, a community life pastor ten years my senior, eagerly awaited my response. But I was stumped. I hesitated in a few more more awkward pauses, then spit out an example.

“Well, sometimes he is less concerned with keeping the home organized. It’s like he doesn’t see the dresser drawers sticking out or the twisty ties from the bag of bagels sitting on the counter for days. Maybe’s that one instance of traditional gender roles in our marriage.”

But as soon as I completed the thought, I knew it wasn’t because of some cosmic determination of our gender roles that my husband forgets to recycle the twisty tie on the counter top. He simply doesn’t see it. This is how he works, not as a man, but as a person.

From the start of our marriage two years ago, we committed to treat one another as a person first, and then as a man or woman. We wanted to live out our values as followers of Jesus and feminists, submitting to one another as equal partners and lovers, yet also understanding how, as male and female, the two become one flesh.

I knew there must be some ways my husband and I do things precisely because of our gender or sex.

And so I think of a better example, but then I realize it isn’t a valid example either. Just a matter of preference and convenience, not of gender.

By now I am laughing, retracting the two examples that didn’t answer her question, so I resigned and simply said, “I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s anything in our marriage that we do specifically because of our genders.”

But then I got more serious. We may not perform traditional gender roles as husband and wife, but we certainly embody sex roles in our marriage.

Although I’m sure she’s heard it all, I skirted around the specifics with my pastor-friend, blushing while explaining that, “Um, well. In some parts of our marriage, it is quite clear who is female and who is male.” I was not only stating the obvious, but also was referring to something more mysterious, more sacred.

Before our marriage, I didn’t think much on how my femaleness colored parts of me in different ways than my husband’s maleness did. I knew the what and how of my femaleness before I got married, but only began to understand the why of my femaleness in marriage.

The why initially seemed arbitrary, even a mistake, since to be female in a male-dominated world was to be relegated to a position of second class citizenship, subjected to harassment, hatred, violence, and discrimination. But gently and steadily, the Holy Spirit showed me what needed to be done: I needed to overcome my visceral fear of pregnancy.

My husband knew I was afraid of pregnancy going into our marriage. I explained how I would feel physically sick when I saw a pregnant woman, her belly swollen to the size of the peach in James and the Giant Peach. A chill would shiver down my spine. My hands would get balmy and fidgety. My forehead would tighten with a piercing migraine.

I knew instinctively that I feared pregnancy, but I didn’t know intellectually why I was afraid.

And that’s when a year into our marriage, I broke down in heaving, chest-tightening tears because the full weight of my femaleness came to light in one obvious realization: I am the only one in my marriage who can get pregnant.

It’s obvious, of course, since I am biologically and anatomically female and my husband is biologically and anatomically male. But since our marriage is a full partnership, I wanted to forgo differentiated roles based on sex or gender because I desperately wanted to be equal, even if I didn’t want to actually be the same. I simply wanted to be me first, and then female and a woman.

I am afraid of being pregnant because it is the most obvious manifestation of femaleness in a world where being female is considered less than.

As much as my husband needs love while I need respect, as much as he can do the dishes while I can fix stuff in our home, and as much as he needs to talk things through while I want to solve things logically, there is one major difference: My husband does not have the potential to bear life. I do.

In sharing this fear with my pastor, I blush as she nods in solidarity, understanding my euphemisms and fears.

“So outside of the bedroom and babies,” I tell my pastor-friend, “I don’t think our gender or sex roles define our marriage.”

But then again, bedroom and babies are both a pretty big deal.

About Danielle:

LinkedIn 2Danielle L. Vermeer is a social impact consultant by day and blogger on the intersections of marriage, faith, and feminism by night. A longtime advocate in the anti-trafficking sector, she is passionate about amplifying the voices of survivors and sharing stories of hope and healing. She and her husband are on a journey of two becoming one and are trying to consume more ethically in Chicagoland. Connect with her at or on Twitter @fromtwotoone.