There was a time when it was clear to both sexes that men brought home the bacon and women waited there to cook it.
But things are not so simple today.With relentless economic pressures on families and 57 percent of women in the workplace, in many instances both sexes are bringing home the bacon and fighting over who should cook it.
The changing perceptions of sex-roles has brought with it important new possibilities for both sexes, including:
-A movement away from dominant-dependent marriages to marriages of co-equals.
-Relief from exclusive burdens for each sex. Men are not saddled with the sole responsibility of making a living and women with the sole responsibility of homemaking and child rearing.
With the crossover of roles, it is possible for women to develop additional facets of themselves, men to be closer to their children, and a couple to respond more flexibly to a family's survival needs.
At the same time, the evolution of new roles brings with it distress to couples, who are often confused and upset by the lack of clear role models.
Too, both sexes tend to experience unique stress related to role changes. Of the two sexes, the responses of men to the blurring of roles is perhaps least understood by either men or women. Here are observations about the potential impact of role changes on men:
Traditionally, men (especially those over 30) were taught that wom-en were there to take care of their needs - to support and nurture them both at home and work.
Home was a sanctuary - a place to come to for a warm meal and the devotion of an attentive wife.
Now, particularly for the dual-career couple, women aren't as available as they were, and a central issue for men is loneliness and a sense of loss or desertion.
"Imagine Adam alone in the Garden of Eden and you will have an idea about the way many men feel today," says Morton H. Shaevitz, author of "Sexual Static: How Men Are Confusing The Women They Love."
While women form a network of nurturing ties with friends and family, most men do not. They tend to have only buddies in whom they don't confide because of traditional programming requiring them always to have their guard up, to save face, and to appear invincible.
Thus cut off from his own sex, "a man is overly dependent on the woman as the all-purpose emotional provider," says Erica Abeel, author of the article, "The Hurting Husband."
A man's reliance on a woman for emotional sustenance also comes from traditional sex-role definitions in child-rearing, says Abeel. "Boys are close to mothers - not fathers - and this rapport with the opposite sex carries into adulthood."
The sense of abandonment or rejection often extends to the sexual relationship, which is a primary area where men feel validated. Overwhelmed by all the competing pressures of home, work and mothering, a wife may be tired and distracted and unappreciative of her husband's sexual needs.
Unfortunately, many men clam up or show anger rather than share their true emotions at times when they are feeling cut off from their wives. And women tend not to sense the real feelings of their men - "I need you, I want you, I miss you, I'd like you to be more available, I'd like to feel closer to you."
Another problem for men is embedded in their traditional role of exclusive provider, says Robert Brannon, author of "The 49 Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role." In the past men have played a very special role in women's lives, taking the dominant position in the relationship because they brought home the paycheck. Consequently, many men have seen their wives' careers, no matter how non-competitive, as a direct assault on the one domain they have held most dear: their jobs. Many men are their jobs.
"This anxiety is difficult for wom-en to appreciate because, until recently women have never identified themselves with work to the same extent as men," says Brannon. "But a man's job pretty well defines him - both in the eyes of his male peers and in the eyes of women. His income and status are tightly bound to his masculinity. His job is the one thing that he thinks his wife admires him for. So if she enters the work force, his unique achievement is undermined."
Speaking of the self-doubt many men experience, one husband says of his working wife: "She doesn't rely on me for the things she wants out of life. It catches me by surprise when I find myself wondering if she loves me, because she doesn't need me to earn money or make decisions."
Observing such feelings, Jan Halper, author of "Why Men Are Angry With Women Today," says: "Many men today still define their masculinity by the degree of a woman's dependence and subservience - they equate being loved with being needed. As women need men less, men question their own worth."