Recession Prompts Gender Role Reversal

The failing economy is forcing some men and women to trade traditional roles.

ByDAN HARRIS <br>Twitter: @danbharris<br>
May 04, 2009, 12:03 PM

May 4, 2009&#151; -- When Larry Brush was laid off from a job in finance two months ago, it marked his third layoff in eight years.

"I wasn't really shocked because the market was dead, but it hurts," Brush said. "It doesn't make you feel better."

After getting the grim news, Brush, 43, and his wife, Sherry Davey, 40, watched "Meet the Parents," a movie in which Ben Stiller plays the role of a male nurse. That gave them an idea: What about nursing?

"And I was like, you know what, I love it, I'm into it, I'll do it," Brush said.

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Davey suggested her husband use his layoff as an opportunity to step outside of finance and reinvent himself.

With previous health experience under his belt, Brush said he is counting on nursing -- an area where there's a worker shortage -- as a steady gig. But like Ben Stiller's character, Brush has already gotten heat from friends.

"He's taken a lot of ribbing from the guys in the neighborhood," said Davey. "I will tell you they're calling him Larry Poppins."

In this recession, Brush says "all the rules are out the window."

"A job is a job, I don't care about, female, male -- it doesn't matter, it's still work," he said.

Cuts in the recession have hit male-dominated industries, like manufacturing, construction and finance the hardest; 78 percent of the more than 5 million jobs lost during the recession have been held by men.

When Chuck Hammond lost his technology job, he decided to become a stay-at-home dad while his wife Debi runs her successful marketing firm.

"My dad kind of gave me an arched eyebrow," Hammond said. "There's definitely an old school thought process on staying at home and being a male where you're supposed to be the provider and everything."

While the recession creates much higher unemployment rates among men than women, many couples are engaged in wrenching re-negotiations over gender roles.

"The traditional role is the woman would stay at home and the man goes out and makes the living and it's his income that supports the family, and that's definitely the role that I'm playing right now," Debi Hammond said. "As the sole breadwinner ... there's definitely added pressure for me."

Couples Struggle With Gender Switch

Studies show that men take layoffs much harder than women.

"Even the most enlightened, feminist males struggle when they can no longer be the primary earner," said Deborah Carr, professor of sociology at Rutgers University.

"I definitely had some qualms about not being able to hang out with guys at work and have that social interaction," Chuck Hammond said about his new role.

Women struggle with the change, too. Eleanor Hemmert is now the main breadwinner after her husband Rick lost his job.

"I don't want to see him in an apron," she said. "I wish I could say something different, but I've lost so much respect for him."

Though layoffs can be taxing on relationships, Brush and Davey seem to take the changes in stride.

"In today's world you have to be a team more than ever and you have to work with each other," she said. "We're in it together ... for better or for worse -- obviously, for much worse."

They think that the recession, while painful, could accelerate positive change and leave an indelible mark on gender roles in America.

"We're at the forefront of the gender switch," he said.

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