My Husband Wouldn't Let Me Carry The Grocery Basket -- What's Up With Men and Feats of Strength?

This is the one "gender role-y" thing that my husband and I consistently bicker about.
Publish date:
August 8, 2013
masculinity, men, strength

Let me just state for the record that my husband is not some Cro Magnon man who clubbed me over the head and dragged me by my hair to the altar.

He is one of the most intelligent, logical persons I know, and his capacity for empathy and fairness astounds me sometimes. He has a wicked critical eye, and when I'm creatively stuck, he's one of the only people I trust to help me find the light. He knows more about gluten than I do, and always finds me gluten-free treats that I didn't even know existed.

He grounds my anxiety, he's a talented artist, and he pampers my cat. If you can't tell, after almost a decade together, I'm still pretty smitten.

Yet despite all this fluffy, hearts and ponies stuff, we still have our moments of "HUH??? YOU NO MAKE NO SENSE NO YOU DON'T." Lately, this has been happening at our local grocery store.

You see, my husband has recently returned to the gym after almost two years of being a graduate student in a library. He's the type of person who actually enjoys working out to the point of muscle failure, and even if his limbs become merely ornamental for 24 hours, he always goes back for more punishment. It's fun for him. I don't get it, but to each their own.

So with all these muscle shredding-iron pumping-tricep searing exercises, lifting a grocery basket loaded with a jug of iced tea, a bottle of wine, a gallon of milk and various gummy creatures is a little painful.

There's grunting involved. Understandably.

So of course, I offered to carry it. He said no and continued to grunt.

That's where I got confused.

"But why?" I asked, grabbing for the basket.

He stopped and said, "Because it's emasculating."

Really? This is just something I don't get. Am I missing some sort of chip in my brain? Is he? Does carrying a grocery basket really indicate masculinity? Is this how men feel manly?

I really don't think this is a domination thing, where he needs to show his "widdle woman who the big stwong man is," but I do get a little ticked off that he's so obsessed with his grocery store masculinity that he'd rather suffer the pain of a thousand muscle tears than let his wife shoulder the burden.

I mean, come on! We are not a pair that subscribes to gender roles -- cooking, cleaning, fixing the car, doing the laundry, earning the money, changing of names, etc. -- why are feats of strength something to get all macho about?

The more I think about it, I see a pattern emerging. While I work part time in a pet store that requires that I schlep around giant bags of arm-toning dog food, most of the men I encounter in the store can't stand the sight of me grabbing their bag of dog food off the top shelf for them and immediately jump in to do it for me. Very often they end up knocking themselves on the top of the head. 30 pounds of kibble can be surprisingly heavy.

And a boyfriend I had in college tried THREE TIMES to romantically carry me up the stairs of his home, dropping me THREE TIMES in the process. Might I add, I probably outweighed him at the time by about 20 pounds. But he was determined.

I wonder if this showing of muscle goes deeper than my knee-jerk response that all this is about some dopey antiquated idea that to be feminine is to be weak and to be masculine is to be strong?

Is this simply a point of pride? By saying that "I can" do they read this as, "You can't"?

I suppose I can understand that to some extent. I'm the first person to see somebody doing something, be it shearing a sheep or building a Jeep and say, "I can do that! Seriously, I can! Watch me!" Not everything is a challenge, but in the excitement of the moment, it sure can feel that way.

Is that it? Is part of the male brain simply wired to accept and vanquishes challenges not visible to the naked eye?

Not once in my comings and goings have I thought to myself, "Schucks my bed is heavy, I wish there was a MAN here to move it for me." I may wish for help, but I can honestly say that gender does not enter my realm of thinking. Any human with lifting capacity would suffice.

Look, I'm fully aware that speaking in purely physical terms men often possess greater upper body strength than women. But in regard to tasks in which men and women are on equal footing, why all the hoopla? This is the one "gender role-y" thing that my husband and I consistently bicker about. It really baffles me that a man who is so equal about everything else can latch on to something that is so…primitive.

Part of me wonders if I should just let him have his basket if it bothers him so much. Let Thor have his hammer. At least my arms will be free to grab more Swedish Fish.

Have you experienced anything like this with the men in your life? Have you encountered a display of manly feats of strength? What do the men in your life do to make themselves feel more manly?