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Gender Differences

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Men and women often relate to life differently. This observation was repeatedly reinforced during this research study. As a result of what participants stated, this section describes how participants’ gender differences and religious and cultural differences interrelate with one another to create challenges for intermarried couples.

  • When gender and religious differences interacted with one another, most couples were generally able to resolve these challenges, but not without some difficulty. In other instances, lingering, unresolved resentments were described. For example, a non-Orthodox respondent stated, “From the time I was a little girl, I dreamed about getting married in my hometown church. When I figured out that this couldn’t happen because of the Orthodox Church’s rules, I was very disappointed…. I know this is wrong, and maybe a bit silly, but I’ve never quite gotten over this disappointment, and still guess I still have some hard feelings toward the Orthodox Church because it wouldn’t be more flexible at a very important moment in my life.”
  • All things being equal, participants’ observations and descriptions indicated that the male partner was generally the one who made most of the concessions regarding religious matters. For example, the male spouse usually deferred to his wife with regard to issues related to the couple’s marriage and their children’s baptism. However, this observation did not always hold true. Sometimes other factors such as individual needs, extended family needs and religious rules proved more influential in a couple’s efforts to resolve issues related to their religious differences. One Greek Orthodox partner’s remarks illustrate this point. “My parents were thrilled when they heard I was engaged, but their enthusiasm would have been considered dampened if we hadn’t gotten married in the Greek Orthodox Church. My wife was rather disappointed when this occurred because she wanted to wed in her church, but she accepted it to preserve peace between her and my folks.”
  • Participants’ remarks also indicated that Greek Orthodox females were less likely to compromise on matters related to religion and culture than their partners. This, despite the fact, that many often had a less sophisticated understanding of their religious background than their non-Greek Orthodox partner. A Roman Catholic respondent stated, “I respect Maria’s commitment to her faith and culture. She may not always know how to explain everything as well as I can, but I think she’s got a deeper commitment to her faith and culture than I do. I guess that’s one thing that attracted me to her. I was looking for someone who would raise our children up in the Christian Church.”
  • Male Greek Orthodox partners were generally more interested in integrating ethnic traditions into their family’s calendar, and less inclined to be interested in religious matters. Even though many Greek Orthodox male spouses had convinced their mates to baptize their children in the Greek Orthodox Church, they also indicated that they spent little or no time teaching their spouses and children about Orthodoxy. They repeatedly stated that they believed the family’s religious well-being was best maintained by their wives. This presumably was the case because they felt as though they lacked knowledge about their faith tradition and had less contact with their children. One respondent stated, “I’m always working. Besides, I don’t really know that much about my religion…. Maybe this sounds old fashioned, but I think women do a better job with religious holidays and traditions. Men are usually less interested in these kinds of things.”
  • Informants’ remarks also repeatedly indicated that mothers were generally in a better position to help children develop a religious identity. While describing his mother’s role as religious teacher, a Protestant participant stated, “I guess I know what I know about religion and God because of my mother. My father hardly ever talked to me about religious matters…. But don’t get me wrong, he taught me about, right and wrong, but not necessarily about religious stuff like confession and communion.” Some reasons why male respondents in this study often relinquished this role to their wives are: (1) They felt as if their busy schedules did not afford them the same opportunity as their wives to teach their children about their faith tradition, (2) they viewed this responsibility as a women’s role, (3) they believed that their wives were more religious than they were, and (4) they modeled their parents with regards to religion in the home.

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