Second Home – Another Place for Another You? Gender Roles on Vacation

Do you every so often feel tied down by the routines and schedule of your everyday life to the degree that you just need to remove yourself from it all in order to get perspective? If there’ isn’t enough of a adventurist in you to pursue the impulse to just elope and go for a fresh start somewhere far far away when you’ve had it enough, you can go for the next best thing – vacation, a legitimate escape from your usual responsibilities, your usual life and your usual self.

Guiche, Portugal; photo by ilovefremont2001

And while you can feel the excitement and freedom of an escape when you take days off and just stay at home (think skipping classes at school), this article is about going away. It often seems to me that the need for the change of environment includes, among others, the need for the change within people, their habits and roles. Contrary to the popular saying that sometimes the only part of the world you can change is you, I belive that other times we go the other way around – travel to another part of the world in order to find the change within ourselves.

Domaine de Barthe Gites, Douzens, France; photo by Retr0Girl

I came across a beautifully written piece by Davina Chaplin (1999) that sums up the unstructured interviews she conducted with the British owners of rural properties in France on what their second  (vacation) home means to them and how it affects their life and habits.  I would rarely describe a scientific article as beautiful, but there must be something about the qualitative research that captures the essence of the topic much better that quantitive research. I recommend reading the original, since here you can find only bits and pieces of their conclusions.

Gruissan, France; photo by Retr0Girl

It’s ironic that for many of us vacation time can also be time of quarrels, fights and even relationship break-ups. New environment and new situations are not only opportunities to have fun and/or take rest, but also have the potential to be stressful because our needs and expectations, as well as those of our partners and family might be different from what we’re used to. We’re in search for the new balance when the routine established at home doesn’t fit the new environment. Plus, we finally have more time for everything, including fights. That’s one of the reasons why it’s interesting to see parallels Chaplin drew between male and female responses on what they enjoy on vacation.

Eastbouurne, UK; photo by Retr0Girl

So, is the assumption about the change within person when going away correct? According to Chaplin, yes –  especially the women claimed they felt like `different people’ as a result of the purchase of their French property, (whereas very few of the men expressed the same thoughts although their wives and children sometimes noticed differences). This just makes me think of the movies that revolve about a woman going somewhere far and achieving great change as a person – Out of Africa with Meryl Streep, Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Keaton, to the latest Eat pray love featuring Julia Roberts. It also makes sense if you think of numerous psychology research revealing that women are more sensitive to context than men.


Cinque Terre, Italy; photo by ilovefremont2001

One (female) respondent described one bit of that change saying she loves listening to Beethoven because it seems to go with the house. It seems to be the same principle that explains why a friend of mine wears super mini shorts on vacation but would never wear them at home, why falling in love just seems to go with seaside or Paris (it’s just convenient when you have such a romantic stage set up), and why generally in Rome we like to do as the Romans do.

Oia, Santorini, Greece; photo by Rambling Travelerž

While men didn’t experience the feeling of being a new person, some of them provided particularly interesting examples of role-playing activities, for instance dressing down for the role of a farmer, or representing the daily task of going to the patisserie for bread as a hunter-gatherer activity, describing their attitudes and behaviour in France as „doing the french thing“etc. I belive that the change is quite similar for both genders, but men seem to explain their behavioral chances more as playing away and women as growing or changing as a person.

Skopelos, Greece; photo by Yorick_R

Another thing that’s interesting is that men perceived the French house itself to be important as a physical legacy, and the women were more concerned with the affective aspects of the second home, the creation of a valuable stock of childhood memories to give to their  children as well as cherish for themselves.

Arles, France; photo by Greg_e

The interviewed male owners placed the emphasis on the work they put into the house which reflects their control over the environment, and their sense of achievement and pride. It becomes very much a `shell of the self’, embodying the personal investment of time, effort and money and symbolizing skill and resourcefulness.

Dubrovnik, Croatia; photo by Benderish

All the women with dependent children loved caring for them  in a more relaxed, less pressurized context, savouring the beauties of the natural environment. It appeared to be through this that they find their space for self-awareness, selfenhancement or growth.

Obidos, Portugal; photo by ilovefremont2001

Some men emphasized the importance of solitude in certain part of a day (enjoying early mornings alone,  the feeling of owning that part of a day),  and women  focused  more on the socializing aspects of the French life. It were frequently the women who made the contacts with the French neighbours, although this does depended to a large extent on their competence in the French language.

Crete, Greece; photo by Shelby PDX

Gender perspective sheds new light on what we need from vacation. While we all benefit from taking a break, men seem to need some solitude and DIY involvement to recuperate, and women need more special moments with their loved ones and enoy doing everything at slow, relaxed pace. When we understand each others’ needs we have greater chances to come home fresh rested and satisfied people – what we went for in the first place.

Korcula, Croatia; photo by Andrea Mus

Reference(s)

1. Chaplin, D. (1999) Back to the cave or playing away? Gender roles in home-

from-home environments. Journal of Consumer Studies & Home Economics, 23, 3, pp181- 189

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