23 September 2009

Why Are Women So Unhappy?

According to a recent study, women today are less happy than they were 40 years ago, and are less happy than men.
(Who manufactures a Happiness Meter
? The Carebears?)

study by "economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers... indicates that across race, marriage status, economic bracket, and even country, women's subjective experience of being happy has declined both absolutely and in relation to men."

Putting aside the fact that economists decided this, and not someone who is actually trained in handling human emotion, this is sobering news. With all our liberation and freedom, how can the happiness levels of women be less than in the 1960s? And what do men have to be so happy about?

Religious folks will tell you that all this liberation has taken women away from our purpose in life, which is to care for the home and hearth while the man is at work. We should have a couple of babies (more than a couple, if you're Catholic or Southern Baptist), and work hard to raise them. This is what Nature and God intended. To deviate from this path is to bring about our own unhappiness.

In a
New York Times editorial about this same study, the conclusion was a bit different.

"There's no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can't join forces -- in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s -- behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the "fallen women" of a more patriarchal age.

He suggests that it is in fact the fault of Men that Women are so unhappy. Men made out like bandits in this age of sexual liberation. Want regular, socially acceptable sex? Don't get married; just get your girlfriend to move in with you. Bored with your 40 year old wife/mother of your children? Trade her for two twenty-year-olds. Knock a girl up? Don't marry her. Don't get involved in the baby's life. After all, the best form of birth control is not using your real name.

or this.

As much fun as it is to blame men for all female ills, I just can't agree in this instance. Yes, there are men out there who are jerks. To suggest that all women are less happy today because of a few bums is unfair to men. This view is also unfair to women, as it implies that our happiness is dependent upon men. Everyone knows my happiness is dependent upon shoes.

Personally, I believe that our unhappiness is self-imposed.

For the most part, in America women tend to believe that they must do the following in order to be considered a complete and successful woman:

  • I HAVE to get married.
  • I HAVE to have a career.
  • I HAVE to have children.
  • I HAVE to look good while doing it (exercise, eat well, wear the right clothing, keep a nice house).

But it's more than merely what I think about myself. If any woman is lacking in any of the aforementioned departments, then all the other hens sit in judgment.

"Sally and her husband haven't had kids yet. Do you think there's something wrong with her?"

"Omg, Julie has 3 little girls, and all she does is work. What kind of mother leaves her kids at day care for someone else to raise?"

"Honey, you're almost 35 and you're still not married. Are you at least seeing anyone? There's this nice man from church that I want you to meet..."

Supposedly, modern females in this country have "choices." However, I've learned that we put limits on each other without any help from men. I can't tell you how many times I've been told how selfish I am because I don't want kids, or how I'll "change my mind in time." I thought Woman's Rights and the Pill allowed me to have reproductive freedom. I guess not.

What about women who actually want to be housewives? Some women are perfectly happy to care for the home and for their children while their husband works. "Progressives" will say that those women live under a misogynistic husband, and are too weak to stand up for themselves.

"Choice" to some feminists means "Choice as long as you do what I think you should do."

This is why we're unhappy. It is our own fault.


  1. Laura, I didn't see where Douthat said anything about blaming men, in fact, he made it pretty clear that both traditionalists and feminists would have a pretty strong case as to why women are overall not happy.

    Your interpretation of "blaming men for all of female ills" is a bit overly simplified and reduces the whole debate of feminism into the man-haters v. man-protectors paradigm. The third-wave feminist movement grew from women who felt disillusioned with the sexual revolution. It is true that it was not much of a revolution for women. So they began to mobilize for changes that went beyond the bedroom - like equal pay, equal education, and reproductive rights. This afforded women more choices in life - choices that you and I benefit from today.

    The feminist backlash of the 80's resulted in indelible damages that I believe are what we are still struggling with now. Feminists were propagandized as"femi-nazis" and until this day, feminism has had nothing but negative connotations. Public policies that provide sexual education, family planning, child care, maternity leave, reproductive health, equal pay in the workplace, equal representation in education, academia, law, government, and medicine have either been reversed, reduced, or never realized. Pornography has somehow shifted into just meaning “gay pornography” and women working in the “adult entertainment” industry have now become mainstream and are applauded. Women who are in powerful positions are largely reviled by the public and their colleagues. Standards of beauty and youth have become so perverted that women mutilate their bodies and faces to adhere to these unrealistic standards. And women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, or single have little chance of meeting a man who is willing to date someone his own age. So I would argue that women have shown great determination and fortitude in creating their own destinies despite the cultural and societal lag. It’s no wonder we’re unhappy. We’re exhausted.

    There’s a difference between blaming patriarchal values and blaming individuals (men). Women are compliant in a patriarchal system so one can argue that we might be just as much to blame. And those same values do not always benefit men either. But like Douthat pointed out, it is the only model we know and I believe it is still a work in progress. Clearly something has gone awry, but to simply blame individuals – whether it be men or women – seems reductive.

  2. That post was better than my whole blog.

    Some other people (on MySpace) pointed out the 1980s backlash. Since I was young during that era, and since most people don't discuss the '80s when discussing feminism, I'm afraid I don't know much about it. I do know that too many women do mutilate their bodies - and for what end? So they spend 3 or 4 years looking really hot in a bikini? Then one must deal with scarring, gravity, and possibly wanting to go back to normal in the next ten years.

    I think reproductive health issues for women is improving, because more states are requiring insurance companies to pay for the Pill (because they are paying for Viagra - why not the f-ing Pill?), and county health departments routinely offer free or low-cost office visits and birth control to women who otherwise couldn't afford simple preventative care.

  3. Not better then this blog...
    but I'm glad that it grabbed your attention.

    I did make an error above, though. I referred to the "third-wave" feminist movement when I should have said "second-wave." Third-wave started in the 90s.

    You should have been around in the 70s when sex education was ubiquitous. Young women were taught to protect themselves at an early age and we could go to free clinics to get various methods of birth control. There were fewer teenage pregnancies then, and more girls chose to wait and go to college because it was the smart thing to do, not because they had the fear of g-d put into them.

    I think you would enjoy reading Susan Faludi's "Backlash." The manifesto aspect is a bit dated, but it's a good historical account of the rise of political conservatism in the 80s and the threat feminism posed to the status quo.

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