ONTD Political

Does freedom make women unhappy?

5:54 pm - 05/27/2009
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Liberated and Unhappy
By ROSS DOUTHAT

American women are wealthier, healthier and better educated than they were 30 years ago. They’re more likely to work outside the home, and more likely to earn salaries comparable to men’s when they do. They can leave abusive marriages and sue sexist employers. They enjoy unprecedented control over their own fertility. On some fronts — graduation rates, life expectancy and even job security — men look increasingly like the second sex.

But all the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.

This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.

The decline of the two-parent family, for instance, is almost certainly depressing life satisfaction for the women stuck raising kids alone. But this can’t be the only explanation, since the trend toward greater female discontent cuts across lines of class and race. A working-class Hispanic woman is far more likely to be a single mother than her white and wealthy counterpart, yet the male-female happiness gap holds in East Hampton and East L.A. alike.

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buzz_chick 28th-May-2009 02:24 am (UTC)
You know what I think the problem is? Women have more freedom, but they're not free from their gender roles. It's like it hasn't "clicked" yet that it's ok/not ok to do/not do certain things that women used to have to do because we're women. We're expected to negotiate equal to men in board rooms, for example, but are still taught "women are supposed to be nice." It's a type of cognitive dissonance. Women are expected to do more, and expect more of themselves, but hear the same old societal messages that they can't because... (insert bullshit patriarchal "you're a girl" message here). Some women can overcome these messages situationally, by the way... for example, can broker billion dollar business deals... but still believe, for example, that they're nothing without a man, that society expects them to get married and have babies, that they're supposed to be pretty, thin, virginal, slutty, etc.

It's only very recently that women have been told that they can do anything. It's time for women to actually start believing that.


DISCLAIMER: Your mileage may very on my very opinionated and admittedly speculative rant
world_dancer 28th-May-2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
I think you've hit it on the nose.

I've been studying modern women's issues/happiness for two years now in order to write a feminist critique of some literature. And what I've turned up is that

1) women are unhappy because they're trained to always be "good" and "nice" while the male standard is generally "boys will be boys" unless something serious goes down. This leads to a lot of repressed anger and pain for women.

2) Women are unhappy because if they have a career and children, they're expected to perform the traditional functions of both 1950s father (work and win bread) and 1950s mother (clean house, make food, care for children). This has improved and there are any number of great guys in the same position or who do their share

3) Women are unhappy because men, who looked like that had an awful lot of power in the 1950s breadwinner situation, actually weren't all that happy either, they just weren't saying anything about how it hurt to be cut off from their families by long work schedules and the pressure of knowing if you lose your job your whole family will starve (Think of the Cat's in the Cradle song from the 1970s, one of the few that expresses the sense of discontinuty and loss of connection between generations of men). Now that women are on the other side of things, they can see the grass was never really greener. On the positive side, losing delusions means men and women can move forward together instead of fighting against each other.

4) Women are fighting with other women over "values." There are three "types" of women: working mothers, stay at home mothers, and career women. Extremists from all three types have stirred the pot and made women uneasy about working together by stressing the wrong things, rather than the freedom to make your own choice in all aspects of your life. The reason seems to be that each type of woman feels threatened by the others. There's a lack of respect where there should be sisterhood. Again, this is general, any woman here can argue that it doesn't apply to her.

5)Women are still trained from birth to be objects, rather than subjects. This psychological damage is only slowly being lessened. The present generation will, in a way, likely not experience true freedom. We still have to hold the line in hopes that the next generation will do better, until at last we don't begin life with the subconscious urges to be submissives, martyrs, and masochists. This does all tie back in with daughters being raised to be "good" being unhealthy.

6) None of us ever know what the future holds. Women financially suffer more when divorced or single mothers. Women suffer more from spousal abuse, and often can't escape out of fear for children or themselves (the statistics of women who try to get restraining orders or help to escape abusers, and who are denied and later killed are deeply depressing). Women all end up fearing rape and unwanted pregnancies that result from current morality and lack of legal protection from aggressive men. The future, struggling on ones own, is scary. And right now, its causing the Daughters of the Feminist Revolution to look back longingly over their shoulders at the inherent safety of staying at home while letting the men go out into the big bad world. Doesn't mean women are giving up, only that they're experiencing a false nostalgia because they wish the world were safer for them. And being scared is just the sort of thing to make a woman unhappy.
(no subject) - Anonymous
recorded 28th-May-2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
haha this.


i find statistics, studies, polls--- etc to be really unreliable. it's not even 'generalizing based on overall society' it's 'generalizing based on the few people who were willing to take time to take part'
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
nothingmuch 28th-May-2009 03:23 am (UTC)
Perhaps it's because women's expectations are higher now.
shuraiya 28th-May-2009 03:47 am (UTC)
Again, maybe the happiness numbers are being tipped downward by a mounting female workload — the famous “second shift,” in which women continue to do the lion’s share of household chores even as they’re handed more and more workplace responsibility. It’s certainly possible — but as Wolfers and Stevenson point out, recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.

Maybe they're unhappy because their husbands don't do shit around the house. :|
(no subject) - Anonymous
luvlorn 28th-May-2009 04:00 am (UTC)
Love your use of his name and the dig at his his sexual ability. Double awesome.
luvlorn 28th-May-2009 04:03 am (UTC)
First I thought, "grow a vagina and then get back to me on how you feel about freedom," and then on second thought, it only infuriates me more when women actually think those things.
mercystars 28th-May-2009 04:26 am (UTC)
Boy oh boy, I sure do love it when some man tells me what's what because I'm a woman and obviously don't know any better.
squidb0i '0_o28th-May-2009 04:36 am (UTC)





I hereby kick you out of my gender, asshat.



ladycakes 28th-May-2009 07:01 am (UTC)
At first I thought his last name was Douche hat. I am gonna just go with that.
irisira03 28th-May-2009 12:03 pm (UTC)
I think some of these comments are unfair.

What he's talking about, essentially, is the "supergirl syndrome" - the idea that women (and girls) think they have to be everything for everyone, and do it perfectly, or else people will look down on them. Women can do anything, yes, but they can't do everything. Something's gotta give. The resentment comes in when they, conversely, see men being able to "have it all", but not them. Maybe this is in part because women are doing the lions share of domestic work in most households. Maybe this is because men appear to have things come more easily to them. Maybe this is because some women inherently want the control and take it, but then resent it.

I find a lot of women doing things because it's what they're "supposed" to do - they're "supposed to" go to college, perhaps even grad school; they're "supposed to" get married, have kids. They're "supposed to" buy a house in the suburbs and do it all, but still be successful at work. However, who's anyone to say that not doing one - or many - of those prescribed things is necessarily bad? I'm 27, I have an advanced degree, and live in a small 1 br in the city with my boyfriend. We may get married one day. We're not planning on kids, but it's not out of the question, either. We'll never live in the suburbs. Based on our career choices, I'll likely be the primary breadwinner (but not sole income), and based on his culinary talents, he'll cook far more often. I've never been happier. Conversely, I lived with my ex-bf in a house in the suburbs and I hated my life.
silverpatronus 28th-May-2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
did none of you read the WHOLE article?
kxo 28th-May-2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
It was kind of teal deer.
sillycucumber 28th-May-2009 01:54 pm (UTC)
Well, they do say that ignorance is bliss...
But I'd rather be miserable than be a fool.
lithiumflower 28th-May-2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Of course men are happier. They get to do less work and get off easier, while women have to work harder in a two-income world while continuing to put mommyhood high on their list of priorities and still being kept under male's expectations that they take care of the household. I do not think the solution to this is that women need to have their freedom revoked. It's that men need to be held to task. I mean, shit, it takes two people to create a single mom. Why are people always coming down on women like it's our problem?
world_dancer 28th-May-2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
Let's not forget that by living in a two-income world, unless the man is the sole breadwinner for the family, a huge pressure is lifted off his shoulders compared to 1950s guys who were in deep trouble if fired because their families would starve. Now his wife can continue working, and while the family may have to cut back, there is more time before the family is in truly dire straits.
hinshack 28th-May-2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
Yes, dear wise man, tell me that I'm unhappy and what I should do about it. Let's not go into discussions about the ramifications of the ridiculously high standards for success - monetary, socially, romantically and otherwise - have reached over the last forty-odd years, nor how that may have contributed to people becoming gradually more depressed. While we're at it, let's not go into how opening up the workspace to women doesn't necessarily mean that men and women are any less free from whatever gender stereotype they've - most likely unconsciously - been confined to.

I'm sorry, forget what I just said. I JUST REALISED THAT I'M TERRIBLY FERTILE AND CAN HEAR MY BIOLOGICAL CLOCK TICKING.
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