An Un-Healthy Relationship: Choice, Happiness and Women

September 22, 2009 | NeW Staff

The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd penned the op-ed “Blue is the New Black” presenting an interesting paradox:  Why, in today’s world, are women becoming unhappy? In light of everything that women have achieved—the right to vote, equal pay, access to education, placement in significant political offices—how could women possibly be less happy? She asks:

“Did the feminist revolution end up benefitting men more than women?”

For Dowd, maybe. She explains that when women stepped into male-dominated realms they put more demands and stress on themselves.

“If [women] once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, garden and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, garden, dinner parties—and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.”

So, the result of women having greater access to the work place and education has actually increased self-judgment and created a greater critical nature?   

Dowd’s article draws heavily on the recent book by Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher, titled “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently.” His book provides critical statistics showing that women’s lives become increasingly empty as women do more and feel less. Buckingham argues, “Choice is inherently stressful and women are being driven to distraction.” The latest area of extreme distraction—children.

Betsy Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton and co-author of the paper, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” said, “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children…whether you are wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early.”

If the “happiness data” that all three authors cite is correct and women are actually less happy than men, why has no one asked the obvious question? Does the reason for the unhappiness of women have nothing to do with self-judgment, greater choice or having children? Quite possibly, women are becoming unhappy because when they stepped into male-dominated realms, they stepped out of female-dominated roles. Women left behind nurturer, homemaker, and mother for roles with longer titles carrying three letters behind their names. Women have turned against their nature when they first stepped away from their purpose and the result is not surprising—unhappiness and discontent.

But feminists like Stevenson refuse to give in to the “dark trend” and instead argue that happiness is beside the point. She is happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she says, even if those choices end up making us unhappy. 

Here you have it ladies—it is better to be equal than happy, better to work a full work week than be content and better to have choice than to have children. What a world we have stepped into.

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