My love affair with Maureen Dowd was a brief one. It began and ended with this column. Alas, she’s back to her old tricks – namely, undermining other women. In her latest op-ed, she argues that feminism has made women unhappy, and provides ample evidence. She’ll keep her career, of course, but the rest of us are hopeless.
Women are getting unhappier, I told my friend Carl.
“How can you tell?” he deadpanned. “It’s always been whine-whine-whine.”
Why are we sadder? I persisted.
“Because you care,” he replied with a mock sneer. “You have feelings.”
As a man, Carl’s only feeling is annoyance. At women.
In the early ’70s, breaking out of the domestic cocoon, leaving their mothers’ circumscribed lives behind, young women felt exhilarated and bold.
Women are so gullible.
But the more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved. Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?
That can’t be. When I’m not reading about how the feminist movement destroyed women, I’m reading about how it’s sapped men’s will to live.
According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.
Before the ’70s, there was a gender gap in America in which women felt greater well-being. Now there’s a gender gap in which men feel better about their lives.
Could it be that, before the ’70s, women felt less comfortable expressing their dissatisfaction? Men still don’t have as much freedom to express their feelings as women do.
As Arianna Huffington points out in a blog post headlined “The Sad, Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling”: “It doesn’t matter what their marital status is, how much money they make, whether or not they have children, their ethnic background, or the country they live in. Women around the world are in a funk.”
(The one exception is black women in America, who are a bit happier than they were in 1972, but still not as happy as black men.)
Wait a second. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are married or have children? I thought marriage and babies were the keys that unlocked women’s inner bliss.
Marcus Buckingham, a former Gallup researcher who has a new book out called “Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently,” says that men and women passed each other midpoint on the graph of life.
“Though women begin their lives more fulfilled than men, as they age, they gradually become less happy,” Buckingham writes in his new blog on The Huffington Post, pointing out that this darker view covers feelings about marriage, money and material goods. “Men, in contrast, get happier as they get older.”
The reason for this seems so obvious to me, if it’s true. Dowd just assumes the validity of Buckingham’s research, which may or may not be sound. But anyway, it is not surprising that, in a culture where women are considered pieces of fruit that spoil over time whilst men are considered wines that improve with age, women would get depressed as their social value decreases.
Buckingham and other experts dispute the idea that the variance in happiness is caused by women carrying a bigger burden of work at home, the “second shift.” They say that while women still do more cooking, cleaning and child-caring, the trend lines are moving toward more parity, which should make them less stressed.
The trend line might be moving towards parity, but it legs behind parity in the public sphere.
When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.
“Choice is inherently stressful,” Buckingham said in an interview. “And women are being driven to distraction.”
Who’s in the driver’s seat?
Right after disputing the “second shift” theory, Dowd quotes Buckingham contradicting himself. If women are distracted by too many things that contribute to their unhappiness, that must mean men are distracted by fewer things: looks, kids, wives, gardens, dinner parties? Don’t forget: women have to be “sexy” at all times. There’s your “second shift.”
One area of extreme distraction is kids. “Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children,” said Betsey Stevenson, an assistant professor at Wharton who co-wrote a paper called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” “It’s true whether you’re wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn’t had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness.”
Children mean less me-time and less time spend with one’s partner. I’m sure that sucks sometimes.
Having children will make a person even more stressed if they bear most of the burden of raising them. If parenthood sucks more for women than men, that may be the reason.
And who the hell is going to admit they regret having their children? It’s dangerous enough to declare, as a person without children, that you don’t want kids. Admit that you don’t want your own kids and you’ll have an angry mob marching down your block.
The more important things that are crowded into their lives, the less attention women are able to give to each thing.
Add this to the fact that women are hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Women are much harder on themselves than men.
They tend to attach to other people more strongly, beat themselves up more when they lose attachments, take things more personally at work and pop far more antidepressants.
“Women have lives that become increasingly empty,” Buckingham said. “They’re doing more and feeling less.”
The world is much harder on women than men. Excuse us for internalizing that. Damn feminism for complicating our hormones.
Another daunting thing: America is more youth and looks obsessed than ever, with an array of expensive cosmetic procedures that allow women to be their own Frankenstein Barbies.
Men can age in an attractive way while women are expected to replicate — and Restylane — their 20s into their 60s.
“Women are expected…” By whom? It’s called sexism, Dowd.
Buckingham says that greater prosperity has made men happier. And they are also relieved of bearing sole responsibility for their family finances, and no longer have the pressure of having women totally dependent on them.
Yet they have not compensated women by taking on responsibility for the gardens and dinner parties. I suppose it’s women’s fault somehow.
Men also tend to fare better romantically as time wears on. There are more widows than widowers, and men have an easier time getting younger mates.
Just a throw-away line that could have been expanded upon. But identifying and examining sexism would sort of dilute this column’s hypothesis.
Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We’re happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier.
A paradox, indeed.
A paradox that may not even exist. Mark Liberman at the Language Log blog organized the General Social Survey results into a few graphs and charts that expose the empirical flimsiness of this claim. Women were over the moon in 1973, by the way (wink, wink).
Personally, the more I recognize patriarchy slithering through my life and the lives of other women, the sadder I get. The more I expect to be regarded as fully human, the angrier I feel when I am treated as a defective man and a second-class citizen. Ignorance is bliss; feminism opens women’s eyes to gender-based injustice. But overall, I’d say I’m happy with my life.
I finally created a “backlash” tag, by the way.