Why Are Women Unhappier Than Men? An Answer

It’s statements like these that get my co-blogger John Hawkins in trouble:

It’s not choices that are causing problems for women, it’s expectations.

Women are no longer merely expect to act like women. Now, feminism, liberalism, and Hollywood says they’ve got to be able to do everything women used to do AND everything that men still do, and then some.

The old feminine ideal was the woman who got married to a good man, stayed home, took care of their house, took care of the kids, and took pride in making the whole family function.

Now, look at the messages women get from popular culture: Dress like a fashion model, cat around like the women from Sex in the City, get married, have a beatiful house, have 2.5 kids, have a career that’s every bit as successful and fulfilling as your husband’s, and still look like a professional actress, even when you’re 60 years old.

There are only so many hours in a day, days in a week, and weeks in a year and there just isn’t time for most women to do all that. Granted, there are a few who manage to pull it off — or at least seem to do it to the outside world.

But, the reality is that most people have skills, abilities, desires, and wants that they never fulfill — women, in part because of their emotional natures, are just made to feel worse about not living up to the hype of what modern feminism says a woman should be.

Oh boy.

Where I agree: Yes, women have more expectations now and that can make life difficult. That is, women both internally and societally are expected to do the whole female progenitor life-cycle thing within the male-defined work-cycle. A woman who doesn’t “work” is often viewed with suspicion both by modern men and women who work outside the home.

As a working, professional woman, I can tell you that the expectations grate. I’ve had women judge me for working (a female patient said to me once, as I was taking the practice for my husband who had sprained his ankle), “You’re not leaving your children at home, are you?” I’ve had women judge me when I took time to take care of my babies and then, home school my children one year. Men, too.

So the nearly impossible standards applied culturally–Oprah, Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray–can make a woman feel “less than” no matter what she decides to do.

Where I disagree: This statement rather breezily dismisses the untapped potential of women: ” the reality is that most people have skills, abilities, desires, and wants that they never fulfill”.

Really? Without the biological imperative, men have a freer time of fulfilling their skills, abilities, and desires. What are they denied? Gestating, birthing and nursing a baby is what they’re denied. That’s a huge trade-off, one, as a woman, I would never give away. Still, the reality is this: since I value myself and my children, and how I’m wired and made, I decided to focus on my children for a few years. That, by necessity, slowed my career roll during what would be considered peak professionally creative years. Ten years later, I’m jumping in with both feet while still balancing my child raising concerns–working around a school schedule and cutting hours to be with my pre-school age child. Childhood is fleeting, and I want to be there for it.

Still, I do not have the dichotomy that only a stay-at-home mother can be a good mother. That’s just patently false. Both fathers and mothers can parent a child, even a baby. There are wonderful care-givers who raise children even better than parents. For generations, children have had nannies, grand-parents and other care-givers and most survive just fine. I am not, however, a fan of huge day care centers, but there are even good versions of those.

This all being said, a woman with talents and gifts does NOT have to subsume them to motherhood in order to be a good woman, or a good Christian woman. That is just nonsense. It should be an affront to all men and women that a woman’s talents, gifts and desires can be dismissed as an acceptable trade for a housewife life.

Many women find a way to incorporate their gifts into their family life. Having stayed at home, I can testify to the challenge of managing a house and kids. It is no lie when people say it’s the most difficult job and so many elements of it are beyond a person’s control. That is, a child may cry inconsolably, the house is perpetually being “undone”, dirty laundry self-generates, and all of these things are out of a person’s control. And in today’s society, a woman is alone at home. She can be socially disconnected. The internet has been a huge gift to stay-at-home parents. It’s a connection.

Social isolation and lack of control contribute to unhappiness. Read up on psychologist Seligman’s work in this regard. That’s a stay-at-home parent’s whole lot in life. There is a good reason women at home might be unhappy and the unhappiness increases the more kids a woman has. More kids equals less control. Also, she may be frustrated at her unused talents.

Before the post-war generation, women often worked with men–in the fields, in the tavern, in the store, etc. A woman was not June Cleaver. The industrial age changed a woman’s role. Tasks became divided. A man changed the oil and mowed the lawn. A woman cooked and cleaned. Exclusively.

In this new generation, women are working and rearing kids and doing many things. They may be unhappier than men, but that in no indicates that a woman should be only in the kitchen. Now, if that role fulfills her (and I know that for many women, this is the case) she will contribute mightily to the household.

More women these days are like me. Moving in and out of the workforce around children and going back to work when the kids reach school age. Is it more challenging? Maybe. Not maybe. Absolutely, it is. But would women trade this? I can only speak for myself, but the answer is a resounding “no”.

I have the pleasure of writing, doctoring and being an online activist while also being a mother. I love it all. And many women embrace the freedom to choose these roles.

It should also be noted that with loosening societal strictures, men, too, are becoming more involved in the household tasks and child rearing. That’s all to the good. This too, is not a new phenomenon. In the pre-industrial world, kids knew what dad did because at a certain age, kids helped dad do the work. Kids bond with fathers just as surely as they bond with mothers. It has a different quality, of course, but it’s just as real and necessary.

This is a lot of words to say that I think it’s wrong to dismiss the loss to the individual woman and to society when a woman doesn’t use her gifts and talents just as I think it is a loss to the individual man and to society when a man doesn’t involve himself with his child’s life.

That men would discourage women from using their gifts is patently wrong. That women would discourage men from child-involvement is patently wrong.

If there is one gift the feminist movement gave to society, it’s this: women have the freedom to pursue developing their talents. This societal shift forced men to become more involved (or, it put more burdens on women who don’t hold a man’s feet to the fire). Both men and women have benefited.

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