While Haddock and many experts appear to agree with Prager that the plethora of choices newly available to women since the 70s does tend to increase overall dissatisfaction, she recognizes that there are ramifications to every decision and that those very lofty goals we often set for ourselves frequently come from mass media selling the perfect life as well as the empowerment afforded by the results of feminism. As Joe Jackson says "They say that choice is freedom, I'm so free it drives me to the brink."
"Aha!" opposing sides in the culture wars declared, glomming onto the findings to bolster their own takes on gender conflict. But this newly identified "happiness gap" is hardly a prima facie indictment of feminism for having worsened the lot of women, given that most women adamantly oppose to a return to rigid gender roles. Nor could it be attributable mainly to the notion that men are slacking while women work a second shift -- full time in the workforce and a second full-time job at home. The results show that women are spending the same number of hours working now, on average, as in the 1970s, although a greater percentage is outside work. As for housework, men have picked up a greater, though still minority, share. Much of the cooking and cleaning is "hired out" or simply goes undone (Americans now spend $26 billion more each year on restaurants than grocery stores.)
Even so, men today report spending less time on activities they regard as stressful and unpleasant than a few decades ago. Women still spend about 23 hours a week in the unpleasant-activity zone -- which was about 40 minutes more than men four decades ago, and now amounts to 90 minutes more than men.
Since 1972, women's self-described levels of happiness have fallen a few percentage points and now rest below that of men, on average, in every age category. It is particularly pronounced in those ages 30 to 44 -- not coincidentally, women dealing with child rearing and aging parents, while reaching a critical point in their careers.
Surely, without the additional choices in the work-career arena, women would still falter under the pressure to be a perfect Martha Stewart hostess, rearing perfect children and making everything look so happy in front of their neighbors and family. I wonder how many of those perfectly happy housewives of the 60s and 70s were as happy and fulfilled as they claimed as the time - after all, registering lack of satisfaction when you "had it all" was not as acceptable then as it is today (I'd be willing to bet they were even less happy because they had to front instead of admitting how they really felt). More importantly, how many of those grateful and satisfied wives and mothers remained so after their husbands left or lost their jobs and the wives had to work to support their families? [This, by the way, is yet another reason many women of my generation choose to focus on career to ensure some degree of financial stability prior to getting married and having children. ]
We need to stop with the "what if" questions and take a step back to decide if we could be happy or satisfied with our lives as they are if that other "what if" situation wasn't a possibility. I could go on and make myself miserable assuming the grass is greener elsewhere, as a matter of fact I have actually chosen to follow that green grass a few times only to have to admit that I made a really bad decision. I may not be able to go back an unmake that decision, but I can learn from it and realize the next greener pasture I think "what if" about may really be a muddy mess.
Tags: feminism conservatism depression happiness culture society
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