Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Are Women Unhappy?

As reported by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, “Blue is the New Black.” 

woman_crying_1.jpg sad image by leighaaxann











What she’s referring to, in case you haven’t heard, is the series of studies covering most of the developed world, showing that as a group women are less happy than our counterparts were thirty years ago. 

The freedom to choose that our mothers earned for us has not, apparently, gained us the “happiness” it was supposed to.  Even with our greater educational opportunities, careers, and husbands who change diapers, too many of us remain dissatisfied and exhausted. 

Why and how did this happen?  Commenters blame everything from lack of adequate child care to the incessant media messages to look young.  Others with a more philosophical bent cite unrealistic expectations:  that young women were, in a sense, sold a bill of goods telling us we could “have it all.”  The promise has often become a burden and an impossibly high standard. 

In addition to Maureen Dowd’s post, I checked in with Arianna Huffington (“The Sad, Shocking Truth about how Women are Feeling”).  Readers of both articles are leaving much food for thought in their comments. I was especially taken by what men had to say, namely that men are “happier” than women because they have mostly known they can’t have it all—that life is a series of trade-offs. 

Hmm.  Really?  It has appeared to me—often—that [white] men could in fact have it all if they wanted.  On the other hand, I know from men I love that stellar careers with much advancement aren’t often aren’t compatible good marriages and family lives. 

Could it be that for decades we women have been telling ourselves a pack of lies about what we can achieve, and struggling against the reality?  I myself have bought into the story line that women could should devote ourselves to significant, sustained professions, while also raising families, while also maintaining households, and remaining happily partnered (oh, and by the way, while also eating right, staying toned, and wearing Manolo Blahniks).


When I had my baby twelve years ago, an old friend told me I could have it all in my life, but probably not all at once.  Today, finally, I think she’s right.

What do you think??   Could we give ourselves permission to stop this searching and striving?  Could we stop apologizing to ourselves and the universe for not measuring up? 



Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Could we stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by corporate advertising for greedy profits? This is where are faulty expectations are cultivated. We are bombarded with advertising that sets us up to be dissatisfied and unhappy. And that is exactly what these blood-sucking corporations want - because if they keep us unhappy - we will keep looking for and buying the next product that promises to make us happy.

Great post sallymandy!

Ingrid Mida said...

I think each person's path to happiness is a journey of discovery because there is no right answer for everyone.
For me, happiness is measured in moments, not in achieving measures of success, accomplishments or stuff.
I don't know how they measured happiness in these research studies. I think in every time period you can find unhappiness, especially when you look at the early 1960s when many women were deeply unhappy by being limited to the expectation that they find happiness only in the home.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

If, as Ms. Dowd reports, men get happier as they age, whilst women get gloomier... I can only imagine it has something to do with the difficulty women feel with getting older. American culture doesn't seem to smile on a woman who is aging naturally. And, funnily enough, this disdain seems to be generated mostly by women themselves. I rarely meet men who are attracted to a botoxed face or a pulled-up seems to be women who demand this of their own kind. Of course, undergoing face lifts and dressing younger does not change the fact of aging; a fact that is always lurking in the background, making women unhappy. Let's face it, running away from oneself cannot be fun.

Sad, really. If we can only manage to get our minds off ourselves, there is so much joy to be found in the world.

Saz said...

well it appears we are on the same page AGAIN!!! My lovely.....oh this world is full of women and men who think the same cup runneth over.

studioJudith said...

You've touched on some Big Issues.
I must agree that having it all at the same time is losing battle (aspiration).
I can also share - that from my
62 years of life .. . no one could have ever conveyed to me how much courage it takes to be a woman and age in our world.


Jan Lundy said...

Sally Mandy,
Found your blog through Angela Recada and glad I did. I love this message and concur wholeheartedly. The striving to have it all about killed me years ago and thank God (dess) I reclaimed my sane self. Every day I "pray" that women will find their back to their truest selves, a place of non-striving and pure acceptance of who we are, right now, in our essence. A couple of years ago, a certain man asked me what I really wanted out of life. My answer: "I want to live without apologies." I still believe that....The freedom to live as I find myself now, with nary a standard or expectation in site.

BTW, did you know that (according to Sarah Ban Breathnach, and I agree) that "perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order."???

I'll be back. Blessings to you!

La Loca said...

Although women today do have more choices, there are no systems to support or sustain those choices. Vacation and maternity leave policies for white-collar positions are miserly, let alone those for working class jobs. Daycare providers are woefully underpaid, making it difficult to find high-quality childcare.
I also think that fundamental expectations haven’t changed. Women are still expected to be accommodating and “nice.” Be assertive, but not bossy. Be nurturing, but not wimpy. Put your children first but come to work every day, on time, perfectly groomed and dressed.

Suecae Sounds said...

I love these posts. I don't have anything really noteworthy to add, just that I read and enjoyed it.

Cheryl said...

This is an amazing discussion. Lots of wisdom here, lots to think about. So true, growing older as a woman in this society takes an ongoing act of courage. Maybe that'll be the next big women's movement: women wanting it all but not all at once and treating each other and themselves with more compassion and less competitive judgment?!!!

Rosaria Williams said...

Those are all thoughtful comments above. I want to add that we are more conscientious in our work, more committed in our relationships, and more concerned about every body else's happiness also. No time for us.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

You've hit some nails on the head here Sallymandy - great post and lots of food for thought.

The Small Fabric Of My Life said...

Great debate. I, too, was sold the lie that I coudl have it all. Now Iknow I can't and I have stopped trying to attain it, I feel much more content. Not happy as such but content.

drollgirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Saz said...

well sal Ive just noticed another one, Lizzie depression, lizzie and happiness, that's the big women world issues, so what's next in your dashboard then, cannot wait to find out ...

saz x

Maria Killam said...

I could have it all in my life, but probably not all at once - wow great line! I love it!

Re: your question, I don't know how better to explain it than I already have on my blog, but clean/dirty are very different than cool/warm. I guess I need to write an on-line course soon!
Thanks for your question!

aims said...

I think men on a whole are happier because they are allowed the freedom to do exactly what they want because in the back of their minds they know that women will pick up and clean and feed the children and wash and iron their clothes and do everything so they don't have to 'stress' themselves with it. Then at the end of the day they will look gorgeous and fresh and be ready for the wants of their man fulfilling his dreams of the perfect woman who looks young and beautiful and acts like a slut in bed.

That's just an overall view of a man. I'm definitely not basing that on The Man. Just the ones who went before him.

As for my happiness? I felt exactly the same way as your post described until I had a meltdown and spent all that time on the psyche ward. I came out a different person. One who didn't need to strive for any of that anymore - one who was content and happy with who she is now. I'm not a perfect size 2 and I don't where stilettos around the house. Granted I can't go to work outside the house anymore in environments I don't know - but I'm okay with that. I don't have to compete with anyone or be anything. I can be me. There is much happiness in that.

Antonia Rosina said...

This is a very thought-provoking post. I can honestly say that the majority of women I know are either "depressed" and not doing anything about it, or "depressed" and on anti-depressants. I don't know what's worse as neither encourages the owner of the depression to get out of this rut. I have never felt depressed, even when things were going wrong in my life, during my first marriage. There was always hope on the horizon. To me, having "hope" is the road out of depression, or around it. So I think we have to somehow find that hope and move towards it. We must hold it in our minds and hearts when we go to sleep at night, and wake with it in our palms. But how? I fully concur that it is the busy-ness of life, the ridiculous expectations we put on ourselves that pull us down. I am in the "media" and I blame it for selling women a bill of goods that often conflicts with our anatomy and minds.
I just found your blog through Imogen's... it's brilliant. Thank you.

Unknown said...

yes, we can "have it all"......... we just didn't realize how much work and time we would have to invest to "have it all". learning to be comfortable and happy in your own skin is more important. do we really NEED it all?

La Belette Rouge said...

Fantastic post, Sallymandy. It is high time that the lies that we tell ourselves and the lies the culture tells.

I appreciate you sharing the Dowd and Huffington articles with us( two strong redheads that I admire) and, even more, I appreciate your wise and thoughtful exploration of this imporatant topic.

Susan B said...

I've been thinking about this for days since you first posted. In addition to all of the reasons listed in your post and by your commenters, I think another thing at work here is that we think we should be happy all the time, that happiness should be our baseline emotion. When it isn't we think there's something wrong with us or wrong in our lives, when in reality life has ups and downs and expecting a constant state of happiness is to set ourselves up for disappointment.

vicki archer said...

These days we are superwomen - we work, we raise children, we love and care for our partners. When do we spend time on ourselves? I would hazard a guess that many of us neglect ourselves because we are 'too busy' to stop. I think this is why we are less happy.
More has never meant happy, xv.

Tracy Watier said...

Very thoughtful post. My opinion is that women were confused by the difference between "having it all"and "having what you want". Men have never really had it all. They've had what they wanted, all at once: job, wife, kids, house, car, boat, vacations... whatever they set their minds and budgets to. But because all of that is too much for any one person, man or woman, to have and do well with, their marriages and relationships with their children suffered (in the most classic examples) or their careers suffered if they wanted more and better time with their families... exactly what "modern" women faced when they decided to have it all too. It's more important, and more difficult I think, to figure out which of these things means most to you at whatever stage of life you're in and which combination the things you want you're actually capable of handling well. Then the trick is to be happy that you have what you want even though it might not look the same as "having it all".

Duchesse said...

Have always felt uncomfortable with the phrase "Having it all" as it usually applies to externals: the job, children, partner or other factors- what I "have". There's a tinge of acquisitiveness to that phrase. For me, contentment is also about what I can give, and simply notice.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I came over from Tracy's blog as I saw in your comment to her that you live in Montana. I just took a delightful trip to the West and I must say I'd love to see more of the state of Montana one day.

This was an excellent essay! I believe women today still struggle with the dual roles of marriage/motherhood and maintaining a professional career. It is very difficult to maintain a constant high standard in both divisions of our lives and therefore we feel constantly guilty. That struggle very quickly leads to anxiety and depression.

I'm not sure how to address that. Perhaps better child care or a more flexible work schedule without feeling penalized? I worked part time a long portion of my career and that was blissful to me. I was able to nurture my children and still have professional satisfaction and earning power. Thankfully I never felt depressed.

Expat mum said...

A number of years ago the Work and FAmily Institute did a study of families where both parents worked - and found that even in those situations, the woman did about 80% of the housework and domestic duties. If women could just go to work like most men do, without having to worry about kids' appointments (not to mention taking the time off), stocking the pantry and god knows what, perhaps that would make a difference.

Cynthia L. H. said...

Amazing and thought-provoking is witnessed by all of these incredible replies. It is fascinating that each one is so varied, yet profound in their own way. I agree with so much that has been said.
I did have this thought...some of the time, isn't it ok to be unhappy? Otherwise, when the happiness comes, what would we have to compare it to? I think that we need to readjust the expectations of ourselves (and see to it that society's expectations of us are adjusted, as well.) To me, happiness is not static. It is ever moving, ever changing. Today, I may be "happy" with a situation that years ago would have made me "unhappy."
I think that we need to achieve "balance" over "happiness."

LenoreNeverM♡re said...

Wow even the comments are so intelligent! errr...for me I strive to find joy instead of happiness!
I'm slowly finding/discovering the difference between the two! Hope it makes sense...errr???