Most of the nastiness about women's supposed gloom — all of it stemming from one study that purports to show women are less happy than they were in the 70s — has come from people who think the answer is getting back in the kitchen. Luckily, Maureen Dowd doesn't take that tack. Instead, she catalogues the various reasons why life these days sucks for women. There's the vaunted "second shift," in which women with careers are still expected to take care of home, hearth, and kids. There are various sexual inequalities — "men can age in an attractive way while women are expected to replicate - and Restylane - their 20s into their 60s" and "men also tend to fare better romantically as time wears on." And there's the (dubious) idea that "women are much harder on themselves than men." A factor Dowd doesn't mention: all these fucking articles on women's unhappiness.
Though as a women in my 20s I'm not yet supposed to have entered the downward spiral of despair that is apparently the province of my gender, nothing makes me sadder faster than reading that I'm destined for a life of socially-imposed depression. It's true that there's disproportionate pressure on women to raise successful children, maintain a spotless home, and hold down a job, all while looking like they're too young to do any of these. This is a serious problem — but does it have to ruin our lives?
I'm not even convinced that it has. The much-cited happiness study, as I mentioned before, was based on self-reports, and the advent of the self-help genre and a culture of therapy, downsides notwithstanding, has made it more acceptable than ever for women to talk about what's bothering them. Men, despite their much-ballyhooed ability to stay attractive into their later years (which we know is impossible for women) still don't have as much freedom in this department, which may be one reason men are less likely to be diagnosed with depression. The fact that women are allowed, even expected, to reach out to their friends when in trouble may be the reason that women actually cope better than men with the death of a spouse. Dowd says "men have an easier time getting younger mates," but maybe — shocker — having a younger mate isn't the key to lifelong bliss.
We should be working to fix the inequalities Dowd mentions — especially those, like the "second shift" that could benefit from social programs like subsidized childcare. But it's a little hard to work from a position of despair. If we get mired in misery over a society that wants us to be ever younger and more industrious, we won't have the energy to change that society. Nor will we be able to rebel against expectations by actually enjoying the old age and laziness we're always told to resist. What's more, focusing too much on women's unhappiness, as though it's a forgone conclusion in an unjust world, ignores all the good things in women's lives that patriarchy and stereotypes can't touch. I'm not suggesting we all slump back on our couches in complacent contentment — far from it. But anyone who knows a happy woman — particularly one who's had something shitty happen to her — knows it's possible to be both angry and joyful. It may even be necessary.
Blue Is The New Black [NYT]