A recent study conducted by the allies at the Pew Research Center took up the question of what “society” (their word) values in women and in men. First, the bad news: respondents to the survey thought that “physical attractiveness” was most important for women, and “honesty/morality” (boring!) was most important for men. Generally speaking, the study found that society values the same qualities in men and in women but not at the same rates. For example, about 20 percent of people think society values ambition most in men; 9 percent think this about women. Now, the good news: I suspect the study’s real target was how people think about and experience pressure.
The survey was set up not to ask respondents what they think, but what they think everyone else thinks. I love this because it’s in the nature of pressure that it exists and oppresses ambiently. By now, I think most men know not to say “I value hotness in a woman,” but they sure will tell us all about how those other men do. Rarely is it one’s actual male partner explicitly stating the need to be attractive/kind/honest/an involved parent/successful; more often these expectations feel more like they’re floating in the air in millions of foul-smelling particles fucking up your ability to breath. Pressure comes from everywhere and nowhere at once, which makes it as maddening as it is hard to study.
I feel pressure is the kind of statement that, when said in the context of an argument over who has it worse, won’t get you very far. One of men’s greatest and most insidious recent achievements has been to convince women that the pressure they feel is all in their heads. It allows men to be the problem but present as the problem solvers. I’m sure your boyfriend, who considers himself a feminist and only expects you to pursue your dreams, love you openly and honestly, and at least try butt stuff never does this, but take a look at this graphic, just in case:
Men don’t appear to think it’s that hard to be a woman. 34 percent of men think women face a lot of pressure to support their families financially, but 46 percent of women think that pressure is a real one. 71 percent of those same women get that men feel this pressure too. Must be all that empathy society is expecting of us.
The thing about this statistic is that women increasingly make more than the men in their lives, according to a study by some of the same authors of the one we’re here to discuss. A third of American women are paying for their male partners’ stuff, but as this graphic shows, fewer men are willing to come right out and thank us for it.
Can you quantify pressure? Agony? Exhaustion? Can you study the quiet feeling in your heart at the end of a long, cold day when you’re afraid your complaints are just symptoms of your insanity? When a person tells you “you don’t have to be beautiful for me to love you” but then shows you in a thousand tiny ways that you do, how do you run the numbers on that? I think you can and the Pew Research Center did it.