Thoughts on Women

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

Stereotyping alert. I'm going to make some broad generalizations; try to bear with me.

I've read in the past that women aren't as happy as they used to be and I think it might be right. But the reasoning I've seen on why they think it's so doesn't ring quite right. I've read two articles recently here and here, both opinion pieces, and I don't think those opinions are without merit, but, I'm sorry, they both boil down to me largely to "men still don't treat us as equals." While I'm sure there are still aspects of that out there, I think we should be a little leery of assuming the finger of blame should just be pointed outward. Since there are plenty of people willing to blame men, let me list a few things I think women do to undermine their own happiness - myself included.

Actually, it's one thing. We took on all the responsibility and thinking of the "traditional" male role without giving up our old responsibilities. We want it ALL.

We want the same jobs at the same pay.
We want to be in charge.
We want to have a family.
We want to raise children.
We know these take time and effort 24/7.
We expect to keep our houses in order.
We want to look good for our spouses.
We want to look good for our other friends.
We need to stay in shape.
We know the importance of "me" time and so we need that too, often taking on dozens of hobbies (OK, maybe that's just me).
We want a social network for when we need friends, which means clubs, churches or just close friends.
We want to keep our options open, so we're often doing something we want to do instead of what we're doing OR pursuing higher education.
Did I mention we were raising a family?

Now, not to be too stereotypical, but I think I have to give the edge to men on smarts in this instance. Why? Name (to yourself) all the someones you know personally who are trying to do everything (or nearly everything) on this list, including yourself as applicable. Now, how many (if any of them) are male. Now, how many are trying to be THE BEST at everything on this list? Yeah, I thought so.

And that's pretty smart because you can't do everything and be the best. I suspect, long long ago, men and women realized that doing it all was too much for anyone, so they divvied things up. Since men won the arm-wrestling match, they took the easier tasks, running around looking for food and occasionally trying to kill other men. Women were generally left with the tasks of making whatever they caught palatable and raising children.

When women, millenia later, woke up to the notion that they didn't have to be limited to cleaning house and raising children, that they could do other things if they wanted to, that was a good thing (as was the ancillary notion that fathers could contribute more to family life than sperm and financial support). Men, who once might once have worked 80 plus hours a week to stay ahead of the pack started taking paternity leave and sickdays to care for sick kids (and, yes, I've seen it quite a bit). Many started cooking or doing laundry, but they did it realizing that 80 hours a week wasn't a good plan. They no longer demanded it all of themselves and were happy with a comfortable modicum at home (that they were happy with - not necessarily wives) and work. And they found that they could still bring home good salaries or, with the wife working, could live at least as well as before. And, despite a few exceptions, most men are much more comfortable looking like themselves than some idealized version of themselves (and good for them). Personally, I think that's a very healthy response to the roles women demanded and I'm pleased I'm living with today's men and not those from several generations back.

But, for many women, they haven't let go the notion of being Scheherazade, June Cleaver, Oprah and Gertrude Stein. They want to be the BEST mother and the sexiest woman and the best [insert career choice here] and, and... When I talk with men, some of definitely juggling things, but it will be a crush of business travel or working things without disrupting their marathon training schedule or some short term event. With women, on-line and in real life, conversation seems to be an endless litany of things they have to get DONE so they can do more. We want to be beautiful so we spend endless billions on makeup and impractical shoes and pantyhose, and fashion and jewelry and cosmetic surgery and diet regimes. I just saw a commercial for a drug to grow EYELASHES that can permanently muddy your eye color and damage your eyes. WTF? We want to be good parents so we commit to letting our children do every activity imaginable (so we don't feel guilty for the hours we're at work). We want it all and want to do it all fabulously.

Can't do it all, of course. Nothing wrong with being a mother and housewife, but it WAS a full time job and we shouldn't expect that we can still do all that and everything else we've taken on without some of the quality falling a bit.

Basically, we need to pick and choose and/or expect the overall caliber to drop a bit. And, folks, we're going to have to give ourselves a break before we can expect anyone else to.

At least, that's my opinion.


  • The Mother

    It's my opinion, too.

    So that makes two smart cookies who agree--we must be right.

  • flit

    Can I be a smart cookie too?

    A very well written, and well thought out, article, as always.

    And makes me very glad (again) that my kids are all growed up.

  • Stephanie B

    You are a smart cookie, flit. And I'm glad we're together on this one, The Mother.

  • Jeff King

    i have to say, raising kids is a 50/50 deal. And there is no way any parent should feel that they do everything.

    Spouses need to support each other and work together in all aspects of raising a family.

    It is unfair to woman in the realm of equal wages, that part I’ll agree with. For instance, my wife went to school for 4 years to be a nurse. And still does not come close to making the money I do, and I dropped out of high school. But through hard work and school of hard knocks i became successful. And it is very difficult for a woman to do the same thing.
    So yes wages is completely unfair for women.
    I feel the mother is the most important person to a solid family unit. And deserves all the help every family member can give her... at least that is how it is in my house.. kids do the cleaning, we both as parents help with homework and yard work. And cooking, the only thing I will not do is Landry and that is because I hate it. So I trade favor to get out of it. But I respect my wife enough to make her life equal to mine. the time and effort are equal to mine regardless of how much we make, money wise.
    thx for posting.

  • Stephanie B

    Jeff, my point was not that this was something men did to us. This is something many women do to themselves (myself included) - which is why they might be more dissatisfied with their lives than when they had fewer responsibilities but the opportunities to excel at them without being overburdened.

  • Shakespeare

    I tend to work myself a bit more--but teaching those two AWFUL classes helped me step away from the cleaning a bit. My son swept the floor yesterday, but I didn't sweep after him.

    Those classes are over, but I'm not picking all the housework back up. The kids get money for helping, my husband can fold laundry while watching football without even looking at the washing machine, and I can get my NOVEL DONE! Whew!

    It ain't work if I love to do it. It's that whole resolution to LIVE, and not just PUSH myself all day until I collapse in bed.

    Great post!

  • Boris Legradic

    I am always wary of generalisations, but like you did I'll just run with it and see where it takes me: I think you do your sex some injustice here.

    The situation is, from an objective point of view (which isn't - objective that is, because it contains a host of socio-cultural assumptions - but let's pretend it is for the sake of the argument) that we have the two partners (of both sexes or either sex) which want the same thing: A career, a relationship and offspring.

    Now you accuse women to want it all, to want to be the best at all of it, whereas men, as you say, are better at prioritising. I'd argue that men actually want it all, too: A career, a family, etc. Only in the traditional role men don't have to invest into the family time-wise, so they can focus on career and hanging out with their mates. Even now, women are still looked at suspiciously if they want to get back to work right after their pregnancy - what kind of mother would neglect her children so? But equally valid though much less heard is the question: What kind of fathers have neglected their children so? How dare they be absent and working in their formative years?

    There is no reason for why the mother should be settled with the principal care of the children - other than tradition, of course. Could be as well the male that stays at home, or who suddenly has to do it all, juggle children, career and hobbies.

    Or you can share the time-load: two years ago my friends Ane & Albert got twins. Four months after, Ane was back as a researcher at the university, while Albert was back trying to get his new company going. The kids where in a nursery during the day, something that ate about a third to half of their combined income (until they got one of the state-subsidised nursery-places, it's a bit better now).
    An expensive option, yes. Furthermore, the kids will see their parents only in the mornings and evenings on four days of the week. But the kids are well looked-after (it's five children per day-mother - hence the expense), and both parents can pursue their career.

    Non-traditional, yes. But more and more common here in Europe. The Scandinavian countries have had state-sponsored nurseries for years, there it has become normal for women to return to work (maybe at 80% part-time) right after pregnancy. And why not? The idea that one parent has to be home to raise the kids is a fairly new idea after all, and really came into its own only with the industrial revolution and its resulting small families.

    So to boil down this somewhat confusing ramble, women shouldn't be obligated to do it all - that they are (even in their own minds) is a remnant of cultural indoctrination. If two partners decide to have offspring, they should sit together and discuss how to get the time they'll need to raise them - either by both going part-time, or by outsourcing, or by one of them giving up his or her job for the next few years.

    AS a last thought, I don't believe women are less happy than they used to be - I'd like to know on which kind of data that statement is based. I NEVER trust a statement related to society that bemoans things getting worse without cold, hard data, because such things have been said as far back as our written records go (there are tablets in Sumerian cuneiform from 3400 BC bemoaning the "recent" descent into sin).

    As an even later note, studies have shown that happiness is linked to relative rather than absolute success, i.e. you can be very happy while only wearing rags if everyone around you also has only rags - preferably worse one than you. If it is really true that women are less happy now than they were when they were not part of the workforce, than this might be because suddenly they have a new, privileged demographic to compete with - men.

  • Stephanie B

    The editorials I linked were responding to a study that asserted women were more unhappy than they used to be.

    I don't disagree with your points. As a case in point, I work daily and my husband stays home with the kids because, with my education, I make far more than he can and because he can't make enough to pay for the care our special needs son would need.

    My point is that many women are in this boat and that the striving to do it all are self-inflicted. With wanting to be successful business people and good family leaders, you'd think they'd relax a bit on wanting to be sexy 24/7, but they push themselves there, too, frequently.

    The relative happiness, in my opinion (and it's nothing more than that) is that the expectations women have for themselves have grown drastically and, instead of giving themselves credit for managing many things credibly (as men seem more likely to do), they ding themselves for not doing everything perfectly.

    I'm only saying that it's not healthy, for myself included, and that, if we want to be healthy, we need to cut ourselves a bit of slack and let go of the notion that everything is our responsibility.

    This was, in my opinion, in contrast to the editorials that said, effectively, men were still keeping women in their place. I think we're part of the problem (if not the bulk).

  • Boris Legradic

    Busted - that happens if I am too lazy to click on the links and read the editorials you are writing about.

    In the end, I guess it will take an effort by both sexes to change our culture. Not a very deep or surprising insight, but there it is.

    On a vaguely related note, I am always one for reduced expectations and slacking off; you women can all learn from me ;)

  • Stephanie B

    Agreed. I look at your vacation pictures and I realize I'm filling my day with too many things that, in the long run, just won't matter.

  • Marilynne

    They way it looks from here, men give themselves the time to do their favorite things and don't feel guilty about it. I used to have a rule: when he's working, I work; when he's playing, I play. The hardest part was not feeling guilty about not working. Everyone needs some down time to just sit and stare out into space.

  • Stephanie B

    You just condensed my whole post quite effectively.

  • Shakespeare

    I like the whole idea of staring into space. Instead, I'm staring into a computer screen. God, my head hurts!

    I'm heading off to bed!

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