Are Women Unhappier?

Than we used to be?  Than men are?  And if so, why?

There’s a real eye-rolling feeling of “Here we go again” about this study.  I read the headline with incredulity.  First of all, I thought the new complaint was that it’s now men and boys who are getting the short end of the stick as the culture is feminized and women and girls are endlessly flattered, fussed over, and catered to.  And second of all, I can’t relate, personally.  At all.  Despite all my own considerable mistakes, regrets, failures, and sacrifices as part of the generation that volunteered to be the scarred “experimental animals” of social change, I know I am by far happier and more whole than I would have been if none of it had happened.

This in spite of giving up motherhood, the focus of my awe-filled childhood anticipation.  (There wasn’t much else to anticipate if you were a girl in the 1950s.  That doesn’t make it any less awesome.)  That’s a permanent grief, and it was a tragically misguided road-taking, and the ambitions feminism had released, without the confidence or entitlement to pursue them and/or motherhood wholeheartedly, played a part.  Still I’m happier.  Where do I even start?  I got to lay hands directly on words and ideas, and to take them as my birthright as much as a male’s.  (I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing a beautiful young woman with a cloud of ripply red hair, like Botticelli’s Venus, holding the yad, the pointer in the form of a slender silver hand, with which you follow the words of the Torah as you read them aloud in synagogue.  Not that long ago, strictly forbidden:  a woman’s touch would have defiled it, its touch would have spayed her.  See previous post.)  I got to walk around in the world as a free and inquisitive being.  So the study doesn’t ring true to me.  But maybe if you were born into this new freedom and take it for granted, you could be unhappy.  I don’t know.

Joelle Klein, who blogs at Discovery.com’s Slice of Life, does such a good job of rounding up links on this study that I considered just inviting her to cross-post here.  (There are so many other things I should be doing . . .)  Finally, though, I couldn’t resist visiting those links myself.  I’m just doing it now, so come with me as I liveblog the trip.

Here’s Ross Douthat in the New York Times.  I admit I get my back up when I just see a guy holding forth on these subjects, because I anticipate him scolding that my hunger for things soaring and undomestic (vain to protest as well as, not instead of, the earthly and domestic!) has cut the legs out from under society and that any unhappiness I might feel is well-deserved.  For instance, here’s my friend Blake (who scolds me sternly from time to time for not being more unswervingly conservative — unswervative?) scolding me on Twitter:

[Feminism and socialized medicine] are not unrelated.  Undermining religion, family, business–anything that can oppose the state–is always the goal.

Also, “freedom” is wildly over-stated. Feminism came with an attitude of “is that all?” for women who chose to do “women’s work”.

That would be unfair to Douthat, though.  Accepting the premise that women are now the unhappier sex, and speculating why, he strikes a balance between extremes:

The feminist will see evidence of a revolution interrupted, in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings, breeding entirely justified resentments. The traditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives, and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.

There’s evidence to fit each of these narratives. But there’s also room for both.

Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood. […]

They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. […]

[Except] that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.

In this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as well.

Lorna Martin of the Daily Mail‘s women’s page — “Femail”–  brings a British perspective and some other guesses.  For one, in the context of “ongoing inequality,” she points out that “of the six million carers of elderly or disabled relatives in the UK, 62 per cent are women.”  (Wow, only 62 percent?)  Thank you for noticing, Lorna.  That’s me, too — traditional, confining, burdensome female work, for years now.  I’m still happier.  He’s asleep and I’m online writing this like a bandit.

But Martin’s main thesis is that we’re the victims of sky-high expectations and media images of unattainable perfection:

My guess is that it has something to do with the unprecedented pressure on women these days to live up to totally unrealistic ideals. This, coupled with the very idea that happiness is a worthwhile and achievable goal in itself, seems to have created a plague of unhappiness, leaving so many of us with the feeling that we’ve fallen short. […]

The images and messages we are bombarded with – in women’s magazines, parenting manuals, self-help books – are of confident, sexy, successful people, looking thin and beautiful, surrounded by equally gorgeous family and friends. These ‘people’ are permanently happy, effortlessly having it all.

Of course, everyone knows that these images are aspirational. If they reflected reality they would have no appeal. But they are also insidiously powerful and, according to some psychologists, they are damaging our mental health. […]

It has been said that the greatest obstacle to happiness is the modern myth of happiness itself.

At HuffPo, Elizabeth Debold, a disciple of the “modern spiritual master” Andrew Cohen and a major mover in his elite EnlightenNext project, which styles itself as contributing to the next step in human evolution, takes a more existential view.  She sees women as freed for the first time since civilization began to create culture side by side with men, yet feeling lost at sea between the comfortable old role and the undefined new one, and being treacherously sucked downward by a materialistic culture into a new self-commodification and exploitation instead of rising to a new spiritual agency:

We are freed of the necessity to reproduce, liberated from our biological role, but the choices that we have won have left us unmoored. Who are we or who should we be now?

I’m obviously not the first person to note this — although most voices expressing such a view come from the right, urging us back to the safety and familiarity of hearth and home. I’m providing this context not to suggest that this is our God-given role, but rather to show how conditioned we are to see this as who we are and should be. And to explain why we would feel discontent, unease, and even a lack of simple happiness because we don’t have a clearly culturally sanctioned role to guide how we live our lives.

I’m arguing that we have further to go. Our ties to our biology are being broken so that now for the first time in femaledom we can shape culture with men. […]

Note that I’m not saying that mothering is bad or wrong — just that it’s almost all that the females of the species have been doing for the last 100,000 years. Only very very recently do we have the freedom to create new ways of being that could be the ground for a new order of relationship, creativity, and innovation that will evolve culture to a higher level. […] To me, it makes sense that women are less happy. We’re in a huge transition. There is no one before us. And what is happening — as women’s sexuality is pried from reproduction and commodified — is frightening to anyone who is seeking a life of meaning and purpose. Where are the examples of women who are forging from depth and dignity something new, joyous, and creative? Where are the role models for a new world? Without some women daring to ask who we can be now, risking everything to free themselves from the women they have been to discover the woman of the future, young women will be left adrift in the marketplace, selling themselves short. Isn’t that enough to make any sensitive woman unhappy?

Joelle Klein and I both have more myopic, earthbound explanations — obviously autobiographical — for this unhappiness, if in fact it exists.  (I remain unconvinced.  As Thurber and White wrote in Is Sex Necessary? that in persons of literary bent “the writing of love [is] directly attributable to the love of writing,” in academic studies of women the finding of need is directly attributable to the need of finding.)  Klein:

The one explanation that probably carries the most weight is that, in spite of our vast educational and professional opportunities, new reproductive choices, and legal protections we are still responsible for the brunt of childcare/rearing and household chores even though we too work a 40 hour work week, or more. The NY Time’s Douthat discounts this theory, too, saying that recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.

But this theory works for me, and the rebuttal does not. Even if men and women have similar workloads, the responsibility load is off kilter. Men, no doubt, are happier that they are no longer solely responsible for the financial well-being of their families, but have not fully signed on to fifty percent of the child or household tasks. So even if men’s workload is similar to that of women’s, their responsibilities are less than they used to be.

I can attest as a working mom that I’m frequently torn between working more hours and bringing in more money, and spending more time with my daughter. My husband does not feel the same pull.

But that’s my opinion.  Yours?
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Published in: on August 3, 2009 at 2:41 am  Comments (23)  

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  1. I think I see a problem with the survey. In the past it was considered impolite to say you were unhappy.

    “If a lady has cares, let her conceal them from the world, or not go into it.” (1)

    Aside from this, I think women say they are unhappy more than they used to because they aren’t as nice as they used to be. They are more rude and impolite. The women of the past would be disgusted with the women of today, and I see no reason for the women of today to feel differently.

    Look at an old Good Housekeeping article:

    “The feeling of satisfaction on looking back over the well-employed hours and uncongenial tasks performed will help to create a happy atmosphere at the dinner table…”

    Women took pride in the hard work they did. Today if you’re a woman who works hard you need to run to a spa to repair the damage to your looks.

    “On the certainty that no one will be in, there is a tendency to don old clothes and add to the gloominess of the wet evening. Father and Fred will be unconsciously cheered by the sight of smiling faces and bright dresses.”

    Vanity was harnessed for the good of others.

    All a modern person wants to do when they look at women of the past is compare rights. But if a lack of rights makes you unhappy, children should be the least happy people in our society.

    amba : Are Women Unhappier? Than we used to be? Than men are? And if so, why?

    I think a better question is: where does happiness come from?

    • I think you’re right about that, Jason. There’s only one problem with it: the idealized image of women as the “nice” sex. First of all it often wasn’t true: the amount of passive aggression, and sometimes not so passive aggression, directed by women at men (the former) and children (often the latter) was considerable. And second of all, it was a cloying and hypocritical double standard. Alongside the expectation that men should be gallant and polite, men were also expected to behave like beasts and excused for it. Women did most of the churchgoing in order to believe in their heavenly reward for being martyrs in this life. You’re idealizing the past, like realpc only not as far back.

      Modern people generally are encouraged to be selfish and narcissistic. This is considered more unbecoming in women than in men because it shatters that illusion that women are naturally the “nice,” self-sacrificing sex. But our culture definitely — not to put too fine a point on it — has its head up its ass in this regard across the board. You suggest that in adults, at least, happiness comes from consideration, awareness of and doing for others. (In children, it comes from? Discovery and lack of responsibility, and maybe the dormancy of sexuality?) If so, that is also true across the board.

      Yes, double standards do set my teeth on edge.

  2. Further thoughts on the happiness of children: the baby boomers (my generation!) were thoroughly spoiled by economically self-sacrificing fathers and stay-at-home, cookie-baking moms (though at least 25% worked even then, mostly as teachers, secretaries, or pink-collar). As the center of the world (pretty much a kid paradise!), were they happier? No, they (we) grew up to reject that life, complaining of emotionally unavailable fathers and frustrated mothers. In turn, they (we) created a culture of selfish happiness-seeking in which divorce, drug addiction, and single motherhood spiraled out of control. The kids who were born into that meatgrinder can’t be happier. So were kids happier when they were cheap labor on the farm?

    I loved the comedian Louis CK’s unprintable take on parenthood. It was full of the incredulity and wonder of someone having to rediscover entirely for himself that marriage and parenthood involve self-sacrifice and and are worth it, in a culture that has completely lost the concept.

  3. amba : You suggest that…

    I doubt the validity of the survey. Also, I think people are too wrapped-up in their current way of thinking to make intelligent comparisons with the past.

    According to the old Good Housekeeping article, people had happy thoughts about the hard work they had done. It isn’t a lie, people can actually feel that way. But it would never occur to a “modern” person.

    amba : You’re idealizing the past, like realpc only not as far back.

    But I’m not idealizing the past, I’m quoting it. And items from popular culture.

    It’s interesting how you accuse me of idealizing the past and then idealize it yourself–women being described as martyrs and men being expected to behave like beasts. And with that word “hypocrisy” stamped on the age, as if hypocrisy were some horrible thing that modern times is free of. Having standards you aren’t always able to live up to isn’t particularly terrible. I think it’s part of being human and I also think it’s childish to expect otherwise. It’s good to point out, but it’s not like killing someone.

    I think “hypocrisy” has become like “terrorists” and “weapons of mass destruction.” Some people just don’t have the emotional response they are expected to when they hear the word anymore. Sometimes they have the exact opposite.

    Yes, double standards do set my teeth on edge.

    LOL, don’t worry, I obviously am not going to hold it against you too strongly if I see them in you.

  4. But I’m not idealizing the past, I’m quoting it.

    Good heavens, Jason! You’re quoting women’s magazines! What makes you think they were an accurate reflection of reality? They were an ideal then. And they were trying to shape women’s behavior. Yes, they were also trying to show them how they could be contented with their given role and enact it graciously. (The problem with women’s role by then probably wasn’t that it was domestic but that it had shrunk so much, from extended to nuclear family — therefore much less help and company — and from household manager, craftsperson and economist to appliance operator and glorified servant.)

    I know the conservative saying “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.” I believe it’s La Rochefoucauld. And despite your impression, I do not believe that everything should be naked, honest, and out in the open or that manners and graciousness don’t matter. (See my Copyeditor post on formalities.) However, I do definitely bristle at guys telling women (in particular) that they ought to be nice. It often sounds to me like “Take care of me, and don’t complain.” (Don’t worry, I don’t mean that literally — I know you’re not looking for any woman to take care of you, since your mother.) “Be the saintly glue that holds society together.” We could all use more of that kind of commitment again, not just women.

    • amba : You’re quoting women’s magazines!

      Everything you’re saying could be in a women’s magazine today. Looking at popular culture often tells us things about the mindset of the culture they come from. And that let’s us make useful comparisons.

      If you’ll notice, we’ve already come up with one possible solution for making people happier. They should focus on being proud about doing a good job.

      Perhaps instead of complimenting people on how nice they look, we could compliment people on how hard they’ve worked or how professional they behave.

      However, I do definitely bristle at guys telling women (in particular) that they ought to be nice.

      Remember the feminists who used to yell at men for holding doors open for them? It’s going to take a long time to repair that damage.

  5. I agree with that. FWIW, that wasn’t me.

    I also agree that people should be proud of doing a good job (and not just of being famous or lesser forms of getting public attention; it seems nothing counts any longer unless a camera records it and broadcasts it nationwide).

    Having sacrificed some freedoms my peers took for granted for a difficult relationship — not just difficult now — I have often thought, “Gee, if only this were Victorian times I’d be regarded as a heroine instead of a schmuck.”

  6. Women used to be *nicer*? What the heck does that even mean? And to whom?

    I grant you, I’m only 48. But that’s still a lot of years to have been in the company of women, and from an early age, and of women of all ages. In addition, due to one particular context within my current life (not involving family), I spend a LOT of time (and have, for the past 15 years) around women in their 70s and 80s, which means many of them were, as young adults and on, actively part of that idealized “late ’40s/’50s/most of the ’60s” age to which we are harking back.

    I’d like some more specifics with regard to that “they aren’t as nice as they used to be,” flat statement–and beyond the no-more specific “more rude and less polite.” And on what are you basing your evaluation (apart from Ladies’ magazines, which I think Amba addressed rather well).

    • reader_iam : Women used to be *nicer*? What the heck does that even mean? And to whom?

      I’m going to quote amba to defend myself:

      I have often thought, “Gee, if only this were Victorian times I’d be regarded as a heroine instead of a schmuck.”

      Nicer times.

      reader_iam : And on what are you basing your evaluation (apart from Ladies’ magazines, which I think Amba addressed rather well).

      I have my own personal experiences with women, literature, and women’s magazines (which everyone seems to hate but keeps buying). We’re talking about something as ephemeral as happiness. If we want to know what was going on in people’s heads, what they were striving for at the time, I think popular culture is the perfect place to start. Granted, the 40’s to 60’s was a time when manners and propriety were dying, but my guess is that some of the workable parts of the earlier age where still functioning and leading to happiness. And yes, I’m guessing, but so is everyone else who tries explaining the survey.

      reader_iam : …that idealized “late ’40s/’50s/most of the ’60s” age to which we are harking back.

      But I always think of it as much maligned!

  7. There’s a problem with characterizing any era of the past a) if you weren’t there, and b) if you were. One is reacting now to what was done then; often forgetting that what was done then was, in turn, a reaction to what had gone before.

    An example is all the “freedoms” the baby boomers went for. It’s easy to forget that the baby boomers may have craved and in many cases been able to handle those freedoms (in other cases obviously not) precisely because of the ways their upbringing had been structured and “unfree.”

  8. The women in my family of those generations weren’t “nice.” They were depressives, narcissists, and divas who dominated everyone around them with their moods. To the extent that I turned out “nice” (yes and no), it’s insofar as I take after my father.

    Not an uncommon pattern in Jewish families, I suspect. Perhaps because in the ghetto it was women who had to deal with the outside world — too dangerous for men — and they were tough as nails. The men were often gentle, kind, and scholarly. Again, all generalizations are false, including this one.

  9. amba : Not an uncommon pattern in Jewish families, I suspect.

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. Didn’t Freud base his theories on interviews he did exclusively with Jewish women? They make more sense in that context.

    Talking to you and reader_iam I feel more and more privileged to have known the older ladies I have met. (I swear I’m not talking about either of you!)

  10. I think they’re both harked back to AND much maligned in the abstract, mostly due to which axe is undergoing grinding. ; ) The reality was more of a mixed bag, as reality usually is.

    Nice duck on defining *nice*, Jason, my blogfriend. : )

    I’ve met the gamut of “nice” with regard to women of all ages, and there are many, again of all ages, whom I’ve been privileged to meet and know. But there have been plenty who aren’t so nice.

    The other thing is, surface nice is one thing, to the bone nice is another. And I can sincerely say that I while I have been cussed out on occasion, even creatively and with passion, the single nastiest, and most unjust things, ever said to me were said in the “nicest” voice. Publicly, to humiliate (in a church, no less!!!!). By a woman. Of an older generation. Relatively recently. (And afterward, I was told by a decades-long friend of hers that “she’s always been like that”–which didn’t surprise me one bit.) “Nice” is a bit of a squish, as words go, IMO–that incident didn’t bring that idea home to me, but it’s a recent example of a confirmation of it.

    Finally, FWIW, while I don’t question that pop culture is a reflection of an era, I do think it’s rather more a kaleidoscope than a telescope, much less a microscope; more funhouse mirror than bathroom one.

  11. Jason: does that mean we’re not older or that you don’t feel privileged to have met us? 😉

  12. Now, now, Annie: Be nice!

    (Well, what can I say? If you open the door for me, you can bet I’m going to walk through it … )

    ; ) : )

  13. Disclosure: I came over to this post because both of you, Annie and Jason, mentioned your convo on Twitter. Frankly, I have almost no interest in happiness studies and less in analyzing; therefore, I largely avoid them altogether. I’m a lifelong happiness skeptic, myself, when defined, in effect, as a continuously sustainable condition or even a goal (in fact, the notion brings out my inner curmudgeon, and it did even when I was as wet as wet can be behind the ears), though I’m a *huge* fan of flights of joy and *always* deeply grateful for periods of quiet satisfaction.

    Thus my studious non-comment on the actual substance of this post … . You can take it as sign of a bias in this area, too.

  14. We are freed of the necessity to reproduce, liberated from our biological role…

    I wonder if that’s really true. I don’t know about this happiness study, seems dubious to me, but I wonder about statements like the one I quoted. Yes, I can chemically ensure that my body will not produce a child, but does that really free me from the “necessity to reproduce?”

    Could it be that nearly all women are nearly irresistibly driven mentally and hormonally to reproduce and to care for their children? If that is so, it has not been undone. We’ve only told them that it doesn’t matter, but that doesn’t make it so. We’ve also implied that women who do choose the old route aren’t doing enough. Oh, that’s all?

    In that, I think Jason’s on to something regarding the past. Women were never given this nonsense impression that running the home and raising the children were menial jobs beneath women of substance. In our “freedom” we’ve undervalued necessary and incredibly important work. We’ve also maligned the idea of division of labor.

    If one couple wants to share all tasks equally, that’s fine, but it’s certainly not illogical (and perhaps it’s more logical) to divide tasks between people. We accept that the various means of generating income are specializations, couldn’t the same be said of homemaking and child rearing, especially as regards the education of children?

    Take, for example, The Price of Power post on this blog. There is this quote, “That’s changing some as more men find accomplishment attractive and desirable in a mate.” Accomplishment is something found “in the world.” Not in the home. Perhaps that’s the problem. Feminism has accepted the male definition of accomplishment as the only definition.

    Also the male definition of power. I question the idea that women had no power in the past. (Obviously, there’s plenty of room here to charge me with taking the present for granted since I was born in 1979.) It’s evident that they didn’t have power of the same type as men, but couldn’t they have had power of another type, power of a type that men did not possess? Women hold incredible persuasive sway over men, a sway that I do not think is held by men over women in kind. (And no, that shouldn’t be reduced to some kind of sexual meaning.) Is power measured by position or by influence? Historically, the discrepancy of power in the first sense is obviously vast, but I think that in the latter sense, the difference probably narrows very much.

    I would write more, but I have to go..

    • Thanks. Rich comment. I think it’s true (naturally) that the great majority of women have a longing and a drive to have and care for children. Early feminists might have said that didn’t matter, or tried to attribute it to social conditioning alone, but that attitude seems long gone, except in some fringe academic backwaters.

      I witnessed what was left the traditional culture my husband came from, in a German-Romanian village in Transylvania. Women were household managers then. They had a wide range of skills, from keeping accounts to making their own curtains, sheets, tablecloth and clothing, preserving food, cooking and baking a wide range of foods in a wood stove, to splitting wood and pumping water. In my husband’s well-to-do class (from which he was snatched thrown into abject slavery in the Soviet Union), women also had a lot of hired help. The raising of small children was largely done by nursemaids. There were governesses too. Babies were even nursed by wet-nurses (often gypsies). After Communism took over and the well-to-do became the new poor, grandmothers raised the little kids because young mothers had to work.

      I think the housewife/mother role was, in America between the ’30s and the ’50s, stripped of a lot of its dignity, skill, respect, interest, and companionship. I also think that now that we live longer and have fewer children on average, it isn’t enough for many as a lifetime role. And — how to convey this to someone born 33 years later — if you were a girl in the ’50s, your interest in anything beyond the woman’s sphere, in addition to the woman’s sphere, was denigrated. Your interest and any giftedness you might have were second-rate, and if your interest was too intense it was unnatural, unfeminine, something that needed to be psychoanalyzed away. If you wanted to have a mind, you wanted to have a penis. Which sounds pretty ridiculous now, to put it mildly.

      The unfortunate contempt of many feminists for the domestic sphere was not their original idea. They got that idea from men and from male culture, which considered nurturing as inferior and almost contemptible, if necessary, as the women who did it. The legacy of that attitude still is that women still are not fully aware of the power and influence we have as women, as you wisely point out. That power comes from being the mother, the female source of life from which males come and to which they are powerfully drawn back. (I don’t exclude gay men from that, they’re just drawn back in another way.) If we were aware of that power we wouldn’t throw it away the way we do. (For a trivial example, we’re physically smaller than men but I suspect they actually see us, lifelong, as bigger than them.)

      I think women need to be cheerfully flexible about their life cycles and to be able to be totally immersed in work at one point, if they so choose, and in motherhood and home at another point. Now that we have our original dignity back, even by a roundabout route of finding out we can play what was traditionally men’s game, it goes with us wherever we go.

      • And — how to convey this to someone born 33 years later — if you were a girl in the ’50s, your interest in anything beyond the woman’s sphere, in addition to the woman’s sphere, was denigrated.

        I guess the pendulum has swung. I was raised in the exact opposite environment. “Just” being a stay at home mom through early adulthood was never even presented as a serious option. It was more like, “So, what will you be? A judge? A doctor? A professor?” Etc. etc. etc. Then when I was working before I had children, I told my co-workers and managers that when I did have children, I would leave and would not be back. They didn’t believe me. They thought that was ridiculous.

        But I think you nailed it here:

        I think women need to be cheerfully flexible about their life cycles and to be able to be totally immersed in work at one point, if they so choose, and in motherhood and home at another point.

        That’s definitely the key, I think. I, obviously, haven’t lived it out yet, but that’s the idea, the experiment in progress. We’ll see how it goes. I know many women looking at their roles the same way.

        I also think that many women are taking back their pre-30’s roles. I, and most of the stay at home mothers I’m good friends with, handle financial planning, research for family decisions and major purchases, and the education of children, among other things. I am not much of a craftsperson, but I know many mothers who do make their own furnishings. I think the re-expansion into these roles does allow a woman to take more pride in her work because you’re right, if women at home are reduced to machine operators, that’s not much for them to dig into. Also, though women now, for the most part, lack the companionship of extended family, mothers seem to be forming communities of their own, spending a great deal of time together during the day.

  15. I wrote that last night, but it looks like my browser hung up when I hit Submit, so I just now hit Reload, and it posted.

    Heh, of course, now that I have time to write more, I’ve long lost my train of thought. Witness then a consequence of the traditional female role played out as the commenter is distracted by young children! 🙂

    • Yeah, I can relate. Caregiving is JUST like that.

  16. That coming together would help a lot because the isolation was a huge problem and a contributor to depression.

    Two interesting and, in their ways, appealing books of different eras that set out to “revalorize” (as the academics would say) the mother-and-homemaker role:

    Laurel’s Kitchen was a vegetarian cookbook that first came out in the ’80s. It had a low-key hippie vibe, but I remember that it also made the responsibility for nourishing a healthy family extremely appealing. The link is to the new revised edition. From the intro to my battered copy of the original:

    “Certainly, for a great number of women, holding a job is not a matter of choice But for hundreds of thousands of us it is. . . . I know women who would rather not work . . . but who are embarrassed to admit it . . . To my mind, the solution lies in our taking seriously the role of wife, mother, homemaker, in a way we are not being encouraged to do. We can talk back firmly to those who would belittle the significance of our work; . . . no other job or career involvement can be quite so effective in bringing about the world we all long to see . . . When you have a job, you are spared, by and large, the anxiety of figuring out how to structure your day. . . . If you dig in your heels at home, though, and refuse this rather easy out, you are truly thrown back on your own inner resources.”

    And so on, all in a context of meditation, spirituality, community, ecology, and self-effacing absorption in “the simplest tasks.”

    The other book is Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House (1999), now in paperback — a huge compendium of household arts, written by “a philosopher, lawyer, sometimes professor, and a homemaker, wife, and mother” and “based on her domestic education, which she acquired while growing up on a farm in the hills of Greene County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, from her grandmothers, aunts and mother . . . from the distinc domestic styles of her native Appalachian relatives and her Italian immigrant relatives.”

  17. […] sitting on this post from “Cloven, Not Crested,” a blog I occasionally read, entitled “Are Women Unhappier?” I suspect that, on the whole, they are (as I suspect men are, on the whole), but a segment is […]


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