February 27, 2010

Are Women Unhappy?

As regular online readers know, we regularly feature articles as thought pieces, without endorsement. The one by Albert Mohler (which was posted February 4, 2010) brought a considerable number of responses. Following is what we considered one of the strongest and most detailed. —Editors

2010 1505 33 capn his article titled “Why Are So Many Women Unhappy?” Albert Mohler has yet to answer the question raised in his title. 

First, the author has given us no definition of the term “happiness” as he uses it.  One would expect that religiously and, indeed, spiritually inclined persons would not take the word “happiness” lightly.  Thus the article has yet to establish that so many women are indeed unhappy. 
Second, unlike the major articles he cites in his piece, he makes no effort to determine the possible causes of the alleged unhappiness.  While the article does not conclude that feminism has made women less happy, it purposely opens the door to that conclusion by the less discriminating reader.  A close look at the two major articles cited by the Dr. Mohler (Maureen Dowd, “Blue is the New Black,” New York Times, Sept. 21, 2009; and Nancy Gibbs, “The State of the American Woman,” New York times, Oct.  14, 2009) reveals that he has extracted snippets from them in order to make an argument (albeit obtuse) that these articles themselves do not make.   
2010 1505 33 linkNeither of those articles concludes that the women’s movement has lead to women’s unhappiness. Rather, the overriding point in both articles is that society has changed, and that that change has affected women and men differently.  Indeed Gibbs cites University of Pennsylvania Professor Justin Wolfer, Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, thus:  "We looked across all sectors (of women) — young vs. old, kids or no kids, married or not married, education, no education, working or not working — and it stayed the same," he says of the data.
"But there are a few ways to look at it," he adds. "As Susan Faludi said, the women's movement wasn't about happiness." It may be that women have become more honest about what ails them. Or that they are now free to wrestle with the same pressures and conflicts that once accounted for greater male unhappiness. Or that modern life in a global economy is simply more stressful for everyone, but especially for women, who are working longer hours while playing quarterback at home. "Some of the other social changes that have happened over the last 35 years — changes in family, in the workplace — may have affected men differently than women," Wolfers says. "So maybe we're not learning about changes due to the women's movement but changes in society."  Why has Dr. Mohler left out this very important data from the source he cited?      
Finally the author quotes Susan Faludi as he does all his other sources out of context (Please note that the author cites Gibbs who cites Wolfer who cites Faludi).  When Faludi argues that the women’s movement was not about happiness, she is trying to say that women were not looking for happiness (i.e. the shallow definition of happiness), but were seeking to live out their fullest potential as human beings.  This is what Faludi writes in her introduction to the book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (New York: Doubleday, 1991): “Over and over, women complain to pollsters about a lack of economic, not marital, opportunities; they protest that working men, not working women, fail to spend time in the nursery and the kitchen.” The Roper Organization's survey analysts found that men's opposition to equality is "a major cause of resentment and stress" and "a major irritant for most women today." It is justice for their gender, not wedding rings and bassinets that women believe to be in desperately short supply. When the New York Times polled women in 1989 about "the most important problem facing women today," job discrimination was the overwhelming winner; none of the crises the media and popular culture had so assiduously promoted even made the charts. In the 1990 Virginia Slims poll, women were most upset by their lack of money, followed by the refusal of their men to shoulder child care and domestic duties. By contrast, when the women were asked where the quest for a husband or the desire to hold a "less pressured" job or to stay at home ranked on their list of concerns, they placed them at the bottom.
2010 1505 33Let’s now check some significant facts.  There are approximately 30,000 suicides in America each year and 75% of those are men.  This leaves us with the question, What is happiness?  A close look at the articles cited by the author shows that all the authors equate stress with unhappiness.  True happiness does not lie in the absence of stress and challenges, but lie in the motivation and ability to fulfill one’s purpose in life, in spite of challenges and stresses. 
The suicide rate shows that in spite of the increased challenges and stress, women are coping far better than men.  Women “care.”   They “have feelings.” That may be why they are “unhappy.”  (This is an opening conversation in Dowd’s article which Mohler has omitted).  They care about family and society in ways that transcend the physiological and mundane, and they have an enduring faith and a deep spirituality that gives them the will to get up and live another day. 
While we have the data for that, we only have to ask our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters.  If women have more social responsibility than men, it is because society is yet to keep pace with the tide of history.  In an age where we now know that women have brains as well as brawns, that they are created in the divine image, no less than men, we still continue to send subliminal (and overt) messages of role circumscriptions that leave more social burdens on women and grant more social power to men.  It has eased the stress on men, but it has not made them truly happy, as the suicide rates show.   
Somewhere along the way society has failed to systematically instill in our male children the importance of “caring” and “feeling,” opting instead to abandon them to an archaic sense of inherent power and social entitlement, which often dissipates into utter despair once reality sets in and--more so as the tide of history envelops us all.
Despite its critics, the women’s movement, like the civil rights movement and other such movements, is part of something infinitely greater than itself.  It is part of the movement of human history and the greater purpose of God upon the earth. When we confine ourselves to historical comfort zones and stereotypical straight jackets, we impede the work of salvation and give birth to a messed up world.  This is what happens when social norms overcome social justice.  We cannot stop the tide of history. Rather, we can seek to discern God’s purpose in each passing decade as we understand more about who we are and what we ought to be, and faithfully act upon that revelation.  The apostle Paul says: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways” (I Cor. 13: 11, NRSV). 
This is the challenge to which women and men must rise if we are to give birth to a better world. 
Olive J. Hemmings is professor of religion at  Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA. Posted February 22, 2010.