The State of the American Woman

My good friend, Sasha, informed me that the theme of the most recent TIME is “The State of the American Woman.”

The first article I read was What Women Want Now. (oh good, another play off the (arguably misogynist) Dr. Freud’s words)

This article basically outlines many of the strides women have taken in the last three decades, since the Women’s Lib movement. The author points to many successes- more women are playing sports than before, more women than men are attending college, close to half of law and medical degrees go to women, half the Ivy League presidents are women, two of the three network anchors soon will be, three of the four most recent Secretaries of State have been women, five women have won Nobel Prizes in the same year (for Medicine, Chemistry, Economics and Literature), and the list goes on.

As a woman, this makes me smile. It makes me do more than smile; it helps me relax as a wave of confidence and calm washes over my admittedly too tense and determined body. It is reassuring and relieving to believe that people are treating women more and more for their abilities rather than their appearances. It is self assuring and steadying to hear that women are pursuing skills they are good at rather than falling into the stereotypes that reduce them.

However, according to the article, women have suffered equally or more than men in regards to our current economic crisis. The author points out that women’s wages have fallen twice as much as men’s, that women are more vulnerable to the housing crisis, and that more women than men carry the burden of financial stress in their households.

Further, the author links women’s progress with the increased percentage of children born to single mothers from 12% to 39%. She also states, “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy.” The fact that there would be some negative ‘catch’ to this article doesn’t surprise me as–despite the numerous successes cited in the article–the subheading to the title of this issue of TIME was “A New Poll Shows Why They [women] are More Powerful- But Less Happy.” (a sarcastic kudos to whoever craftily inserted this subheading to ensure we do not take in the good news of women’s progress and move on with our day, without first being reminded that all the progress must be turning our women unhappy and power hungry).

You don’t have to major in statistics to know that correlation does not equal causation. The fact that the percentage of single mothers and the unhappiness of women have risen during the time that women have also gained more power and economic status, does not mean that one caused the other- even if it did, how would you know which direction the equation flowed? I wonder if it would be much more likely if social institutions such as the media (which promotes unhealthy values, objectifies women, and becomes more and more infiltrated by pornography), violence against women, and sexual harassment in the work place might have caused such a rise in unhappiness or the number of single mothers?

In an earlier paragraph the author states, “Especially in the absence of social supports, flexible work arrangements and affordable child care, it’s hardly surprising that a majority of both men and women still say it is best for children to have a father working and a mother at home.” This is key. To anyone who has read Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, it is obvious that we need better social supports in place if both parents in a household are working (notice I said if ‘both parents of the household are working’, rather than if ‘the mother is working’, because the father chooses to work away from the kids just as much as the mother does).

Maybe woman is not as happy because she is burned out from working double shift all the time. Maybe she is not as happy because she has taken on the responsibilities of a job in addition to the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, and raising the kids- rather than her husband or the government stepping in to help. Maybe she is less happy because she was diluted to believe that if she worked twice as hard as her male counterparts the wage gap (which the article cites still exists) would disappear. Or maybe she is less happy because in a society where she literally worked her butt off for personal, economic, and political gain, the best subheading the nation’s leading news magazine could come up with is one that makes her sound like a power hungry whiner.

Despite the subheading and the implication that women’s success in the political sphere has been the cause of her-and our society’s-demise in the private sphere, I still feel good about the “state of the American woman” today.

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