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American Women: More Power than Pleasure

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A new poll mounted by Time magazine on the state of American women is as positive as it is perplexing.

business woman smiling

Dr. Wendy Walsh: In business, power, and economics, the news is good. Women make up 49 percent of the workforce and 57 percent of all college students, and hold jobs that include Supreme Court Justices, governors, and Ivy League presidents. However, even on the economic playing field, there is still a lag. For every dollar that men make, women earn only 77 cents.

On the home front, things aren't nearly as rosy. Nearly 70 percent of women still have the primary responsibility for taking care of children, the sick, elderly, and their homes. In 1970, nearly all children grew up with a stay-at-home parent. Today, only about 30 percent do, and 65 percent of adults view this as a negative phenomenon.

And we seem to be depressed about our double duty, even if we aren't actually diagnosed. Nearly 70 percent of the prescriptions for antidepressants (SSRIs) are given to women, often with improper diagnosis and little monitoring. One study found that 43 percent of those prescribed antidepressants had no psychiatric diagnosis or any mental health care except for the prescription of the drug. Twice as many psychiatric drugs are prescribed for women than for men. Depression has been called the most significant mental health risk for women, especially younger women of childbearing and childrearing age.

So what's going on here? Why are we so unhappy? We got everything feminism promised, didn't we? I mean, we have so many choices in lifestyle. We can be perpetually single, we can be child-free, we can be gay and bisexual. We can be the primary wage-earner. But can we get any help around the house? Apparently not. And what if we don't want a career outside of the home (God forbid!)? Fat chance, ladies. Unless you are Martha Stewart and can turn your canning, crafts, and cooking into an empire, few men these days can finance this type of woman's hobby.

The problem that feminists couldn't have forecasted when they staged the International Women's Year back in 1975 was that as a woman left for work, no one else showed up to do the job she left at home -- the down-and-sometimes-dirty work of womanhood: cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. Or, as I like to call it, playing with fire, chemicals, and poop! Sheesh. Mothers need some Hazmat pay.

What early feminists also didn't calculate is this: Feminism would quickly get into bed with capitalism and give birth to consumerism. Instead of a gently robust economy, where women replaced men in many jobs, we got a hugely booming economy as women joined men and helped double the workforce in the 1980s and 90s. And with the rise of consumerism and ensuing social pressure to earn two incomes to buy all those precious trinkets, today few women GET to stay home with their children, even if they desire it.

Time magazine did point out that the recession is changing the game once again. The new economy has forced more men than women out of jobs, and it is forecasted that by the end of 2009, for the first time in history, more than half the American workforce will be made up of women. And what of those unemployed men? Will they finally start to load the dishwasher and fold the laundry? This remains to be seen.


next: The Green-Eyed Mommy
184 comments so far | Post a comment now
April October 29, 2009, 6:24 AM

You’ve read my freaking mind! I would love to be a 1950’s housewife green with envy over my neighbor’s new curtains rather than dropping my kids off to grow up with strangers so we can have two cars and “all those precious trinkets.” Sure we could manage on one income but what about the future? College educations are pretty much mandatory now and the husband doesn’t have a retirement pension promised like previous generations.

PlumbLucky October 29, 2009, 6:30 AM

Not fully buying it only because the 1950’s housewife fantasy did NOT exist in any way shape or form in my family history. Women didn’t leave for work in my family in the 70s. The last “stay at home women” were the farmers’ wives in the early 1900s.

There’s also been a decent split domestically for three generations now…probably because the women in my family have picked men who don’t expect the wife to deal with all the hazmat duties.

michelle October 29, 2009, 8:33 AM

“Feminism would quickly get into bed with capitalism and give birth to consumerism”? What does that even mean? One of the reasons women have to work is because income growth has not kept pace with growth in necessary expenses (health care, housing and education, to name a few), not because we want “trinkets.” Salaries today do not go anywhere near as far as they did in the 50s. Also, love how you neatly dodge any suggestion of a solution. You blame early feminists for not being able to somehow see into the future and solve the problems of the future (?), but you can’t quite get it together to list the goals that today’s feminists should be working toward (let’s see: better childcare options; paid maternity leave; cheaper or free health insurance; workplace protections for domestic workers and pink-collar workers that are as good as those already given to blue-collar workers). Maybe these would help had they occurred to you to mention. Instead your big idea is to just throw up your hands at ever getting the guys to help out.

Guy in Canada October 29, 2009, 8:53 AM

I think it is great. As women aquire more rights they can shoulder more responsibilities too.

Careful what you wish for, you might get it.

Black Iris October 29, 2009, 10:57 AM

I think you’ve hit on a very important problem for modern mothers - most of us would rather not have to work full-time for money. Many mothers are forced to by the economy. A lot of this has nothing to do with feminism, but it is probably true that as more women work, it becomes harder to afford not to. No matter what you’re buying, your dollars have to compete with other peoples.

I don’t think this is the source of women’s declining happiness, though. I seem to remember that other studies had found similar results, but that all groups of women (married, single, at-home, working) were less happy.

I do think we should look for ways to help more mothers stay home or work part-time (social security credits, tax credits, UIB, maternity leave, stipends, supporting good part-time jobs that offer benefits, health care insurance that isn’t linked to your job, and ways to get back into careers when your kids are older). That would be a real feminist revolution.

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