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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
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