Toronto Feminists

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Unhappy Women

Ah, a joyful article from Macleans on why men are happier than ever and women are miserable (the “happiness” gap). A study that came out in September found that surprisingly as women have benefited from the women’s movement and are now part of the workforce in record numbers, it turns out they were much happier before. And now, it’s actually men who are benefiting from the women’s movement because they have a breadwinner and more time to do what they please while women take care of it all. From the article:

Far from suffering a crisis of confidence amid all those high-powered females, men are actually getting happier as the women around them find their place in the workforce, recent U.S. studies suggest. Blessed with salaried spouses and an economy that increasingly values their brains over their brawn, males now enjoy more of what one Princeton University scholar calls “neutral downtime” — a fancy term for hours spent watching football, playing computer games or drinking with their pals. For guys, things have never been better…

All of which raises questions that hardline feminists will undoubtedly find perverse, if not outright heretical. Are career pressures sucking the joy from day-to-day life for many women? Were they wrong to think professional success would ultimately yield happiness? And if the rise of financially successful, multi-tasking women over the past few decades is doing little more than allowing men to load up on couch time, who are the real beneficiaries of the women’s movement?”

The authors of the study are less concerned with why women are more unhappy than men, and more interested in why women were so happy in the 1970s. One plausible theory is that the women surveyed in the 1970s were likely comparing themselves to the housewife next door and measuring their happiness in those terms (ie: “Well, I’m happier than most wives…at least John only goes out one night a week”.) Whereas women today, are probably comparing themselves to their husbands or male colleagues and often find they’re treated as “second-class citizens” –they’re very aware that they make less money and get less respect and surely that affects their measurement of ‘happiness’.

As for the fact that men are much happier than women, one can certainly see how that would be true. In a male world dominated by Maxim, FHM and Stuff magazine where the focus is on half-naked women, cool gadgets and new computer games –life has never been better!

“Some of this is due to technology, notes Krueger; a lot of former men’s work is now performed by machines, both at work and around the home. But it’s hard not to see the growth in their spare time with the concomitant reduction in women’s. Unlike men, women are spending more time at paid work than they did in, say, the early 1970s, while their downtime has been steadily declining. To some experts, this points to males gaining R & R at females’ expense.”

That seems to make sense to me: if women are filling every spare moment of their day outside of work making meals, taking care of children and going to yoga classes then of course they’re going to burn out and feel unhappy!

Suffice to say, this is not the sort of analysis that sits well with modern feminists. As the data on female unhappiness piles up, they increasingly question the connection to careerism, or the entire premise of happiness surveys. “The women’s movement was never about happiness,” says the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and feminist Susan Faludi, in an assertion that will surely surprise many a woman who marched for equal rights. “It was about claiming one’s full place in the world. What is described as women’s unhappiness isn’t about them being unable to handle all of these great new opportunities. It’s unhappiness over the fact that things haven’t changed: that they are still burdened with a second shift.

Women fight for equality and instead are told they can have it all, and should be it all: mother, breadwinner and of course, a total hottie. The pressure to be perfect is intense yet the beneficiaries of women who kill themselves to be everything –are the men? But feminism is hardly to blame for this as the article suggests, saying that feminism promised the moon and stars, which gave us false expectations. Should women have put down their placards in the 70s if they’d known their men would benefit most? I would answer that with a hearty “hell no!” but then that’s just me. I’ve felt the pressure to be everything and it does push me to try to succeed but I’ve also got feminism to show me that I can choose –choose to work, choose to have or not have children, choose to stay at home, choose to speak up and choose to do whatever it is that keeps me happy and healthy. So those hardline feminists the article refers to, have made my life much happier and continue to influence the lives of many women.


There is a link to the original study on this site, it’s titled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. I found it really interesting because of the methodology used, examining happiness surveys raises a lot of questions about how you can possibly measure happiness anyway. For example, the surveys used asked questions like this: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days, would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”

Um…has anyone else ever filled out a survey like this? I know I have and I know that I usually never find an answer to circle that actually captures how I feel and I usually race through as quickly as possible thinking that it’ll never be used for anything useful. So, measuring the happiness of all women with surveys like this? Not really hard science but interesting nonetheless particularly because there are distinct differences among different races, so if this topic interests you I recommend reading through it.



Written by outdoorsgrrl

November 13, 2007 at 3:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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