Desperate Feminist Wives – SlateWhat is it about? An exhaustive study of marital happiness among women that challenges the assumption that that egalitarian partnerships—where both partners have domestic responsibilities and pursue jobs—would make wives happier. This idea has its origins in The Feminine Mystique, a book by the late Betty Friedan attributed the malaise of married women largely to traditionalist marriages in which wives ran the home and men did the bread-winning.
What were the findings?
- Stay-at-home wives are more content than their working counterparts.
- Happiness has less to do with division of labor than with the level of commitment and "emotional work" men contribute (or are perceived to contribute)
- The most interesting data – Women who strongly identify as progressive—the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals—have a harder time being happy than their peers. This remains true when comparing between women in similar domestic arrangements but have different attitudes towards gender roles. Hence the title.
How did they identify progressive women?
The women were asked whether they support working mothers and shared housework, and whether they disagree that men should be breadwinners and women homemakers
The data base was surveys conducted between 1992 and 1994. A little dated.
The explanations examined:
- Conservatives – Women don't know what they really want. Feminism has only undermined the sturdy institution of marriage for everyone. Feminism has only undermined the sturdy institution of marriage for everyone.
- Feminists and liberals – Reality hasn't yet caught up to women's expectations. Women have entered the workforce, but men still haven't picked up the domestic slack—working wives continue to do 70 percent or more of the housework, according to one study.
Critique by the researchers:
- They found that equal division of labor seems not to correlate strongly with happiness, either.
The researchers' explanations:
- Having a degree of certainty about what you want (and being in a peer group that feels the same way) is helpful in making people happy. Having more choices about what you want makes you less likely to be happy with whatever choice you end up settling on.
- Fault-finding on the part of wives makes it hard for men to do the emotional work that stabilizes marriages. Meanwhile, traditionalist women—a significant portion of whom are Christian—expect less emotional work from their husbands, which makes it easier for them to shake off frustrations, and less likely to nag.
- Traditional marriages have the advantage of offering clearly defined roles. And traditionalist wives have a peer group fundamentally in agreement about what it wants and expects from husbands, creating a built-in support system.
Explanations from another sociologist:
- When evangelical women—who in general endorse traditional gender roles— have to work for financial reasons, their "pragmatically egalitarian" disposition allows them to be happy with the division of labor, and to see their husbands as providers, even though they'd prefer to be at home.
My observation: A significant portion of the traditionalist women are Christian. Could it simply be that religion makes people happier?
- Traditional marriage today is happier than it was, thanks to feminism. Traditionalists have been able to maintain the pre-Freidan goals, but all the societal movement in the other direction has had a freeing effect on their marriages, too. In other words, their goal has stayed the same (that is, maintaining traditional marriage roles), but they can pursue it under much less draconian circumstances. No wonder they're happier. They're free-riders on the women's movement (though they'd deny it), whereas feminists have descended into a tangle of second guesses and contradictions.
Dismantling a tradition and carving out a new one can be far more confusing than adjusting to glitches in the status quo. Progressive women find themselves navigating marriage as a choose-your-own-adventure story, which raises the chances of feeling that they perhaps made the wrong turn along the way. A progressive-minded woman doesn't just have higher expectations; she's more likely to pay attention to every setback, and see her husband's failure to listen at dinner as evidence of larger inequity. Meanwhile, the paradox of rising expectations can make real differences seem bigger even as they grow smaller.
"Worrying endlessly over choices isn't the path to greater freedom, equality, or happiness for women."
Further questions raised – the possibility of a study that examines husbands' happiness
So what? Your belief system can affect your happiness. This might warrant a re-examination of what you believe in. Yet, being part of a system, these beliefs are hard to extricate or modify.