Desperate Feminist Wives

Reader Response to “Don’t Marry Career Women” – Desperate Feminist Wives

Desperate Feminist Wives
Regular Contributor
Why wanting equality makes women unhappy.
By Meghan O’Rourke
Posted Monday, March 6, 2006, at 7:35 PM ET

In The Feminine Mystique, 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. Her book helped spark the sexual revolution of the 1970s and fueled the notion that egalitarian partnerships—where both partners have domestic responsibilities and pursue jobs—would make wives happier. Last week, two sociologists at the University of Virginia published an exhaustive study of marital happiness among women that challenges this assumption. Stay-at-home wives, according to the authors, are more content than their working counterparts. And happiness, they found, has less to do with division of labor than with the level of commitment and “emotional work” men contribute (or are perceived to contribute). But the most interesting data may be that the women who strongly identify as progressive—the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals—have a harder time being happy than their peers, according to an analysis that has been provided exclusively to Slate. Feminist ideals, not domestic duties, seem to be what make wives morose. Progressive married women—who should be enjoying some or all of the fruits that Freidan lobbied for—are less happy, it would appear, than women who live as if Friedan never existed.

Of course, conclusions like these are never cut-and-dried. This study is based on surveys conducted between 1992 and 1994, and measuring marital happiness is a little like trying to quantify sex appeal. But the data are nonetheless worth pausing over, especially if, like me, you’ve long subscribed to the view that so-called companionate couples have the best chance at sustaining a happy partnership. Among all the married women surveyed, 52 percent of homemakers considered themselves very happy. Yet only 45 percent of the most progressive-minded homemakers considered themselves happy. This might not seem surprising—presumably, many progressive women prefer to work than stay at home. But the difference in happiness persists even among working wives. Forty-one percent of all the working wives surveyed said they were happy, compared with 38 percent of the progressive working wives. The same was the case when it came to earnings. Forty-two percent of wives who earned one-third or more of the couple’s income reported being happy, compared with 34 percent of progressive women in the same position. Perhaps the progressive women had hoped to earn more. But they were less happy than their peers about being a primary breadwinner—though you might expect the opposite. Across the board, progressive women are less likely to feel content, whether they are working or at home, and no matter how much they are making.

What’s really going on here? The conservative explanation, of course, is that the findings suggest that women don’t know what they really want (as John Tierney implied in the New York Times, and Charlotte Allen suggested in the Los Angeles Times). Feminism, they argue, has only undermined the sturdy institution of marriage for everyone. The feminist and liberal argument is that 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. If you work hard and come home and find you have to do much more than your husband does, it’s little wonder that you would be angry and frustrated.

11-22-2006 02:21 PM

Re: Desperate Feminist Wives

Perhaps another suggestion is that being constantly worried about how to be ‘progressive’ is causing these women more stress. Honestly, being a ‘feminist’ would be far too much of a headache for me. I don’t want to care what other people think of me. I don’t want to have to be an example for other women. I don’t want to blame other people for my own issues. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is without worrying about crap like that.

01-09-2007 12:29 PM

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