Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Newsweek made it their cover story and CNN did a series on it and now Americans

are discovering women are more successful, more powerful, more influential, but less happy

than they were forty to fifty years ago. Maria Shriver is about to launch a woman's project

in conjunction with the Center for American Progress, to discuss and showcase the evolution

of women in this country. This brings us to the big $64,000 question. Could it be that women

sacrificed happiness for power and success? Were they happier when they were barefoot,

pregnant, and in the kitchen?

I admit that for a person who can't seem to find the shallow water, this is a very

scary topic for me to wade in on. I am on thin ice and the sun is shining, shining. I have

taken a long time to overcome my prejudices and judgments about women and my education

was a struggle. I resisted for many years even the basic foundations of women's rights.

I was fortunate to have been taught by some very smart and powerful and patient women

the many errors of my ways. I don't know if there is the space or the time to chronicle all

the knuckle-dragging assumptions and posits I have held over the years. Suffice it to say

it can all be summed up by the fact that when I discovered my first-born child was going

to be a girl, my reaction was "...oh no, she won't be able to go to St. Ignatius and I have to

pay for the wedding". That reaction occurred in 1984; and I have come a long way baby

since then.

Women make up the majority of undergraduates in our nation's universities.

They also are the majority in both medical and law schools according to Newsweek. The

percentage of women who earn more money than their husbands or significant other is

growing. The percentage of married women who work is nearing 90%. More women are

not getting married at all; and many of these are choosing to be single parents. It is hard

to imagine there were laws in this country prohibiting women from having access to

contraception; and a woman had to get her husband's permission to get a credit card. In

many states, the concept of a husband raping his wife was not acknowledged by the courts.

As recently as the 1980's, female medical students were criticized for being too maternal

in their dealings with patients. It wasn't until 1976 that women were allowed to run a

marathon because it was thought running such a long distance would harm a woman's

ability to reproduce or she would be irreparably harmed by the physical exertion. Back

then women didn't sweat, they "glowed".

Yet the recent articles and publicity, while chronicling all the gains women have

made, struck me as carrying a warning notice. They seemed to be saying women should be

careful what they ask for, because success and achievement bring unhappiness and

dissatisfaction. The tenor seems to be "...we told you so".

In the Newsweek polling, women felt they had taken on more responsibilities and

obligations at work while the work load at home remained the same. The same women felt

their partners don't do as much at home as they should. Many women I have spoken with

tell me they need a wife. The poll does show men are more comfortable being domestic;

but there was a clear disconnect between how much men felt they were contributing and

how much women thought they were doing.

I don't think any of this is new. Women have long felt they were expected to earn

a living, keep a house, be romantic and sexy; while the expectations for men were much lower.

What seems to be new is this question about happiness. Is there anyone today who truly

believes a woman locked into a marriage because of an economic system prejudicial against

her, a society set up to denigrate her, and a legal system which left her few if any options

was "happy"?

Over the years there have been numerous articles and specials subtly suggesting

to women that they should have been more careful what they wished for. There is a subtle

"I told you so" tone to many of the studies and stories. "You wanted to be equal. OK baby,

you got it. How do you like it?" There have been articles about the new superwoman and

stories asking whether women have been sold a bill of goods promising them they can have

it all and then asking if it is true or not.

Women have made great strides towards equality of status with men. In the office,

the boardroom, the athletic field, academics, and many other places, women have made

tremendous gains. The stories and polls and specials seem to be asking what they sacrificed

for this progress; and is happiness a casualty of women's desire to be fully integrated into


Women earn 76 cents for every dollar a male counterpart earns. While women

have cracked the corporate glass ceiling, they have yet to achieve positions of prominence

and rank commensurate with their number in society. Women's sports must struggle to

be seen as legitimate as major men's sports. Women are allowed to be sexy and pretty,

or powerful, but not both. A woman is forced to choose between those two options. Stop

and think if you can name a powerful female CEO, politician, or lawyer who is also sexy

and desirable. Why can't they be both? Young girls face unrealistic body obsessions which

result in eating disorders and self-image problems. Studies report girls as young as nine

talking about the need to diet.

As a father of two daughters and two sons, I dream of a day when women and men

can be truly happy living in society; a day when good jobs are available to either gender;

a day when men and women are full partners in the joy of raising a family while achieving

satisfaction in their careers. We need to evolve as a society; we need change in everything

from the way we understand religion to the way we entertain ourselves.

The article in Newsweek asks how could women have come this far, yet seem to be

less happy? But the question misses the point. Happiness is difficult to define. Happiness

is both how we see ourselves and how society sees us. Happiness thrives in an atmosphere

of pride and satisfaction only if nurtured in an environment free of fear and want. This

brings me to a question not asked by Newsweek; are any of us truly happy? And if not, why?

Perhaps the real question is not whether women have achieved enough to claim happiness

as a prize; but rather why the richest nation on earth has so few people willing to say with

a firm commitment, "I am happy and life is good!" Can you? What do you think? I welcome

your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to

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