Roles

An interesting phenomenon is occurring all of the sudden. Women are not as happy as they thought they would be in a society that is less bound by traditional roles for the sexes.

here is the study that provoked the outburst above.

and at First Things here are Mary Eberstadt’s thoughts about what is going on.

Two Wharton economists, Betsey Stephenson and Justin Wolfers, called forth considerable comment with their recent paper on the subject, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” Using thirty-five years of data from the General Social Survey, they observe that, given the many social and economic transformations of modernity that would appear to benefit women—a closing gender wage gap, an educational attainment that now tops that of men, the sexual freedom conveyed by artificial contraception, and more—one would reasonably expect to see those who are the beneficiaries of these trends registering increased happiness.

Instead—and hence the paradox of the study’s title—the reverse seems to be true: Over the past thirty-five years, “women’s happiness has fallen both absolutely and relative to men’s in a pervasive way among groups, such that women no longer report being happier than men and, in many instances, now report happiness that is below that of men.” Moreover, their data show, “this shift has occurred through much of the industrialized world.”

So what is happening out there to account for all these miserable, dissatisfied wives and mothers? Why are many of today’s marriages apparently peopled by snippy, ineffectual husbands and smoldering (in all senses) desperate housewives?
…..

Another answer proposed lately may get closer to the heart of the matter. In recent, also widely discussed research, the psychologist Jean Twenge used data collected from some 16,000 college students and found a sharp rise in scores on a “narcissism index” personality test among young adults—disproportionately, among the young women. (In the 1950s, to take one example from the index, only 12 percent of college students agreed that “I am an important person,” whereas that figure was 80 percent by the late 1980s.) This “narcissism epidemic,” as some have termed it, has in turn given rise to speculation about what might account for such an exaggerated sense of oneself: Capitalism? Indulgent, ego-pampering parenting? Digital technology that relentlessly raises the bar for personal appearance?

While the jury of psychologists remains out, the charge of narcissism does seem convincing, as reading just a few hundred of the assorted essays, blogs, and other public complaints entered in the “new confessional mode” makes painfully clear. Throw in also, for those who can bear it, the booming subgenre of contemporary books deriding children and domesticity with tellingly ugly titles like The Bitch in the House and Bad Mother and others too depressing to catalogue. Today’s resentment of domesticity is not the hate that has no name; it is the hate that won’t shut up. It emanates from the self-same women who are, after all, among the most historically fortunate members of their sex in world history, which does suggest something deranged about the whole dynamic. If this is not psychotic narcissism in the clinical sense, there is at least abundant pop-literary evidence of a uniquely spoiled and ungrateful age.

Even so, dismissing this ongoing new outcry of feminine injury would be a mistake—because, annoying and risible though it may appear, there is an unmistakable authenticity running through it. Some of these writers may really be onto something. Just not something that most of them are likely to want to face.

Read on with Eberstadt to find her perceptive and persuasive answer to the conundrum. Here is a hint:

At least that way of looking at the puzzle might explain some of the paradox of all that female unhappiness. Between bad ideas of gender neutrality and even worse ideas of the innocence of pornography, we reach the world so vividly described by Sandra Loh and many other dissatisfied women: one where men act like stereotypical women, and retreat from a real marriage into a fantasy life via pornography (rather than Harlequin novels), and where women conversely act like stereotypical men, taking the lead in leaving their marriages and firing angry charges on the way, out of frustration and withheld sex.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but it has. Enlightened people only meant to take the small- s sex out of marriage: the unwanted gender division. Along the way, capital- s Sex headed for the exits as well.

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