Monday, September 21, 2009

Maureen Dowd on happiness discrepancies

by Gracie Remington

I am not ordinarily a fan of Maureen Dowd, the New York Times' opinion columnist most known for her flippant overviews of political developments, and her column this Sunday did little to change my mind, although it certainly made me think more than her previous pieces have succeeded in doing. Discussing the current disparity in happiness between men and women, Dowd does not fail to employ her trademark impertinence (opening her column with a back-and-forth between herself and a male friend, who explains away the happiness imbalance by saying that it's " 'Because you care' " and because " 'you have feelings' "), but brings up some interesting points along the way.

Results from the General Social Survey, which has studied Americans' moods since 1972, and five other major studies from elsewhere in the world indicate that women's happiness is lessening as men's happiness is increasing. In her column, Dowd outlined various explanations for the happiness inequality, dismissing some in favor of others. The fact that women have more responsibilities in the home, or during the "second shift," seems to be a poor indicator of increased female unhappiness, as men have moved into the domestic realm and the division of labor is becoming increasingly even between the sexes in regards to domestic work, minimizing the stress and unhappiness that would be disproportionately felt by women as a result of being overburdened by household obligations. Children are brought up as potential mood deflators, and Dowd quotes Betsey Stevenson, the co-author of a paper titled "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," who says, "Across the happiness data, the one thing in life that will make you less happy is having children. It's true whether you're wealthy or poor, if you have kids late or kids early. Yet I know very few people who would tell me they wish they hadn't had kids or who would tell me they feel their kids were the destroyer of their happiness." The global culture's obsession with youth is brought up as well, along with various other lifestyle choices that seem to both liberate women while potentially making them sadder.

Dowd closes her column by saying, "Stevenson looks on the bright side of the dark trend, suggesting that happiness is beside the point. We're happy to have our newfound abundance of choices, she said, even if those choices end up making us unhappier. A paradox, indeed." How is it that this abundance of choices leaves women less satisfied and more unhappy than their male counterparts, who clearly share many of the same opportunities? How can we as women balance these "choices" in a healthy way that leaves us satisfied and happy? The column in and of itself is noteworthy in that it brings to light an intriguing subject; it does not even begin to answer these types of questions. But perhaps it is something worth thinking about, and talking about: given the choices that we now have, how can we use our newfound opportunities in a way that ultimately makes us happy? Why is that question so difficult to answer?

Any thoughts?


At September 24, 2009 at 3:42 PM , Anonymous Claudia said...

What if it's not about the "feminist movement" at all? What if it's simply a question of doing for doing's sake vs. taking the time to think about what's being done?

At September 24, 2009 at 4:28 PM , Anonymous Leah said...

Maureen Dowd's piece really made me angry. That's probably why my response to this survey and her editorial is so snarky. But I want to thank you for your observations - they helped me figure out my own feelings about this survey and Dowd's editorial. You can check out my response here:


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