Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
I confess I used to have a romantic idea about my role of being a woman. When I was a young girl, I loved to play with dolls. I dressed them, fed them and made stories about their lives and whereabouts of their days. I took quite intuitively my role of mother and main caregiver of my “sons and daughters”. I must have been around five years old by then. At that time, I was not really conscious about the fact that me as a girl, a female, have a specific role in the society. I just remember copying what I saw around me: I learned that mothers carry their babies and take care of them; that they stay home and prepare the supper for the family; that a mother is someone that is always there, with a big smile and velvet dress; always willing and ready to attend the family.
I idealised about the perfect life of a wife from the 1950s: The young lady that marries a young handsome man, buy a nice house with a big garden, and have children. The woman stays home, runs the household and raise the children, while the man goes to work the whole day, only to come back at dinner time. When the kids grow old, the stay-at-home mom gets some free time to spend in charities, social work, or spending her afternoons having coffee and going shopping with other fellow housewives. When the kids finally leave home and build their own families and the father retires, then the couple have free time to travel, and enjoy their autumn adulthood.
Now I know that this romantic story was far from being the truth in most of the households at the time. One of the books that depicts a more “real face” of the lives of the housewives at the time is Betty Friedan “The Feminine Mystique”. She tells her own story: A housewife in the Post World War II era (end of the 50s, beginning of the 60s), in middle class America. In her book, she expresses the deep dissatisfaction that she, along many other women in a similar situation, really thought about their life fulfilment by just focusing on housework, marriage, sexual passivity and bearing children. As it turns out, most of those middle class, mainly white American women, felt dissatisfied in their role.
One of the most remarkable questions she addresses to the reader goes like this:“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?” – Betty Friedan
This book which was published in 1963, set the wheels to redefine the meaning of feminism. It created a revolution, where women started to fight back for the right to choose a different destiny; the right to get a degree, pursue a career, become part of the economic force, and also give her the power to choose over her own willingness to have children. This was the preamble of the huge feminist movements that took place in the 70s and 80s, where much of what was claimed at the time from women like Ms. Friedan, became a reality for millions of women in western civilizations worldwide.
As it turns out, the pink story that most of the girls like me grew up watching and idealising, was painting a world that did not matched the reality. No one on the social circles, school or even TV talked about the “housewife role dissatisfaction” that according to Friedan and attested by many others, has been permeating and affecting thousands of housewives worldwide.
What is what we should look after as a woman? What is what really makes us happy? Is it the freedom to choose? To have complete liberty about the decisions of what to do with our lives?
This is apparently, what the feminist movements are standing after.
However, as with everything in life, those questions do not have a simple answer. One might think that having reached a certain level of freedom, would ultimately lead to our complete happiness and self-realization.
Tucker Carlson, in his book “Ship of Fools”, talks about how the role of being a woman has been used as a tool for inciting political ideologies that do not really represent the best interest for the people. In a particular section where he discusses the effects of feminism in the way that American society is being pictured today, he citated a very interesting finding. The University of Chicago, has been collecting data since 1972 for a project called “The General Social Survey”. The survey’s purpose, according to their webpage is to “Study the growing complexity of American society. It is the only full-probability, personal interview survey designed to monitor changes in both social characteristics and attitudes currently being conducted in the United States” (gss.norc.org)
The researches of this survey, as Carlson indicates, found a surprising fact: Women have become dramatically less happy in the last forty years. The study indicates that in the early years of the study (in the 40s and early 50s) women reported greater happiness than men. However, overtime they’ve progressively became less content as the time passed by.
This sheds light around the complexity of defining female happiness over just the definition of the roles in society. As we have seen in the recent decades, thanks to the feminism movements, the advancement of the role of women in society has been extraordinary. In most of the industrialized countries, the gender disparity in education and work opportunities for men and women virtually disappeared. In the United States, women earn more college degrees than men since the 80s and the disparity is increasing. Single women in New York earn on average eight percent more than their male counterpart in a similar job. Women have more decision power about their bodies than never before. They can choose it all: To become mothers, to pursue meaningful careers, to marry or stay single, to become a single mother… female freedom seems to be skyrocketing at exponential rates.
With all this in mind, the key question is: Why aren’t we getting happier? If we now have plenty of freedom to choose what we want to do, earn more money and have more career perspectives than ever before, what is missing?
Women freedom has an expiration date?
As I’ve been writing these lines, I recalled a video I saw some years ago in Youtube. The video was made by an Argentinian lady named Paula Schargorodsky. The video starts by Paula attending the wedding of her last single friend. She was thirty-five at the time. Then, she explains how she followed in her early days as a young girl the conventional path: Went to school, studied and graduated from college, had boyfriends and found a job. Then she explains how this perceived freedom keeps getting narrowed as one grows old. She says: “In your twenties, you are free to do whatever you want… have boyfriends, lovers, one- night stands, work study… just like men. But female freedom has an expiration date. When you turn Thirty, a conservative wall falls. At every social gathering, you are confronted with one silent question: When will you settle down?”
This statement made by Paula really resonated with me. When I saw the video, I was just about to turn Thirty. I was doing very well economically: I had a good job, nice friends, and a stable boyfriend. I was having enough financial freedom to do whatever I wanted: Travel, party, get life new and varied experiences, etc. However, the topic about marriage and having kids was something that never left my mind. Having grown up in Mexico, I had a strong inclination to have a traditional life. The idea of getting married and start a family was the ideal target of my life. In front of the place I was living with my boyfriend at that time, there was a beautiful old villa that was converted into a kids day care. I remember walking by on my way to work and observing the little kids running around, having fun in the garden. I truly enjoyed watching them and imagining that in some years, I will bring my own kids there.
Not so long later that became a reality. But the point is that I intrinsically felt within the need to be a mother. It didn’t matter how well I was doing in my career. I had the right partner, and the natural next step for me was to get married and start with the prospect of having children. The conservative wall that Paula refers to is quite real, in my experience. When you are in your twenties, you think that you still have the whole life ahead of you, so you focus in trying to enjoy and get out of life as much as you can. I think this is how it should be in general. In your twenties you are full of energy; you are at in a crucial time of your life where you can go in any direction. I don’t mean that you cannot change completely your life at a later stage; but it is true that what you do in your twenties it will have a big repercussion in your later adult life and how it will unfold.
As a woman, it seems to me that we are always in that fine line, between wanting to gain our freedom, and our natural tendency of the need to be nurtured and protected by a strong men, Prince Charming and build a nurturing, protective environment. It is a scientific fact that is true in the animal kingdom, and reveals what we women already know by instinct. Women tend to feel more attracted to men that appear strong, assertive and who are doing financially better than them. Just as the male Mallards have bright and beautiful colors in their plumage, like those bright green and blue colors displayed in their head and necks. Bright plumage shows a female that this particular male is healthy and reproductive. In that way, the majority of heterosexual women prefer strong men over perceived weaker ones. Wether that’s really true to everybody I cannot say and this bring my curiosity to investigate further. But nature is wise and we should listen to it. It is certainly true for me. Is it true for you?
And the question to answer still remains: What make us really happy?
It is to have an amazing career, a great partner, children, a beautiful house…freedom, independence, money…everything at once?
In our journey to redefine our role in society, have we lost our sight to what really define us as women?
What do you think? What makes you really happy?
I would love to hear about your thoughts, as I will develop this topic further in follow up blogposts 🙂
 Source: The National Wildlife Federation: https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Birds/Mallard