Two recent surveys found that women today are considerably less happy than they were 40 years ago (Men, incidentally, are happier). Why? As The New York Times reported, "what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did...They can't possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short."
Amen. With the weight of our feminist forbears on one side and the family-values camp on the other, women are under unprecedented pressure to perform on all fronts. It seems we almost have to "do it all." For me, admitting that I simply can't do it all somehow feels blasphemous -- like a slap in the face to the women who fought so hard to get us here or even worse a slight to the children I brought into this world. To say "no" in this environment is to choose between lack of ambition or lack of maternal instinct.
But the truth is that we must say, "no." We have come a long way since the feminist revolution, but these studies make clear that we are only half-way there. Until our society comes to terms with women's changing roles, the revolution will continue to be more about additional responsibility than it is about equality. And, that's a shame.
It is time that our public institutions, our spouses and our employers rise to the challenge and confront these issues forthright. More to the point, it is time for us to stop letting them off-the-hook by trying to "do it all."
To be sure, this will not be easy. The notion of "doing it all" is seductive. It affords us the possibility of fulfilling our most romantic visions of motherhood while also achieving the more tangible rewards of career. And, honestly, sometimes it seems that we have no alternative. Should we give up our professions and return to pre-Betty Friedan domesticity? Or stop taking the lead on childcare and hope for the best?
But, we do have an option -- the option to call these ridiculous expectations what they are. It is possible and it is urgent. After refusing to give up her seat on the bus, Rosa Parks remarked "The only tired I was, was tired of giving in." Aren't we tired, ladies?
By buying into the paradigm, we help perpetuate these absurd expectations and ultimately deny ourselves the support that we deserve and our society needs. We must admit that our own grueling efforts to live-up to outsized societal images have made these standards seem reasonable. Moreover, our attempts to make this untenable balancing act work helps to facilitate apathy in the workplace, on the home front and in our public institutions.
The truth is, despite the illusion, women are not getting it all done and real needs remain unmet. For all our progress, too many women continue to lose their jobs and forgo promotions. Too many children have to suffer inadequate childcare. Too many companies lose out on our country's best talent. Too many women are falling apart at the seams. The future of our society depends on how we address these issues. It's time to speak-up.
Rosa Parks sparked a revolution by her willingness to admit that she wanted a seat. It's time that women admit that we want some help.
Help, now that's something to be happy about.