Are Progressive Feminists Less Happy Than Traditionalist Wives?

Slate has a piece on two big interests of mine, feminism and happiness. The state of feminism is super interesting, and the subject of increased scrutiny since Betty Friedan died. In this article Meghan O’Rourke cites new studies out of U of Virginia that say stay-at-home moms are more content than their working-women counterparts. In an age when working women seem to be praised for exercising choice, surpassing men on the payscale, and achieving financial and emotional independence, this is surprising. More startling, is that the 15% of progressive feminists – folks who agree with Friedan that a world where wives run the home and men bring home the bread perpetuates inequality – are overall less happy than more traditionalist feminists. There are all sorts of qualifications in order for studies like this. For example, there always are questions about whether declared happiness equals real happiness — ie what people say on a survey may not be reality.

This being said, O’Rourke astutely tries to interpret the study, attributing unduly high expectations for progressive feminists as one possible explanation for their malaise. She also attributes the paradox of choice, a fascinating branch of consumer psychology. Traditionalist feminists have fewer choices in their day-to-day lives, but more certainly/stability. Finally, they also have the benefit of a majority peer group and indeed all of history to dictate how the husband/wife relationship should operate. The household mores are defined. When both parents work, it gets sticky. When just the mother works, even stickier (studies show that mothers still end up doing household chores, despite also being the sole breadwinner).

Of course, these discussions neglect financial pressures which can dictate working roles. But it’s most interesting to examine families absent financial pressure, and try to understand what situations at once seem the most "equal" and also make both spouses the most happy.

Related Posts:
Are Motherhood and Feminist Womanhood Mutually Exclusive?
Two Ways of Looking at Childrearing

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