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Women Don’t Have to Get the Blues

Maureen Dowd is pushing the hypothesis that modern women are increasingly miserable. But it's not necessarily so.

by
Michele Catalano

Bio

September 30, 2009 - 12:00 am

Maureen Dowd thinks women are, in general, unhappy.  In her op-ed piece which has been wending its way around the Internet recently (“Blue is the New Black”), she writes:

But the more women have achieved, the more they seem aggrieved. Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?

According to the General Social Survey, which has tracked Americans’ mood since 1972, and five other major studies around the world, women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.

She then goes on to quote Arianna Huffington, who claims that women around the world are in a funk, and says:

When women stepped into male-dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.

Well, there’s the problem. This isn’t a woman problem, per se. We are not talking about a societal problem; we are talking about a self-worth problem that some women have given themselves. This is what happens when you try to define yourself by something that you are not. You are not your job, your kids, your husband. You should not be defined by any of those things. Any woman who identifies herself as a mother, wife, or lawyer puts herself in a position to be unhappy because she is not living for herself. I’m not saying women should lead utterly self-centered lives. I am saying that we should define ourselves as more than the things we do that involve other people.

Those things come with built-in expectations. Are you a good mother? A good wife? A great lawyer? We don’t want to just tell the world that we’re mothers; we want to compare ourselves to other mothers and wives and people in our chosen field. We want to say we’re successful at those things and that we’re fulfilled and happy. It’s a never-ending battle to meet that pinnacle of perfection that we set up for ourselves and each other.

We are not our jobs. We are not our children or our dinner parties.

In order to find happiness, a woman needs to define herself as a singular person, not someone who is part of a package deal. Women need to ask themselves the following questions. What do I do aside from parenting, work, going to school, and being a partner? Do I have a hobby? Do I try to do anything that brings happiness to just myself or am I spending every waking hour of my life making other people happy?

We spend our time trying to bring happiness to others. Our bosses, our children, our partners, our friends. We nurture, we care, we empathize. But do we stop to nurture ourselves? Do we ever define ourselves as the things we enjoy?

I have a career, a partner, children, and a house. Let’s face it, those things are not always going to make me a happy person and to depend on all of that to bring me happiness and make me feel fulfilled is to set myself up for a therapy appointment. My job is going to disappoint me.  My children are a constant source of worry and anxiety. My house sucks my wallet dry. I love all these things, but I can not depend on them to fulfill me and make me happy.

So I do the things I love. I am a writer, a reader, a photographer, a music lover. I take pictures. I read books. I listen to music. And that’s who I am. When people ask if I’m happy I certainly think of the big things in my life, but I also think of the little things. And the little things add up to a lot.  The money worries, job frustration, and anxiety over college tuition bills all loom less large in the big picture because I have made my own happiness in other areas.

“Women have lives that become increasingly empty,” [Gallup researcher Marcus] Buckingham said. “They’re doing more and feeling less.”

There’s the problem. They’re not doing anything that makes them feel. They’re living for everyone but themselves. They are living to please others and to impress others. There’s nothing wrong with doing for yourself. Taking the time to do what makes you happy makes you happier overall.

But what, you may wonder, about looks and external appearance? After all, America is more obsessed than ever about looks and youth, with an array of expensive cosmetic procedures that allow women to be their own Frankenstein Barbies. Men age in an attractive way while women are expected to replicate — and Restylane — their 20s into their 60s.

Well, no. That’s something you put on yourself. Maybe if you aspire to be a model, actress, or trophy wife, this is a big problem. But most of us regular women who want to lead normal lives know that we shouldn’t put the burden of our happiness on our faces and our bodies, just as we shouldn’t put it on our kids, our jobs, our partners, or our homes.

See, I know a lot of happy women, Ms. Dowd. What do they all have in common? They don’t define themselves by what they do, what they have, who they know, or how they look. They define themselves by who they are.

Michele Catalano lives, writes, and takes photographs on Long Island.
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