Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Ladies

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the happiness of women as compared to the happiness of men. This is the sort of article that can careen right off the rails into Dr. Laura territory. Quit the workforce, ladies, because it makes you miserable! You won’t have time to track down your wandering uterus!

Thank you, Newspaper of Record, for not going there.

Did I ever think I’d find myself in agreement with something called the “hottie theory”? No, I did not. But have a look:

“[O]ne girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be ‘effortlessly hot.’”

It’s not hotness pressure that’s so much the problem (this parenthetical was going to be about my being married, but I sort of like the ballsiness of implying that my hotness is NO PROBLEM, DAWGS) but just the sheer amount of responsibility. In the Times, the government and the menfolk get equal blame. I’d agree that we would sure appreciate some paid leave and universal preschool. And perhaps slovenly men should remain sequestered in their own filth.

But I’d make the case that it’s something larger that needs a fix: this whole cultural Zeitgeist (if I may) that shoves everything on the individual. That includes the government, the weird corporate set-ups where people move away from family and friends because their jobs require it, even the suburban architecture that hermetically seals up individual families. It’s not necessarily a gendered thing, but mothers bear a lot of the brunt of this isolation and effort of reinvent the wheel.

After Caleb was born, the hospital at which I delivered had a nurse come by the house, to check on me, check on the baby, check on the breastfeeding technique. It was a nice visit, I thought, just a week or two postpartum. Then the nurse took my blood pressure and it was high. Super high. I needed to check back into the hospital within the hour, she said. I got hysterical. I bawled as I packed my bag, bawled as Brandon packed his and Caleb’s bags, bawled as I walked her to the door.

It wasn’t the blood pressure that had me upset, but the idea that already, I had failed. I had been valiantly keeping up with this new situation in my life, Brandon and handling it, handling Caleb, all by ourselves like we were supposed to. And the hospital was defeat.

Eventually (somewhere while writing PP), I stopped buying into the idea that it was some sort of virtue to do everything yourself. It’s the dream of the toddler. That, and a dessert with every meal.


Kathy/Lessons from the Laundry said...

I had a friend who kept the grand delusion that everyone kept a perfect house and never argued with their husbands. I kind of enjoyed enlightening her! Perfect is only relevant in place else I can think of tonight.

Anjali said...

Why oh why does the NYT continue to go down this path of painting the picture of the rich, white, miserable mother? The newspaper is practically stalking this prototype...

OK, I'm done ranting.

Katherine said...


I have been trying to pound this exact idea about the corrosive emphasis on individual agency vs/ social/structural/institutional problems/constraints into my family and friends, but particularly my family of origin, for ages. And for the most part they act kind of wonder-eyed about it when I bring it up, like they don't realize the implications of their attitudes. Keep on keeping on in this vein, Jennifer!! It's a message that needs spreading....