“He comes back with dinner, and he has shot it! They are happy. American women don’t have anyone hunting for them — that’s the real problem,” wrote author Michael Silverstein in the October 26th issue of the New Yorker.
That’s what he’s got: Men hunting for dinner?
Over the last month, men like Silverstein and author Marcus Buckingham have been grabbing headlines on highly trafficked blog sites and appearing on the pages of well regarded magazines talking about women’s unhappiness in response to recent studies, including one published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, which show that women’s happiness over the past couple of decades is declining. And however subtly done, the message is the same: Women, you, and your fight for equality, are responsible for your own unhappiness.
During this same time period, the women of the United States quietly became half of the entire paid labor force in our nation for the first time.
It’s a Half-Lash: The backlash from women becoming half of the paid labor force.
In reality it’s not such a mystery why so many women are reporting that they are unhappy.
Despite recent reporting trends, just because women are now half of the labor force doesn’t mean that it’s time to stop fighting for equal pay for equal work, and instead pop Prozac while waxing philosophical about possible roots of unhappiness as we await hunting hubbies to bring in venison.
It’s time for the national media to interview some women. We know why we’re unhappy. Let’s break it down:
Economic inequality: Overall, women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar. One study found that women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make 73 cents, and single mothers make the least, at about 60 cents to a man’s dollar — stats that should keep you up at night given that 80% of American women become mothers by the time they are forty-four years old. Studies show that passing family-friendly policies — like paid family leave and assessable childcare — lower the wage gaps.
Political inequality: Women comprise only 17% of our national legislature, despite being 51% of the population. We now rank a low 70th of all nations in terms of women’s representation in national legislatures.
Why are women unhappy? The fact that the feminist revolution is mid-course and some are calling it over just because women now number half of the labor force is a reason for unhappiness. The fact that we don’t have family-friendly policies which most other nations take as a given is another reason for unhappiness.
We’re not moving forward, we’re falling behind. According to international gender equality ratings just released by the World Economic Forum, the United States fell four spots from last year. We now stand at 31st place, just behind Lithuania. Further, falling behind hurts us all: Right now there are only 15 women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, despite that more than 50% of college graduates are now women and despite, importantly, that recent studies show that Fortune 500 companies with women in leadership are actually doing better fiscally in this tough economic environment.
It’s a Half-Lash all right. But this blowback from becoming half of the labor force shouldn’t hinder women’s fight for equal pay for equal work, and for, yes, happiness.
With 50% of the labor force, women have come a long way. But we haven’t arrived yet. Overall, women are increasingly educated and employed, but still must fight to pass family-friendly policies like paid family leave, affordable childcare, fair pay laws, health care for all, flexible work options, and paid sick days, which also protect those recovering from domestic abuse and assault. Studies show such policies help everyone with both the fiscal and family bottom lines — businesses, non-mothers, mothers, women, and men alike — and passing family-friendly policies go a long ways toward taking the next step toward women’s happiness: Breaking down the Maternal Wall that stands in the way of most women ever getting close to the glass ceiling.
The paychecks women bring in are increasingly needed to keep families financially afloat. It’s time now to bring our workplace policies up to date to the realities of a changed labor force so women, and men, can be happier and, yes, more productive overall.
A long line of women in this nation have fought for equality. Just 89 years ago women got the right to vote. Yet we still need equal pay for equal work, proportional representation, fair treatment, and our own voices in the media.
A dead deer on the dining table isn’t going to solve this rampant unhappiness, but fair pay and family-friendly policies will make a significant dent. Let’s get moving.