The Women's Wellbeing Paradox
Updated: May 29
Dear Asian Youth,
The pandemic has been a mental rollercoaster for everyone. Personally, I have been bombarded with work, a multitude of deadlines, essays, and AP testing. While my struggles pale in comparison to others, I have seen a notable trend in the decline in happiness in all people, whether it be because of loneliness or the inability to work efficiently. However, with more research, I have noticed that the decline in happiness, in women specifically, isn't a new phenomenon.
Now, I understand how absurd it sounds. The notion that women are becoming increasingly dissatisfied despite the undeniable progress we have made seems juxtaposed. Glass ceilings are shattered every day to mitigate stereotypes and attain equal rights. And with so many media outlets, it has never been easier for women to support one another. So the question begs: Why? Why is female happiness decreasing, in spite of our continuous progress?
In short, there is an expectation that women should continue to do disproportionately high amounts of housework, despite having equal/similar jobs as men. It has been observed that for those employed for over 30 hours a week, whether that be a part-time job or being a housewife, happiness drastically decreases. Therefore, due to the increased levels of work, female leisure time is cut short, resulting in the rise of discontent. This downward trend has been recognized since the 1970s, just ten years after second wave feminist movements integrated large amounts of women into the workforce.
This idea can be represented as a “second shift”, meaning women provide for both familial needs as well as entrepreneurial ones. The workload is then reinforced by gender roles that push for separation. There exists this expectation for women to “work like they don't have children” and “mother like they don't work outside the home”. Women are propped up to be submissive housewives, yet are simultaneously subjected to contemporary ideas. The sheer complexity of juggling two different lives and keeping them as separate entities is a taxing experience. While this may increase male happiness due to their reduced domestic responsibilities, women generally experience more stress. This counterbalances leisure-based satisfaction and destabilizes work-life balance.
This double standard has penetrated every aspect of modern life -even mine. My mother was raised on the idea that she should be a good housewife and homemaker. Yet today, she defies many of these ideals by becoming a successful scientist. I can see her exhaustion after long days, yet she still determines to provide for my family to the best of her abilities. While this can be interpreted as her simply being a caring mother, it is important to recognize the gender norms that ultimately shape this type of behavior. Similar trends can be seen in the idea of a trophy wife. A trophy wife is often regarded as an achievement, but when the idea is flipped to a woman marrying a young, attractive man, it sounds off-putting. A comparable principle is applied here: a stay-at-home mom is normal, but many cannot sit comfortably with the idea of a stay-at-home dad. Essentially, these gender roles encourage traditional, as well as harmful patterns of increased stress among women.
To lessen the burden of what we expect of women and what they expect of themselves, it is critical we first recognize that there is an issue. While it sounds simple enough, you’d be surprised to what degree we have ingrained the idea of gender roles into our daily lives. For women, this means self-evaluation of their circumstances and recognizing what expectations are placed on them. The more honest she is with the conditions, the more effective the outcome. Next, open communication within partners should be addressed. If someone is unhappy and feels they are overworked, then the issue should be approached and action should be taken. For example, conversations can be made to compromise switching off days doing the dishes, cooking for one another, etc. Finding that balance will ensure accommodation for both people's needs and provide arrangements accordingly.
Fortunately for my mother, my father often cooks and does the chores with her. Between them, there is a mutual agreement that they need to share equal responsibility in the home. This mindset breaks down standards that would otherwise cause friction when combined with the lack of open communication. We must understand that the idea of gender roles is a false dichotomy, and realizing such helps to reduce stigma in society and increase happiness in women.
- Allison Li