Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Happy Wives, Part Deux

Slate has a very interesting article today on the whole Happy Wives issue. Maybe if you click on the title to this post you will get to it, but I'm technologically inept and giving up on trying to link it right now :)

I agree with the author's assertion that there is so much choice in our current society that it can lead people to constantly question the decisions they make, and think that there are other, better options out there for them. But I also think this argument can be dangerous, and can be used in specifically anti-feminist ways.

For example, I do believe that the skyrocketing divorce rate in this country may be in part due to the fact that people are never satisfied with what they have, and are always looking for something (someone) better, younger, richer etc. Back when divorce was frowned upon, people worked on their marriages and learned to compromise and make the most of what they had. Does that mean we should go back to not having divorce as a socially acceptable option? Were our grandmothers really happier in unequal marriages without the option to work outside the home, than we are with all our options? I don't know if we can really say (what does it even mean to be happy?)

These types of arguments are often used to keep women in abusive relationships (by telling them they have to work harder to make their husbands happy, or have to keep a marriage together for the sake of children, or should just "grin and bear it"). Clearly, as the Tierney article shows, these arguments can also be used to argue for women staying in the home rather than working outside of it.

I do agree that because we have so many options, people tend to have extremely high and specific expectations for their lives, and not meeting those expectations is probably a source of unhappiness for many (especially those "progressive" women the article discusses who are trying to have the perfect career and perfect family in a society that does not offer realistic possibilities for achieving this). But I think we should be careful of taking this argument too far, as it can be used to limit and constrain people, especially those who have less economic, social, and political power in the status quo and would rather not just be happy with what they have, but want (and deserve) a chance to reach for more.


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