Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
Have you ever stood in the cereal aisle of the supermarket and felt overwhelmed by all the choices? Sometimes I wonder whether or not the myriad of brands on the shelf are a positive sign of the freedom we have in our society – or is it a source of confusion and frustration? And, when you think about all the choices women are faced with as the possibilities and potential have changed over the last few decades, it seems like this same idea applies. Men have traditionally been expected to be ‘workers’ and ‘providers’ and those ideas haven’t changed much over the years. However, the progress towards equality for women has given us a number of tough decisions and choices about work, life and priorities.
As women have taken on many new roles and have access to more opportunities, in some ways it has become more difficult. Part of the reason is that, as women, we often take on the “new” without shedding some of the “old.” We simply add responsibilities and find ourselves with double the load. This is borne out by a recent Time Magazine article about What Women Want which states “modern life…is simply more stressful for everyone but especially for women, who are working longer hours while playing quarterback at home.”
And, the article looks at recent studies and finds “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence…that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy.” University of Pennsylvania economist Justin Wofers, a co-author of The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, notes “We looked across all sectors – young vs old, kids or no kids, married or not married, education, no education, working or not – and it stayed the same.”
What’s going on?
Part of the answer, I believe, is that society has yet to ‘catch up’ with the many changes in women’s roles. If women are truly to have access to the same opportunities as our male counterparts, there must be fundamental changes in society. For women to capitalize on options and choices, stereotypical gender expectations must change. Spouses should together develop partnerships and assign roles that work for both. Business cultures have to be part of the change and build in flexibility and family-friendly environments for both men and women, instead of viewing women as the main caretakers. This has the potential to make life a little less stressful for both sexes by giving them each the latitude to make decisions based on individual strengths and circumstances, instead of forcing them into a mold.
As long as women’s choices involve tacking on new duties to an already demanding and hectic lifestyle, there cannot be the fundamental shift to equality. I am reminded of the many stories I have heard about women in the workplace who are given added job responsibilities – but they don’t receive the title or the raise. For women to be happier with their lives, we don’t need fewer choices – we need more support and encouragement.
What do you think? Please join the conversation!