It has been an exciting week for the dissection of women's happiness. First, the data on women's supposed declining happiness since 1972, discussed in my most recent post. And now the Shriver Report. The latter is a 400+ page report released by the Center for American Progress, together with Maria Shriver, and is also titled A Woman's Nation Changes Everything. It examines women's progress toward becoming (finally!) 50% of the American workforce - and the implications of reaching this momentous tipping point.
I haven't read the bulk of the Shriver Report yet, but two of its essays caught my eye immediately and I read (more like devoured) them a couple of days ago. One is marriage historian Stephanie Coontz's short essay, entitled Sharing the Load. She sets the stage for ESP as a highly satisfying way of life by stating: "Educated couples, especially those with egalitarian gender views, report the highest marital quality of all." And then she tells us, "We are no longer in the thrall of the feminine mystique, but two other mystiques continue to impede our progress."
The first she calls the 'masculine mystique,' which is the cultural pull some men feel to resist sharing household chores or doing 'women's work' and to feel threatened by successful and well-paid working women. Coontz tells us that men who embody this mystique suffer the most when they lose their jobs or their wives' salaries surpass their own. And she warns that couples who start out as dual earners but then adopt less egalitarian views over time become "psychologically vulnerable in their marriages."
I love this warning. It tells us to stay alert, to pay attention to what is happening (without any malice or forethought) in our relationships lest we find ourselves shifting from an equal to unequal state over time. This is why Marc and I (and all ESP couples) find it so important to talk and talk together about staying the course - and why these conversations are anything but the picky scorekeeping that ESP naysayers love to claim our beloved lifestyle means. A life examined is a life in which we have a chance at creating our own happiness together.
The second mystique mentioned by Coontz is the 'career mystique.' It tricks us into thinking that successful careers take 100% of our time and energy in our prime adult years, and that to have one of these careers means turning over the care of our children to someone else (such as our spouse). "Finding creative ways to allow men and women to integrate, combine, and sometimes alternate their responsibilities to work and to family coud be the single most effective "pro-marriage" program of the 21st century," she says. Oh, YES! She ends by listing four ways in which our government, employers and society can help realize this dream, but of course we are calling on all of you to take up the personal side of the work too.
The other eye-catching essay in the Shriver Report is by sociologist and masculity expert Michael Kimmel. And lest this post go on and on and on, I will save my comments on the Kimmel essay for my next visit to the keyboard. I'll just say here that it's a beauty - an extraordinary proof that ESP brings happiness to both women and men.
Please read both essays if you have a moment, and let me know what you think. Judith Warner did, as you can read in today's NY Times Domestic Disturbances blog. Her conclusion: When We're Equal, We'll Be Happy.