Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Liberated and Unhappy
By ROSS DOUTHAT
American women are wealthier, healthier and better educated than they were 30 years ago. They’re more likely to work outside the home, and more likely to earn salaries comparable to men’s when they do. They can leave abusive marriages and sue sexist employers. They enjoy unprecedented control over their own fertility. On some fronts — graduation rates, life expectancy and even job security — men look increasingly like the second sex.
But all the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.
This is “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” the subject of a provocative paper from the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. The paper is fascinating not only because of what it shows, but because the authors deliberately avoid floating an easy explanation for their data.
The decline of the two-parent family, for instance, is almost certainly depressing life satisfaction for the women stuck raising kids alone. But this can’t be the only explanation, since the trend toward greater female discontent cuts across lines of class and race. A working-class Hispanic woman is far more likely to be a single mother than her white and wealthy counterpart, yet the male-female happiness gap holds in East Hampton and East L.A. alike.
Again, maybe the happiness numbers are being tipped downward by a mounting female workload — the famous “second shift,” in which women continue to do the lion’s share of household chores even as they’re handed more and more workplace responsibility. It’s certainly possible — but as Wolfers and Stevenson point out, recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.
Or perhaps the problem is political — maybe women prefer egalitarian, low-risk societies, and the cowboy capitalism of the Reagan era had an anxiety-inducing effect on the American female. But even in the warm, nurturing, egalitarian European Union, female happiness has fallen relative to men’s across the last three decades.
All this ambiguity lends itself to broad-brush readings. A strict feminist and a stringent gender-role traditionalist alike will probably find vindication of their premises between the lines of Wolfers and Stevenson’s careful prose. The feminist will see evidence of a revolution interrupted, in which rising expectations are bumping against glass ceilings, breeding entirely justified resentments. The traditionalist will see evidence of a revolution gone awry, in which women have been pressured into lifestyles that run counter to their biological imperatives, and men have been liberated to embrace a piggish irresponsibility.
There’s evidence to fit each of these narratives. But there’s also room for both.
Feminists and traditionalists should be able to agree, for instance, that the structures of American society don’t make enough allowances for the particular challenges of motherhood. We can squabble forever about the choices that mothers ought to make, but the difficult work-parenthood juggle is here to stay. (Just ask Sarah and Todd Palin.) And there are all kinds of ways — from a more family-friendly tax code to a more accommodating educational system — that public policy can make that juggle easier. Conservatives and liberals won’t agree on the means, but they ought to agree on the end: a nation where it’s easier to balance work and child-rearing, however you think that balance should be struck.
They should also be able to agree that the steady advance of single motherhood threatens the interests and happiness of women. Here the public-policy options are limited; some kind of social stigma is a necessity. But a new-model stigma shouldn’t (and couldn’t) look like the old sexism. There’s no necessary reason why feminists and cultural conservatives can’t join forces — in the same way that they made common cause during the pornography wars of the 1980s — behind a social revolution that ostracizes serial baby-daddies and trophy-wife collectors as thoroughly as the “fallen women” of a more patriarchal age.
No reason, of course, save the fact that contemporary America doesn’t seem willing to accept sexual stigma, period. We simply don’t have the stomach for permanently ostracizing the sexually irresponsible — be they a pregnant starlet, a thrice-divorced tycoon, or even a prostitute-hiring politician.In this sense, ours is a kinder, gentler, more forgiving country than it was 40 years ago. But for half the public, it’s an unhappier country as well.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
- Published on Saturday, May 23, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
- Commencement Address to the Class of 2009
- University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009
- by Paul Hawken
- When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple
short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering,
startling, and graceful." Boy, no pressure there.
- But let's begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going
to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when
every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind
of a mind-boggling situation -- but not onepeer-reviewed paper published in the
last thirty years can refute that statement.
- Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers,
and we need it within a few decades.
- This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have
misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, and
don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been
broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed
that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a
million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and
really good food -- but all that is changing.
- There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and
in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says:
YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn't afford to send
any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe
cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are
dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of
planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people
who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it
was impossible only after you are done.
- When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is
always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and
aren't pessimistic, you don't understand data. But if you meet the people who
are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't
optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are
ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in
order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The
poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with
those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute
the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is
reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms,
jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and
- You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and
organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change,
poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and
more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.
- Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives
to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the
scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this
movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the
world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers,
children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists,
government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers,
weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving
Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and
as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us
all in such a huge way.
- There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the
Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true.
Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides
in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover,
reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and
began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary
Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of
connectedness to the living world.
- Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening
news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has
religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots.
Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to
defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had
filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were
largely unknown -- Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood -- and
their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four
people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings
had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity.
Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives,
do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy
and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of
people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they
would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of
people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society,
schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of
companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their
strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled
- The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we
know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the
conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a
future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and
tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers
advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we
are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have
an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than
to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but
you can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the
future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can
just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of
stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of
the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever
we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for
the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.
- The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and
its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are
breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa,
and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here
because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one
quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a
community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours.
Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes
between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is
staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four
zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more
processes than there are stars in the universe -- exactly what Charles Darwin
foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a
"little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably
minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."
- So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for
a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and
your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when
this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is
managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the
conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What
I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate
wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out
once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world
would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made
rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we
- This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the
multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a
thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and
beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we
have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to
the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any
generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night.
They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every
moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask
for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not
the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be
hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on
- Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist, and author.
His books include Blessed
The eldest announced (after we told him he had on inappropriate shoes) that if the slaves could build the pyramids of egypt in sandals, he could dig up a bush.
How does one argue with that?
The youngest wanted to build a catapult type contraption to hoist it out of the ground which would involve timbers, straps and a sling.
He tends to overdo.
We attached a moving strap to the base and pulled it out with the truck but not before spraying the front yard with mud because, you know, it's rained a little.
There was no yelling, no screaming, not throwing of tools. It was actually a fairly pleasant experience if you over look the mud and sweat which, who can really when it's all over you.
The problem now, besides keeping the transplanted bushes alive, is the upkeep on the front yard. It's no longer hidden from the street so we have to mindful about that. Mowing will have to be done more than twice a year unless we decide to declare it a nature preserve.
I've sent for the paperwork on that.
Right now, the SO and I are sitting our our patio eating popcorn and working on the computer. Life it pretty good.