According to Meghan O’Rourke, a recently-published study proves life was just so much easier for women before Betty Friedan, when we were all categorically inferior and home-bound and didn’t have to struggle with “rising expectations.”
Perhaps the most amusing aspect of O’Rourke’s smug and rosy little manifesto is its classification under “the highbrow: Examining the cultural elite” (irregular capitalization in the original). One supposes the article earns its “highbrow” status by relying on flimsy generalizations about evangelicals.
Consider the evidence that evangelical women — who in general endorse traditional gender roles — are better at adjusting psychologically to situations they don’t find ideal than feminists are. Studies of evangelical wives who have to work for financial reasons show that, as rigid as gender roles are in their community, women are fairly adept at being what sociologist Sally Gallagher calls “pragmatically egalitarian.” That is, they continue to be happy with the division of labor, and to see their husbands as providers, even though they’d prefer to be at home.
Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that some percentage of evangelical women working outside the home are, in fact, happy because of “pragmatic egalitarianism.” (Come to think of it, I’m fairly sure that term appears prominently in the Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, and Episcopal prayer books, right after The Lord’s Prayer!) And let’s leave aside evangelical women who reject traditional gender roles. (They exist. My mother was a preacher.)
Fundamentalist women may be content to work for reasons that have nothing to do with their home lives and everything to do with their faith. Take the ex-Mormon I knew who converted to Christianity and ended up at my mom’s church. She married a fellow churchgoer and stayed with him even after he: punched through a wall of their house and tore it down with his bare hands, beat his son black and blue, grew a tremendous and revolting beard, and brought home a girl 15 years younger to serve as a de facto second wife.
My mother counseled the woman, P., to be happy — and not because P. (who worked a regular job while her husband occasionally deigned to pull in a couple of bucks working as a handyman) should view her husband as the provider, but because she needed to “give all her cares to Jesus.” (“Shattered dreams, broken hearts, and broken toys,” as the song goes.)
Update: Max writes:
O’Rourke’s article is rife with bogus logic — she cites this statistic:
[T]he women who strongly identify as progressive — the 15% who agree most with feminist ideals — have a harder time being happy than their peers….
to draw this conclusion:
Feminist ideals, not domestic duties, seem to be what make wives morose.
News flash: Correlation is not causation.