Just as I was celebrating Ross Douthat's intellectual progress and his departure (at least this week) from chauvinism, I encountered a truly weird article in the UK's Daily Mail (as some of my readers might have guessed, Monday is my press overview day). Lucy Cavendish's "They have it all...so why is it so hard for some women to be happy?" is an example of gender chauvinism that sets out to belittle men in a very casual way, while apparently looking for the reasons why many women feel unhappy, bored, and unfulfilled.***
Cavendish's article is hard to understands because the terms she uses are extremely fuzzy. First of all, it's impossible to deduce whether she talks about women who are fulfilled professionally or not. In the intro to the article we read the following: "Loving husband? Tick. Gorgeous children? Tick. Exciting career? Tick. Yet still millions of harassed modern women feel there's a gaping hole in the middle of their life...." Then, however, the author proceeds to describe the women she has in mind, the "yummy mummies", who married rich and now spend their days between ordering around the nannies, playing tennis, and going to yoga classes. They have pretty cars and huge diamonds, Cavendish muses, so how come they are still miserable?
The answer, of course, is that being a coat rack that shows off the expensive furs or a Barbie doll in a cute car cannot make anybody happy. Cavendish, however, finds her answer in the tried and true favorite response of all journalists: the gender differences. While men, these boring, pedestrian creatures "are pretty happy to muddle along", women are people with "restless desires and dreams" who "are on an endless search to find fulfilment." Why don't men search for fulfillment on a similar scale? Cavendish's answer: "I don't think men are programmed this way. If their needs are met and life doesn't get too complicated, they are happy." You know, like dogs. You give them their chow, they are plenty happy. They are programmed (another idiotic expression journalists seem to adore) to be content with the most basic things.
Women, on the other hand, have higher aspirations and loftier goals in life: "I think women search all their lives, as if we are only ever fulfilled on a temporary basis. In a positive light, it is a search for continual betterment. We have only one life, the theory goes, so why not pack in as much as possible while you can? Why settle for 'all right' or 'OK' when something is gnawing away at your insides, urging you to try a different way of living." This kind of existential angst, this desire to find more meaning to life, this search for constant betterment is unknown to men. They are such simple and uncomplicated souls, they work, go home, and feel content with everything: "Maybe this is why the sexes will always be different. The type of routine that dominates men's lives doesn't seem to bother them. They get up, go to work, work hard, maybe socialise and then go home. They may grumble a bit, but they accept it. In fact, they seem to like it." Based on this description, nobody could expect such facile creatures to have any hopes and dreams that come outside the boring circle of work and home.
The author confesses that she also feels bored with her "perfect" marriage and family. One has to ask, however, how perfect can a marriage be where a woman sees men - and by extension her own partner - in such deeply chauvinistic terms.
*** I know the article was written in March, but I only ran across it today by following a link from the NYTimes. Besides, I didn't have a blog yet in March.