Pseudo-feminist platforms put women in harm’s way

Media companies are to feminist-writers what a pimp is to his prostitutes. Too often, women’s bodies are put in harm’s way, to make “the man” some money.

We all know that publishing articles about feminism pays. Readers, share and comment on gender-war tropes because it incites hot emotion. Because of the traffic that such pieces generate, editors are moved to frequently publish them. And media companies devote entire platforms such as Daily Life, Jezebel and xoJane to explore the topic of “gender” or “women” in minute detail.

An op-ed written by Julia Baird, published over the weekend, brought attention to the Twitter trolls targeting feminist writers like Van Badham and Catherine Deveny, amongst others. It detailed the horrific abuse these writers attract. These women are targeted online on a daily basis; sometimes even receiving death and rape threats. Yet what was unclear in the piece was how much these writers’ employers were compensating them.

Clearly being a feminist-writer is risky business. But generally when people are employed in risky jobs they are paid for it pretty well. In Australia at least, a writer cannot even earn a living from his or her trade. The average writer is only paid between $30 to $100 per piece, even in a broadsheet newspaper, and many writers are paid in exposure.

In Helen Razer’s blogpost “I Quit” last year, she talks of enduring hours of ignorant, spiteful attacks on her person for a piece which earned her a mere $200, from The Guardian. Razer’s angst was not about being on the receiving end of abuse, but rather, the fact that she was not being adequately recompensed.

It seems that media companies have played a trick on female writers. Inexperienced writers feel privileged just to be published – to have a “voice” – and that exercising this “voice” is a political, feminist act. It isn’t. Women have been writers forever. Receiving slave wages from a corporate employer, while suffering abuse from deranged trolls is not empowerment, it is exploitation. As Baird’s op-ed illustrates, it puts some writers’ mental health at risk.

The essay Hate Sinks, about a young woman employed to moderate comments for an unnamed newspaper’s site, describes the subtle exploitation. She says she feels “lucky” to have job in the current media climate, where journalists are now laid-off en masse. She speaks of how editors and managers do not have a clear plan of what to do and “make up things as they go”. Being the moderator of comments Sarah explains that –

The topics that promise especially bitter, polarized debate, tempt editors with the traffic and comments they can attract. Sarah rattles off a list of themes she knows she will have a long comment queue—and that editors will keep publishing: “Israel and Palestine, Gaza … anything on climate change, the science of climate change. Anything published by one of the ­climate-change skeptics. But then anything published by a climate-change believer as well. Anything about refugees, you know, asylum seekers, border control, that sort of stuff. Anything sort of what could be loosely described as a feminist article, so you know, like Slutwalk.” [emphasis mine].

Sarah also talks of the vicarious trauma of moderating the comments that get sent to the newspaper’s site. She has to moderate, on average, 1500 comments between breakfast and lunch; filtering some commenters “who will just post the word c*nt 50 times for like three hours.” Sarah gets paid the minimum wage.

In Australia and the US, media companies are mostly run by men. Jezebel is owned by Gawker media, which is owned by Nick Denton. DailyLife is a Fairfax publication whose chairman and CEO are both men. Say Media (which runs xoJane) is owned by Matt Sanchez. It is ironic, but not surprising that so-called feminist media can all be traced back to male owners, CEOs and chairmen. It is these executives and their shareholders who profit, not the writers receiving abuse.

If pseudo-feminist platforms were as “pro-woman” as they declare themselves to be, they would pay women decent salaries, not pitiful freelancer rates. And we would see writing of depth and quality with a mixture of new writers as well as old. Until that happens, they will continue to use these vulnerable women to court outrage, in their constant search for clicks and cash.

How women gang up on each other to get what they want

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Women, especially young women, can be real bitches.

Anyone who has attended highschool with girls knows that women fight differently from men. We use covert, stealthy tactics of manipulation and ostracism. While men will ask each other to ‘step outside,’ beat their chests and use their fists, we women will sneakily sabotage our ‘frenemies’. We keep our enemies close. And while we attempt to sabotage them, we will appear well-meaning and well-behaved, so as not to besmirch our clean reputations.

Because such forms of female aggression are universal and common, they are found repeatedly in stories and art. They are also found in fairy and folk-tales. Such depictions are often more than symbolic; they are a form of communication, or a lesson, about the real world.

Researchers Sarah Hrdy, Joyce Beneson and Anne Campbell have researched female aggression over the last three decades. They have found that females often use indirect methods to hurt and harm each other. Whether this is due to cultural reasons or selective pressures, is unclear. But what is clear is that women fight in less violent and less noticeable ways compared with men. Our aggression flies under the radar.

See: Feminine Foes: New Science Explores Female Competition

A recurring stereotype of female aggression is the wicked step-mother. The wicked step-mother wreaks havoc on Cinderella, Snow White and Hansel and Gretel while sinisterly appearing in folk tales in over 20 different languages. “Better a serpent than a step-mother”! wrote Greek playwright, Euripides, 2,400 years ago.

In the 1990s, evolutionary psychologists, Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, completed study after study after study using cross-cultural data on what they called the “Cinderella effect”. They found that children were at much higher risk of abuse and neglect if one of their parents died. And if a step-mother arrived on the scene – with her own genetic children – that risk compounded significantly. Step-parents, sadly, have historically been one of the greatest dangers to orphaned or motherless children.

See: The Truth About Cinderella: A Darwinian view of parental love

But before becoming step-mothers we females practice our aggression through forming coalitions with one another to lock out our sexual rivals. We use tactics such as cold-shoulders, ‘silent-treatments’ and gossip to stigmatise. We will derogate our rival’s personality, appearance, nurturing capabilities, faithfulness and loyalty all in an attempt to lower their value and raise our own. And we often do this in groups.

An artistic representation of this specific coalitional form of aggression is the coven of witches. Art history is replete with depictions of witches (real and imagined) in plural form. The ancient Greeks depicted “The Fates” as weaving the fabric of human life from birth. And bands of passively-powerful women can be found all over classical and ancient mythology and are reincarnated in Hollywood films such as The Craft, The Witches of Eastwick, and The Crucible.

In Arthur Miller’s classic play about witch-hunts, the nightmarish power of a girl gang is played out in its extreme. Young girls of Salem group together and wreak havoc on their village. Their power exists in their cooperation and their gender. Because their aggression is both collective and passive, and because they are both young and female, their wicked intentions are never detected. They are perceived as innocent and compliant girls and use this to their advantage. Together in a group, they are able to destroy their community from the inside out.

A real-life example of the girl-gang can be seen online in Twitter-feminism. Young women pillory each other for not being ‘intersectional’ enough; or for having too much ‘privilege’; or for ‘slut-shaming’; or for ‘victim-blaming’.

This activity goes on and on and on in an endless frenzy reconstructing the dominant feminist clique. Normal men and women watch this confused gender-based activism from the sidelines and recoil with distaste. Recent articles written by online feminists have agonised over the toxic, cannibalistic nature of their community; these can be found here, here and here.

Yet not all female aggression is acted out behind the cover of a girl gang. There also exists the female super-manipulator. She is the high-status woman who does not gain anything from forming alliances with lower status “friends” (who might flirt with her husband and tempt him with novelty). But she gains everything from brokering power deals in secret, or out of public sight. The super-manipulator controls and directs the power possessed by her male relatives and lovers. She is immortalised by characters such as Lady Macbeth.

Women. We’re crafty, intelligent and capable. The notion that women are not players in the game of life and are not playing the game to win is archaic and quaint. It is an artefact from a bygone era.

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Generating Outrage – Is mainstream media becoming “head troll”?

Generating Outrage – Is mainstream media becoming “head troll”?

In the age of social media, a new currency is emerging. It is the currency of outrage. Those of us who follow news and commentary on Twitter flock together in groups according to our shared values and interests. But we also have our collective buttons pushed by ‘outrage generators’. They’re a new type of commentator, who skilfully capitalise on our deep-seated instincts for tribalism and righteous indignation.

Today a prurient Allison Pearson article was published about Nigella Lawson. It tried to justify her estranged husband’s public abuse in light of alleged drug use. In the article, Ms. Pearson wrote “what if Charles Saatchi is the victim of an injustice” and “physical violence is never excusable, but what if a frustrated Charles was shaking his wife and saying: “Wake up, woman!” Understandably, the Twittersphere errupted with rage.

Also published today, a NewStatesman article was circulated about “Movember,” the international charity drive for men’s health. The article opened by saying “Movember is divisive, gender normative, racist and ineffective”. The comments section was filled with commenters asking “how does such miserable material get published”?

Both of these transparently manipulative pieces were published on mainstream media newsites. And it is happening with increasing frequency – almost as if mainstream media is deliberately trying to “troll”.

It may be a phenomenon which has grown very organically out of Twitter’s eco-system. Articles about morally loaded topics trigger high octane reactions in tweets, incentivising writers to produce more of them.  The writers inspire dozens to share their views in comments sections, where readers disagree with each other, having fist-fights with words. And herein lies the hook: once a reader has made a comment, he or she will return endlessly to the page to monitor reactions, driving page-view statistics through the roof. These inflated statistics are then used to sell the advertising space subsidising these flagging publications.

Psychologists know that having strong views (which are in opposition to another’s) actually has a gratifying and rewarding effect. It gratifies us because it allows us to feel as though we’re part of a moral team. It feels good for the simple reason that it helps us to feel connected and forget ourselves for a period of time – we become immersed in something larger. At its most extreme, strong conviction is psychologically addictive.

In The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion psychologist Jonathan Haidt, shows us that moral decision-making is a process driven by strategic social aims and a very deep and unconscious need to belong. Outrage pieces exploit this psychology by fulfilling our evolved need to defend our “moral tribe”.

Today social media provides the architecture for pitting teams against each other. Media platforms employ writers who churn out polemics appealing to their target audience at a break-neck speed. Self-selecting audiences flock together, confirming each other’s biases – enjoying the luxury of never having their assumptions seriously tested.

Provoking indignant outrage may be a good business strategy for online news outlets – but it is terrible for our promoting social cohesion. And as we have seen today, mainstream media is all too happy to play the part of head troll.

Doing Victimhood

 Victimhood can be a performance. Many of today’s feminists “do” victimhood like an actor “does” emotion up on a stage. And the performance-of-victimhood becomes a self-fulfilling cycle – it encourages dissent and then that dissent is used as proof of one’s victim status.

Highly visible feminists (especially on Twitter) like to stigmatise themselves. They align with any political agenda that would be viewed as deviant by mainstream audiences, as a deliberate tactic to position themselves as marginalised. By inciting disapproval and ultimately stigma, it makes the performance of victimhood very easy. All one has to do is trigger disgust and then when any disapproval is uttered, it is then proof (!) of sexism/misogyny/oppression/whatever.

One example is commentator Clementine Ford’s Twitter account header of a broken penis. Or the cross-stitch misandry sisters reported on by Salon

Check Etsy for the word misandry and you’ll find super-cute pom-pom knit hats with “misandry” emblazoned between rows of hearts. You’ll also find lavender and white heart-shaped misandry hair barrettes, a plastic misandry necklace and a misandry-adorned heart-shaped felt brooch with beads.

It’s all pretty distasteful. And do these women really hate men? I doubt it. One thing is irrefutable however – these women love being irritants of a first-class order.

Irritants and shock-jocks should be called out for their offensive comments. But we are afraid of calling out female shock-jocks lest we are accused of sexism. Twitter feminists take any and all criticism as evidence that “women are being silenced”. No. Some of us women are just embarrassed that they speak on our behalf. Some of us cringe at the repeated failures in logic which unfairly malign whole groups of people.

The idea of “woman as victim” is a stereotype like any other, and it needs to be put to rest.  It is just as toxic than other stereotypes of women that people dislike and have fought against (like the docile housewife or trophy-wife ornament). And there’s nothing that undermines agency than a fatalistic, paranoid feeling that the world is out to get you.

If I were a feminist in a position of high visibility I would tell girls that the world is not out to get you. Boys and men are not out to get you. What happens in your life is mostly up to you – the choices you make, the people you associate with, and the vision you have for yourself is your responsibility. Life can be unfair, but it is more unfair if you don’t make good decisions. And if you come up against sexism, stand up for yourself. Speak to authorities and demand action. Don’t walk away and internalise your victimhood and then tell the rest of us that we are all victims too.

Lifestyle feminism, because you’re worth it

Because you're worth it In the film The Insider, the story of a scientist turned tobacco industry whistleblower, there is a key scene in which he gives an account to a reporter about nicotine. The company, he revealed, not only knew that nicotine was addictive; every other aspect of the cigarette including the tobacco functioned as a nicotine delivery device. Tobacco was incidental. The nicotine was the product. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcWi7DRWPq4

Women’s magazines, both online and offline, host advertising on their pages and on their websites. The articles in women’s magazines and news-sites are incidental. “Content” exists merely as a delivery device for advertising.

Next to the checkout in the supermarket you can spot magazine covers with stories about celebrities who are “too thin” next to stories about celebrities who are “too fat”. Mixed messages hit an audience where it hurts. At the same time as triggering female insecurity, magazines encourage women to be “empowered” by presenting different ways in which it can be bought in the form of fashion tips and beauty advice. Herein lies the hook: conflicting and contradictory messages about modern feminine identity inflames ambivalence. Media influence encourages women to self-obsess over the most trivial minutiae. Women’s unstable identity is then remedied through the act of consumption. If you can’t be confident about who you are or what you are doing with your life, at least you can be confident about what you buy.

Unlike the tobacco/nicotine example, the relationship between content and advertising in magazines or online news-sites is not a secret. Say Media, the web advertising firm who own xoJane, state clearly on their own website:

“The lines are blurring between where readers consume content, how they buy things, and how all of the ideas generated from lifestyle content turn into either identity, or preference, or purchase behavior. Our technology platform seamlessly integrates content and marketing into an experience that connects with readers in personal ways.”

When integrating content and marketing advertisers rely on a few repetitive themes: happiness, youth, success, status, luxury, fashion, and beauty. “Independence” and “empowerment” is just another one of these themes. Marketing company PHD describe their “encourage/empower” marketing strategy like this –

“Monday is the day to encourage the beauty product consumer to get going and feel beautiful, so marketing messages should focus on feeling smart, instant beauty/fashion fixes, and getting things planned and done. Concentrate  media during prime vulnerability moments, aligning with content involving tips and tricks, instant beauty rescues, dressing for the success, getting organized for the week and empowering stories.”

“Empowering stories” are also known as opinion pieces written by feminist writers. Websites which describe themselves as “proudly female biased” push the marketing strategy of “encourage/empower” by juxtaposing stories about men’s objectification of women with advertisements for makeup and floral dresses. Empowerment for the reader is about sharing and commenting on these feminist stories, then expressing emancipation through the radical act of shopping.

The product being sold by lifestyle-feminism is “independence,” or rather, the illusion of independence. In Australia and other Western liberal democracies women face real problems. More women live in poverty than ever before. Women living in extreme poverty can expect to have shorter life-expectancies than their mothers. More women suffer from depression and anxiety than ever before, an epidemic speculated to be linked to environmental stress. Such problems are not remedied by slogans like “celebrate yourself!” or an ongoing fixation with personal identity. Inconveniently, they also aren’t solved by pointing the finger at men.

Articles published on Jezebel and Daily Life such as “Why do men get relationship brownie points?” and “The trophy wife still exists” and “Being a woman in public” serve no ultimate purpose except to encourage female self-obsession. Identity politics, once useful for Western white women in the ’70s and ’80s when women’s liberation and queer activism was establishing itself, seems to now be playing itself out in absurdity.

Historically, identity politics has been about the experiences of oppression. Today, white middle-class women in Australia are not a victim-group, yet according to lifestyle-feminism even the “trophy wife” is oppressed. Women are victims for not getting “brownie points” in relationships. Women are victims for looking younger than their actual age as one Daily Life writer points out:

“Waitresses have skipped my glass when pouring wine at restaurant tables and someone at work asked me recently if I was a fan of Justin Bieber. Frequently, I feel patronised and underestimated, and being taken seriously can be a challenge.”

Women are also victims for leaving the house:

“You can see him in your peripheral vision and you can feel him looking. You’re at a distance, but your hair is pretty bright and you’re wearing lipstick so you know he noticed you. Keep reading, keep looking down. You briefly wish you were less attractive or had mousy hair or had an invisibility cloak.”

Here, unchecked victimhood has metastasised into narcissism. And just to remind you – these aren’t quotes from personal diary entries – these are articles vetted by editors and published on “news” websites.

If oppression today is leaving the house looking attractive, or looking young for one’s biological age, we can be fairly confident that “oppression” is now being confected, manufactured, made-up or imagined. In creating perceived needs (like not getting “brownie points” in a relationship) the focus remains forever on the self. Any resolution to this perceived need or oppression remains forever in the realm of individual consumption. Society is left existing merely as a backdrop.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: to understand where real power lies you need to follow the money. The people profiting from Jezebel and xoJane are not the “writers” with their opinions (who are incidentally paid next to nothing, or who write for free). It isn’t even the editors. And it certainly isn’t the readers. Jezebel is owned by Gawker media which is owned by Nick Denton. DailyLife is a Fairfax publication whose chairman and CEO are both men. Say Media is owned by Matt Sanchez. It is ironic, but not suprising that each one of these pseudo-feminist platforms can be traced back to a male owner, CEO or chairman.

You don’t see media companies owned by Donald Trump hosting opinions written by Occupy Wall Street activists. We don’t see mining companies publishing the opinions of environmentalists and anti-fracking protestors. Lifetsyle-feminism, on the other hand is pseudo-activism. Its symbiotic relationship with advertisers and marketers reveals just how “subversive” it really is.   

And if you don’t think advertising can have a perverse effect on a culture just look at the uptake of smoking in developing countries or the obesity epidemic. While capitalism brings wealth and greater living standards to any society which embraces it, traditional ways of living are inevitably lost. Home-cooking gets traded for fast-food. Anything that is modern is morally “good,” anything that is traditional is inherently bad. Western culture has in many ways become homogenised and standardised. Starbucks is the same in Los Angeles as it is Sydney. This standardisation is why the same women’s “issues” that are discussed on American web-platforms are discussed on Australian ones.

But back on xoJane’s “about” page one can read: “xoJane.com is where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded. xoJane.com is not about changing yourself to fit any mold of what others think you should be. It is about celebrating who you are.”

And it’s about encouraging women to buy things. 

Beware of Trojan Horses

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The Trojan Horse is a story about subterfuge. After a ten-year war with the Trojans, the Greeks built a wooden horse and parked it outside Troy’s gates. After this, they pretended to sail away. Believing the Greeks to have surrendered, the Trojans pulled the horse into their city and celebrated it as a victory trophy. Unbeknownst to them, a band of Greek soldiers were hiding inside – they climbed out as night fell – opened the gates for their army to walk in and the city of Troy was destroyed.

Like a Trojan Horse, mass-media depictions of “female empowerment” often work as a subterfuge for specific commercial agendas and ironically some of these agendas do not promote women’s empowerment at all.

The subtle corruption of the feminist cause by the commercial agenda can first be observed in advertising from the 1920s, when the tobacco industry appropriated the ethic of women’s liberation to sell cigarettes. In 1929, the industry infiltrated an Easter Parade of suffragists in New York with models who marched while they were smoking; they called their cigarettes “torches of freedom”.

Secret documents obtained by health researchers show how feminist slogans were co-opted by tobacco company Peter Morris to sell the female-marketed Virginia Slims from 1968 to the 1980s. Their strategy was to create an aspirational image of the modern young woman where smoking = independence. Adverts ran with captions that said “you’ve come a long way baby” and millions of dollars were invested buying space in women’s magazines. In four years cigarette sales to girls increased by 110%.

In more recent times, as smoking rates have plummeted, alcohol abuse has sky-rocketed. Not coincidentally, alcohol industries have focused increasingly on marketing to girls. Drinks are tastefully named ‘Girls’ Night Out’, ‘Cupcake’ and ‘Happy Bitch’. Looking at statistics on female alcohol use, I came across a quote from a researcher at a Women’s Health Centre in British Columbia. She said “the saddest thing now is how alcohol is being marketed as girls’ liberation.”

The tactics used by cigarette and alcohol companies are for the most part deliberate and relatively transparent to the discerning consumer. What is less transparent, however, is the way in which mainstream feminist discourse reinforces this consumer culture often without acknowledging it (or even being aware of it).

In her essay Facebook Feminism, Susan Faludi exposes the Lean In campaign of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, as one giant Trojan Horse for a ruthless free-market agenda. At its time of launching, ‘Lean In,’ the organisation that claimed to be spearheading a revamped feminist revolution, was recruiting young women not as employees, but for internships that were unpaid.

Having interns work for free might be in the interests of a CEO looking to cut costs, but will be of questionable benefit to a recent graduate saddled with student debt. An organisation advocating female empowerment on the one hand, while recruiting young women to work for no pay on the other, exhibits a special kind of double standard.

But female empowerment, as Sandberg preaches it, is all about submitting to the forces of the free-market. Accelerating one’s career output, keeping up with the ever-increasing pace of life. The gold-standard of success is to become a Fortune 500 CEO and the only thing holding women back from this pinnacle, are their selfish working husbands, or their internal mental barriers.

What this discourse inadvertently does, is make ordinary women feel guilty for not working harder or for taking time off to have babies. It makes ordinary women long for the lifestyles of elites who have post-graduate credentials and nannies to do their child-care, whilst at the same time it makes rich women disdainful of their poorer sisters in less well-paid jobs.

This is a problem. Some of the fastest growing occupations in Western economies are those in which women already outnumber men, such as the caring and health professions. The occupations of nursing and midwifery, childcare and aged care are burgeoning under ever-increasing demand. But they are also relatively low paid and without many opportunities for career advancement, compared to industries such as mining and tech, dominated by men.

Breaking glass ceilings is a noble cause, but it will only ever be achieved by a small percentage of women. It is just not realistic for women who do not employ ancillary workers to do childcare or who do not have stay-at-home husbands. Instead of tirelessly campaigning for more women on executive boards, real benefits for women would come from advocating for better conditions in occupations where women already predominate.

Yet because caring for others is not glamorous, high profile figures whom the media love will not be championing such messages anytime soon. Looking after others jars with the glorification of autonomy that characterises contemporary feminism. And it is easier to sell women alcohol and Facebook as symbols of liberation than it is to imbue care-work with prestige.

There is nothing wrong with promoting a commercial agenda. But if we are to submit our lives to the forces of the free-market we need to be careful that we are not being sold glossy versions of exploitation. We need to be wary of how corporate interests promote female empowerment, because just like the Trojans, we may unwittingly open ourselves up to corruption in the form of hollow victory trophies.

The paradox of female happiness

The paradox of female happiness

Women are about 75 per cent more likely than men to report having recently suffered from depression. Women are also about 60 per cent more likely to report an anxiety disorder. These sharp discrepancies observed by Oxford professor Daniel Freeman, were found in eight of 12 nations from which statistics were taken. They also support a study which found that women reported higher levels of happiness than men in the 1960s but that this gender gap has now reversed. Why the change?

What does this mean when women are healthier, better educated, enjoy more economic freedom and more opportunities than we did 35 years ago? Since the 1960s it has become socially acceptable to leave unhappy marriages. The stigma that once existed around free expression of female sexuality has softened. Legislation is in place to protect women from sexual harassment. By many objective measures, women in the West have never been more liberated.

For all of this improvement many women are unhappy. Freeman, a clinical psychologist, noticed a gap in the literature on sex differences in mental health conditions and investigated national mental health surveys taken from the UK, US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He found that women are up to 40 per cent more likely than men to develop mental health disorders, with the sharpest discrepancies in depression and anxiety.

Freeman was careful to examine whether women were more likely to report health problems than men, or more willing than men to seek help. In The Stressed Sex, co-written with his brother Jason, and published by Oxford University Press, the authors conclude that while these factors may have an impact they cannot solely explain the differences found between the genders.

They show that while men suffer higher rates of substance abuse, ADHD and autism, women are bearing the brunt of emotional disorders, which are much more common, and rates of these conditions are on the rise. It appears that women’s mental health is in fact a “major public health issue”.

The causes of mental illness are complex. There is no single factor which sets one off, and psychologists will look at a range of variables in an attempt to understand etiology. Biological factors, thought processes and social structures are all involved. Thinking styles such as rumination are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression and genetics also play their role. But Freeman points out that the main contributing factor to the decline in women’s mental health could actually be stress.

Women make constant decisions about how to parcel out their time most efficiently. We have careers and children to juggle as well as relationships and domestic labour. Making a priority of one area always leaves another to be neglected (even just for a short time). Men too face these challenges, but for women it seems these trade-offs are pressure-cooked. The unending negotiation of conflicting life domains takes an emotional toll.

Interestingly, the findings of Freeman were foreshadowed four years ago in a watershed paper by the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, who found that women’s happiness has declined relative to men’s. Looking at data stretching over 35 years, across America and Europe, it was found that women reported higher levels of happiness in the 1960s and were happier relative to men. This gender gap has now reversed, with men the happier sex.

The decline in female subjective wellbeing was found to cut across both class and race and held true for women of all ages, with children and without.

The authors of this rather provocative study avoided providing glib answers to the questions their paper raised. But a decline in 35 years cannot be attributed to such things as genetics – the cause must be largely environmental. Some will say the decline is due to ongoing prejudices against women, structural barriers, and patriarchal oppression. Traditionalists might point out that today in many ways courtship and romance are ‘dead’. Perhaps men are enjoying license for irresponsibility and selfish behavior that was not so permissible in the past.

While these factors may contribute, it could simply be that women are liberated but stressed. More opportunities to succeed mean more opportunities to fail. Anxiety and depression often hit us when we feel as though we don’t measure up. And with so many domains to now excel in, we can’t be blamed for feeling less than adequate for not aspiring for excellence in all of them.

For all of the discussions about work/life balance, what is notably missed from the conversation are such things as self-care and leisure time. Important variables such as exercise, sleep, a healthy diet and social connectedness take a back seat to career and domestic labour in many women’s lives.

If happiness was found to be higher in women 35 years ago, those who speak on women’s behalf might want to rethink the feminist obsession with power, status and economic production. Advocates may want to reconsider the importance of other outcomes such as health and wellbeing. If women really are bearing the brunt of emotional disorders, we have some difficult truths to face up to in regards to why.