Why Women Are Sad

Question: Are women more or less sad than they were four decades ago?

Elizabeth Debold: This new study that's been done, that has shown that women are less happy than they have been since the '70's, that at the start of the women's movement, women appeared to be happier than they're reporting now. Now, there are a lot of different ways to think about what that means and what that's about. It could be that women were too locked into being good women, than to say that they were unhappy, I mean, that could be part of it. Could be just great honesty on women's part.

But I think that if you look at what's happened over the last, almost 40 years, women's role, which is a role that women have been, has given women dignity, that women have been known for, have been identified with, which is being caretakers, being the ones who kind of hold the hearth together, that hold the heart of culture, has become optional. It's not something that you have to do anymore. We hope that women's roles will be valued more, but those traditional roles are still not seen as the most valuable part of culture. And so it's the thing by which we've known ourselves, by which we've understood how to be in the world, has been made not so necessary. Yet the world of work is still very much structured as if it's for men who have wives at home, who are taking care of the kids.

So we're in a very funny place. We're at a point of real transition in the culture. And I think that a large part of women's unhappiness has to do with not feeling where they're supposed to be. And I think the thing is that there isn't a supposed to be anymore a place that is going to be safe for women- that we can find and where we can be secure. If you think about what makes a lot of women around the world happy or would make them happy, would be safety, security. In many ways, that world is gone. Particularly for post modern in the west.

So what new do we have that would be as fulfilling and, you know, be able to tap something very deep in us that allows us to make a contribution? That question really hasn't been answered yet. And I think because of that, that at a deep level, women, because what this study pointed to, is that it's actually women all over the globe are reporting less happiness. And I think that's because women around the world can look and see options when they don't have any, and that is a source of unhappiness and those of us who do have options say, "But I don't know what to do." "I don't know what I can do that will really make my life meaningful and give me a deeper purpose for being here," because all the traditional ones don't really hold our hearts and our passions and our creativity any longer.

Question: What is the next step for women?

Elizabeth Debold: Will women end up taking on sort of the male role that work is our identity? A lot of women have done that. And a lot of those women are asking the same question, what's the purpose? What's the point of doing this? Is this really creating the world that I want?

I think that the next step for women is going to be really interrogating really, inquiring into the question of purpose. What are we doing here? What is it, what can we build together? What can we create together? How can we come together to be a force in culture? I was talking to someone today who is a very well respected convener of large processes, you know, like the kinds of things that have been done, like at the UN. And I said something about women needing to find a deeper authority in themselves and finding a deeper purpose from that authority. And he said, "Yes, because women give up." And I think that a lot of businesses at this point see that investing in women is difficult, because women often leave. It's like, "Why would I train someone for seven years and then have her split?" And women are saying, "Why do I want to be there when I don't really feel that it's making a difference?"

So I think that there's going to be a new and energized conversation about what are we doing here? What world are we creating? And I think that's something that women need to begin to do together, but not in a way like it was done in the '70's, where it was, we're doing this together and because we're victimized by men, but we're doing this together because there are structures in ourselves that keep us from being able to be the kinds of agents of change that we need to be in order to create the world that we want.

Question: Are men struggling with the same dilemma?

Elizabeth Debold: I think men have a need for purpose and I think if you look at younger men and, you know, you look at men in their 20's, 30's, sort of the Gen X and Gen Y generations, I think part of what is going on there, is they're saying "What's the point?" "Are you kidding me?" "I'm going to work for 20 years in this business and get what for it? It's like, and they do things around the world that I don't feel that I can be behind. Forget about it.

Now, we're talking about young people at the leading edge of culture, we're not talking the vast swath of folks who are living in a more traditional context. We're talking about people whose lives have been blown open by the last 40 years and who have grown and come of age in a world where, hey, you pick your life, you know, you choose what you want to do. And in that context, there's a real, I think a lot of young men feel confronted by, "Well, what can I do that would make a difference? Or that would matter anyway?" I think this is true for many young men and young women. And I think men of the older generation, boomer men, are more part of the system and have been part of the system and find more of a sense of congruence with “I'm making this happen, the world, my business, it's my project, I'm making this happen, and I find meaning in that. And I’m a master of my own universe and I'm creating something in the world and I'm proud of that.” And I think younger people feel less able to kind of enter and engage with. And don't want to come in at the bottom. Which may be a misguided notion, but the sense of purpose for all of us is becoming only more and more urgent.

Recorded on November 2, 2009

Now that women aren’t necessarily expected to raise a family, they are less sure what they want out of life.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.