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Decades of Our Discontent

January 14th, 2015 Posted by Susan's Musings 8 comments

When I picked up the phone and heard Marcia’s voice saying, “Can I please speak to the Rabbi?” I knew it wasn’t time for chitchat. Buzzing through to my husband on the intercom, I told him, “Marcia’s on the phone and it sounds like something really bad has happened.”

When he came out from his office, I expected to hear of a parent’s death or a serious illness. Instead, he said that she had a question about how to make her new house’s kitchen kosher. Although Marcia and her husband were new to our congregation and I didn’t yet know them well, I was shocked at how I misread her voice. I soon learned that she always sounded like tragedy was sitting on her shoulder. I can’t pretend that when they relocated again a year later, I missed her.

I was reminded of Marcia when I read the introduction to and beginning of Betty Friedan’s classic book, The Feminist Mystique. How unhappy she makes women sound back in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. The problem is, today, very few women have the housewife, stay-at-home, focus on husband and children life that she thought was making them so unhappy. Yet, everywhere I look, I’m still reading about how unhappy women are. They can’t find a good man to marry, or their bodies don’t provide pregnancy on demand when they are ready for it,  or their employees aren’t accepting their need for advancement despite fewer hours at work or their spouses don’t do enough housework or, or, or…

Could it be that, like Marcia and her perennial voice of doom, women are just complainers regardless of what is happening? Could it be that women expect full sexual freedom, gentlemanly behavior from men, love, marriage, family, lucrative work, fulfilling careers, “me time,” “girlfriend getaways,” with some exciting fireworks, soothing cocoa, designer kitchens, chefs on call and so much more thrown in – right away and right now? Anyone expecting all that would be unhappy when life turns out to run by different rules.

My mother, aunts and their friends didn’t seem miserable to me. They expected life to have challenges and they balanced their needs as best they could. My friends, daughters and their friends don’t seem miserable either. They are too busy juggling lots of balls and recognizing that there is a limit to how many they can manage at one time. They see happiness as their responsibility and not a gift to be delivered by society. I don’t know what factors developed Marcia’s voice into the gloomy cavern it was. I do know that our culture breeds discontent, encourages entitlement and produces women no more attractive or desirable than Marcia. She was an individual in a community of upbeat people, who were striving to grow and flourish. Her presence stole peace of mind from those around her. Today, the media, academia and many politicians encourage all women to be Marcia-like.  Those of us who wish to be happy need to inoculate ourselves against that virus, surrounding ourselves with women looking for realistic joy rather than victimhood. I want to thank my friends, family and readers who provide that antidote to me.

 

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8 comments

Cheryl says:

The women I know like that are self centered and spend their time thinking about themselves or watching television. Television commercials plant and nurture a spirit of covetousness and lack. Everyone has life better. They are better looking, have nicer clothes, bigger and better houses, etc. They are drawn to the life and joy of others and suck the life right out of them if allowed. I believe if these people would stay busy and help others their own burdens would be lifted. I also believe in praising God in song when my spirits need lifting. I try to encourage people who need it but some people cannot be helped. I have a friend like that. Nothing good has happened to her in 20 years and now she has a Masters degree in Business and still can’t find a job to support herself.

You are certainty right, Cheryl, that a lot of TV viewing promotes envy and unhappiness and being self-centered. Your other points are worth pondering as well. Thanks.

Karen Boswell says:

Another spot on insight. I liken it to the way the Rabbi explains “happy” as related to happenstance.
Joy and contentment are vastly different and more stable, a gift from the Spirit of God within us.
A Christian tenet – joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
Thank you very much for what you do

That’s a great connection, Karen, and I don’t remember hearing my husband say it so thanks for reminding me?.

(Susan posting for Diane Medved)
Doesn’t matter the gender–those with a ‘glass half full’ orientation succeed and generate more friendships than those who see life as the glass half-empty. If you’re happy and you know it…clap your hands!!”
There are plenty of men who are equally obtuse and unpleasant, but somehow we blame it on other causes than the ones you cited for women. I call such people “contrarians” and they’ll never be satisfied, so…just ignore them!
Diane

You’re absolutely correct, Diane, that individual people have their own personalities, and there are both men and women who are, as you call them, ‘contrarian’. I was speaking on more of a societal level. I do think women are encouraged to be gripers and complainers and men are not.
You are one of the least ‘contrarian’ people I know!

James says:

It seems a hallmark of the ‘liberal’ enticement, that the bait-and-switch or the cocktail of false promises, has convinced both genders, but (so I fear) modern women especially, that one can have one’s cake and eat it, too. The message arrives from all the ‘cool’ periodicals, how one can be a perfect wife and mother AND be gainfully employed AND make a contribution to society, and (add whatever factors to the occasion as desired, ladies!)…
NO. You can have it the one way or you can have it the other way, but you cannot, repeat, CANNOT have it all ways. Sooner or later the Superman / Superwoman mystique slams up against God’s imperative, that there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and something’s gotta give. You can blame the world, society, your parents, global warming, or whatever, but ninety-nine times out of a hundred, our own choices to fill up our plates beyond our capacity to chew are to blame for our dissatisfaction.

I like this phrase, “our own choices to fill up our plates beyond our capacity to chew,” and would only add that we also spend too much time eyeing everyone else’s plates, even when they’re full of items to which we might be allergic.

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