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A Woman’s View From the Top Might Be a Sad One

To say that women can’t have it all may ring as anti-feminist. “If he can do it, we can do it,” women encouragingly tell one another. And they can … although it may come at a price, a recent study says.

Data from 1993-2004 showed that mid-career women with leadership roles are more likely than men in similar positions to suffer from chronic stress and symptoms of depression. Sociologists Tetyana Pudrovska and Amelia Karraker reported that this may be due to conflicting expectations, a “double bind.” The report said that “On the one hand, [women] are expected to be nurturing, caring, and agreeable, consistent with the normative cultural constructions of femininity. On the other hand, they are also expected to be assertive and authoritative, consistent with the expectations of the leadership role.” The results surprised the researchers, as previous studies show that a higher education and income—both typical of management roles—usually results in more positive mental health. “There are these cultural and societal forces that may undermine women’s leadership,” Pudrovska said.

The stress of a high-powered career, perhaps more privy to women but certainly not immune to men, isn’t likely to fade anytime soon. But things are looking up for younger women: A decades-long survey starting in 1957, focusing on Wisconsin high school graduates, found a shift in societal expectations with younger generations. “Now women’s leadership is more respected,” Pudrovska reported. “If we want to understand what’s happening in the workplace, we need to look at younger cohorts.”

Younger generations leave us with hope for a brighter future, one free of double standards for working women. Addressing these issues is vital; however, one must also be wary of over-emphasizing the emotional value of professional pursuits.

Cue Amy Poehler, whose book Yes, Please ended with a counterargument to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In—the working woman’s latest manifesto. “Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren’t,” Poehler wrote, with advice directed at woman but just as applicable to men. “Try to care less. Practice ambivalence. Learn to let go of wanting it,” because “career is the thing that will not fill you up and will never make you truly whole. Depending on your career is like eating cake for breakfast and wondering why you start crying an hour later.”

Image by tai nkm, licensed under Creative Commons.