Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Do the happiest women in the world have it all wrong?

Last week Sarah reminded me of this article from MacLeans.
If you don't have time to read it, I'll try to summarize.

About 75% of Dutch women work part-time.   
And not only the women with kids.  That's the entire population - young, old, married, single. 
They are (based on survey data) the happiest women on the planet. 

Critics claim that it's a regression.  That they are tossing aside everything that the feminist movement worked for, and that the next generation of daughters won't have the right role models.  

I deeply appreciate what the feminist movement has given us modern women.  It's given us a lot of choice, but I still don't think we've ever reached the point of equality.  Women are still the ones who have to balance between work and home, still make less money than men in the same jobs, are still doing the majority of housework and child-raising and burning the candle at both ends.

So are the Dutch women taking a step backward?  
Or are they creating a new wave of feminism with even more choice? 

Do you think we in North America would ever be able to pull it off? 
(I think we'd need a lot more social structure and a better part-time wage, for starters.)

And who is a better role model?  The woman who achieves career ambitions and financial success?  Or the one with a variety of activities and more time with her children? 

Would you go to part-time if you could?  

So much to think about, and I think I need to visit the Netherlands again.

p.s. Don't be a lurker on this one! I'd love to know what you think - men and women.


  1. I'm technically part time (in office) but add my freelance to it and I'm full time. I'd love to drop the office - or heck, even drop the freelance, but I can't come to a decision just yet. I think part time / flex time is great. And that it's great for everyone! Women shouldn't be the only ones to benefit from a system like that! Dads need time at home, too.

    1. Very true - if flex-time were available for Dads, career moms wouldn't have to choose one or the other.

  2. Hi Mel! Great article and you bring up some great points.

    I think the journalist is missing the point when they say that this go against feminism. I think this article PROVES that feminism has worked, as they are liberated enough to have the choice of staying home or working.
    Just because women choose to stay home it does not detract from 'everything we have worked towards' because they were able to make that choice for themselves and whats best for their families.

    I think that saying staying home instead of working "is showing our daughters a bad example' is completely bogus. since when was the work force the only way to set a good example? Does your work define you?

    I think there are great benefits from having a stronger family, better relationships with friends, more happiness in your life. Coming from someone who sits behind a desk 45+ hours a week, I can assure you my life does not feel fulfilled!

    I read a few of the comments on the article and someone mentioned Maslows Higharchy (sp?) of needs. these women are reaching the very top. Self Actualization. Isn't that the best place for anyone to live? Especially women?

    North americans put too much value on money and status, and it shows by this outrageous reaction to women living happy lives and balancing family/work/personal goals.

    I think this sets a great example and I'm glad that as a society they put happiness before work status.

    I would be happy if we adopted more of the Dutch attitude instead of everyone being concerned 'where do you work?' 'what do you do?' instead of 'are you happy?' 'is your family happy?'

    1. This last sentence you mention is brilliant. The 'What do you do?' question always annoys me.
      Actually, when I was taking French classes last year, the textbook said it was a faux pas to even ask when meeting someone.
      I would like to be asked "What interests you?"

    2. I'm totally with you on that. I really hate getting the "what do you do?" question, because it always seems to mean "where does your money come from?" - and that's a pretty stupid way to classify somebody.
      I mean, I'm lucky in that I'm happy with my job, but I "do" a lot of things that have a lot more meaning to who I am as a person than where my paycheque happens to come from.

  3. What a great post. I have been a full time worker for around 35 years now (yikes!). That gives me goose bumps just to think about it. And during that time, I've raised 3 fabulous boys. It hasn't always been fun and my life is incredibly hectic because I refuse to give up the things I really want to do outside the cubicle. That's why my blog is called Adrian's Crazy Life, because it IS.

    But I'll tell ya, I would definitely have been the happiest woman on the planet if I could have done the whole thing by working a few less hours. A 40 hour week is HARD when you're trying to raise a family and most of my weeks are more like 50 hours or more. But my family was depending on me and there just aren't good options for well paying part-time work here in the US.

    And don't get me started on maternity leave options (or lack thereof!). I think it's actually uncivilized to expect a woman to go back to work with a six week old infant. But the system was mostly designed by men with stay at home wives to take care of their own families, so they have no clue. I'd skip the equal pay thing if they'd just give us job sharing, work at home options, and good part-time opportunities.

    1. Are you serious you only get six weeks after having a baby?!?!
      In Canada I think it's 9 months to a year. Wow I imagine that would be hard - especially when baby doesn't sleep through the night and you have a 50 hour workweek.

  4. I think part of today's expectations on women (and people generally, really) actually puts down women who choose to work part time and focus on raising their children. I think that a woman who spends her whole day raising her children and taking care of a household as honourable as a woman who works a full day of work.

    My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and did a little bit of freelance translation here and there. And as a result I was raised by my mom instead of a nanny, and I think that was a great way for me to grow up.
    My step mom works in an executive position at a hospital and is extremely successful. Mind you, she didn't have kids, but it's given her a great life in the end.

    Both options worked for both different people, I think it all depends on the person and what they want in life, not what society has "worked for" or what society expects. So I think it's pretty great if that's the way things are in the Netherlands, so long as it's actually what the women want and not just the social norm.

    Interesting topic, definitely worth touching on!


  5. i really enjoyed this post and reading through the comments!

    honestly, i think the idea people have of "choice" right now is an illusion... especially for women. if you want any sort of life outside your parent's basement, you MUST go out there and get a traditional 9-5 full time job (who will most likely try to take advantage of you at every opportunity.) there's really no "choice" about it.

    and if you want kids... i don't even understand how anyone affords kids anymore, honestly. even on a "middle class" worker's salary. and trying to juggle kids and working- even in a two income home- i just don't get how it's possible and everyone can be happy in the end.

    i'm one of those people who has always craved a pretty low maintenance life, much like the dutch have... maybe working a few hours here and there at the coffee shop, doing gigs, living in a little apartment, and deciding what i do with my own time. unfortunately, i don't really think that's possible anymore. for most people, you have to get a high-stress, high maintenance job just to get by. maybe that's "unamerican" of me. maybe that's lazy. but it's how i've always felt in my heart.

    i've feel lucky to have scraped by for years doing temp work, and now teaching freelance music lessons. i'm not rolling in dough... i'm technically in poverty, actually. but i'm much happier than i ever have been working for a traditional employer- almost none of whom have shown much respect for me, or any of their workers for that matter.

    these are my opinions, and i consider myself a staunch feminist. i'm all for women in the workforce if that's what they want. i guess i'm just annoyed that people in general have less choice about their lifestyle nowadays, considering the economic climate in the u.s.

    (sorry, that was a huge rant....)

  6. Mel, this is so interesting and I actually read the article in the Macleans and have been meaning to comment on this. I always kind of felt like Dutch women have it good and I can tell from experience that they are often really happy with their work-life balance. I really wish that there were better paid part-time options for women in North America.


thank you for leaving a comment! i love to know what you think :)


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