Has the Women’s Movement Decreased Happiness?

Image credit: Morguefile, Korita, Istra, by butkovicdub

Image credit: Morguefile, Korita, Istra, by butkovicdub

Hey, ladies, August 26 is around the corner– Equality Day!  Woo-hoo!  How’s it going so far?

In case you are not in the loop, Women’s Equality Day commemorates August 26, 1920 when the right for women to vote became official.  But equality has not paved the road to dignity and happiness.  A few years ago, I wrote about a Time Magazine report on the happiness of women which concluded: “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy. No tidy theory explains the trend.”

Who needs a theory?  The numbers tell the story.

  • 40 percent of women are the primary breadwinners.
  • Among 3.3 million married couples, the wife is the sole earner.
  • Only about 30 percent of kids grow up with a stay-at-home parent.
  • 39 percent of all births are to unmarried mothers.

Not good. I believe that the spirit of rebellion of Catholic Church teaching is where we have gone wrong. It was the rebellion that launched the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the birth-control pill, and then finally abortion.( And ultimately, take sex outside of marriage ushered in the belief that same-sex marriage is okay, because sex has nothing to do with marriage anymore.)

Now, women are free to have sex with men that they don’t want to marry, and free to abort if a baby should come of that union.  In practice, this means that women are more pressured and expected to have sex before marriage.  Before, there was a sacredness and respect given to women who waited for marriage.   And if they relent and get pregnant, the babies are viewed as their choice, their problem.  The control has largely gone to men who want to free themselves of responsibility.  (Not to discount men hurt by their powerless to stop the abortions of their babies.)  Half of women who have abortions, report that they do so because they do not want to be single mothers or because their partners do not want the babies.

Then, somewhere on the way to gaining rights, marriages fell apart in a big way.  No-fault divorce meant no-strings-attached; no alimony for stay-at-home moms. Today, even if there are small children involved, divorced women are pushed to work or called lazy.  But the face of poverty is still largely a female head of family. That seems to be something the women’s movement just cannot get at.

Many argue that before the women’s movement, women were expected to stay home to the extent of boredom even if they preferred the boardroom. But the world has changed to the point that few women can stay home even if that is their desire.   Many men help at home, but survey after survey shows that when a woman works outside the home, the second-shift of housework and childcare falls mostly on her shoulders. Women certainly did win the freedom to work.  And work, and work.

If I had been alive during the Suffrage Movement, I would have fought for the right to vote. But the methods used in fighting for Women’s equality must be evaluated according to the dignity of woman in the light of the word of God.

On the Dignity of Women

Pope John Paul II expressed this desire of the Church in 1995 when he wrote his Apostolic Letter titled On the Vocation and Dignity of Women to address the eternal measure of feminine dignity as part of the great works of God. He agreed that women’s dignity has not always been acknowledged which resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. “When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself,” he wrote.  “Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance, and tenderness. In this way he honored the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love.”

Pope JP II stood behind real equality in every area such as equal pay for equal work and fairness in career advancements but he always upheld morality and respect for life and stopped short of encouraging women to do everything that men do.  Referring to the Book of Genesis, he said that we are then told that, from the very beginning, man has been created “male and female” (Gen 1:27). Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the “human” as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.”

For instance, Christ chose men to shepherd his flocks in the priesthood. “…this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the ‘common priesthood”\’ based on Baptism.”

So an authentic women’s movement should be more about dignity and serving others in Christ rather than being free to do whatever one wishes — such as ending a pregnancy, becoming a priest, or engaging in licentious behavior. Such supposed freedoms, end up as slavery. It is here that we have a paradox, for the more we submit to God, as St. Paul calls it the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5) the more free we will be.

We are of infinite value and dignity. Our God-given gifts are meant to be used to enrich the world along paths God has chosen for us.  This is where our strength, beauty and equality lie. And, I believe, our true happiness.

Copyright 2015 Patti Maguire Armstrong

Photo: Morguefile, Korita, Istra, by butkovicdub


About Author

Patti Maguire Armstrong, is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.


  1. Dear Patti,

    Thank you for your commentary highlighting the pressures women face today. I grew up in a home where my mother worked full time, alongside my father. I could see and feel the fatigue and stress that came along with their lifestyle. My parents also encouraged me to learn, work hard, and be a leader. There are two sides to this equal-rights coin.

    I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have as a woman in America. I have attended school and earned a master’s degree in theology and certification in spiritual direction. Learning is deeply connected to my life of faith and I feel called to ministry in the church and in the world.

    Despite my level of education my husband and I have chosen to have a single income. He works full time and I stay at home with three kids (one on the way). It is a privilege to be able to make this choice and I wish more couples could/would choose this lifestyle because home/child care is indeed a full time job. We have had to make some sacrifices in order for this to happen: owning one vehicle instead of two, taking fewer vacations, and making a budget night once a week to check the accounts. I am concerned for my female friends who work full time in professional positions and have small children at home because I can see the fatigue and stress build in them.

    On the flip side, I can see (and often envy) the sense of fulfillment and purpose that comes with working outside the home. Being a person of intellectual curiosity and a natural leader, raising babies, cleaning house, and making food can feel like meaningless manual labor. I have found that I need to feed and nurture my vocation while responding to the demands of stay-at-home parenting. Teaching part time at our community college and working in spiritual direction ministry one night a week brings me fulfillment without the fatigue and stress on our family. My husband’s abilities to care for our home and children make this possible and help me feel equally valued in my abilities even though he brings home the wages that feed us.

    Above all, I feel gratitude for the freedom women have gained in America for equal opportunity in education and access to protection, equal wages, and dignity in the work place. I will do my best to promote the art of discernment in myself, my friends, and my daughter to help women identify how God calls us to exercise our freedom. As church, let’s be respectful, supportive, and open to the many ways this plays out for women.

    Thank you, again, for highlighting some of the dangers that women’s rights brings to women, families, and to our society.

    • Congratulationson making a choice to give your family the mom they desperately need.

      My suggestion is not to be fooled by the sense of fulfillment you perceive in a job. In my experience, the sense of pride or fulfillment in a job is minor and temporary. If it seems like more the I know pride has taken hold of me. Also in our secular culture jobs have become idols. So people around us will exaggerate its importance.

      Our vocations are to be married and raise our children. A job is only a way to fund the vocation. It’s work and I miss my family every minute I am gone. It is not as glamorous as it would appear based on my career and role.

      I am the sole provider and my wife of 20 years left her law degree and corporate legal career 8 years ago to raise our two kids. We are so grateful that we can have this life. We don’t miss the money we didn’t need. We don’t miss the stress of juggling too many priorities. We are joyful!

      • Patti Armstrong on

        Another great testimonial! I’ve heard of women feeling inadequate when they are in their sweats standing behind well-manacured women in a grocer line. Instead, we should relish our comfort and assure ourselves that we are working for those who matter most to us. They are working for people that mean far less to them. Some have to work at least part time to help out, but overcoming materialism helps to prioritize our life.

  2. Patti Armstrong on

    Thanks, Tamara, for such an example contrasting the different lifestyles. Trading money for time with family has deep and lasting benefits. God bless you!

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