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THE FEMININE DILEMMA
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Nowadays, women are able to apply their talents and skills much more extensively than in the past.

Nowadays, women are able to apply their talents and skills much more extensively than in the past.  Authoress Mary Ann Evens would no longer need to resort to a masculine pen name, George Elliot, to ensure that her literary words be taken seriously.  Many doors have opened to the career-mined woman.  If so, it would follow - according to the claims of the women's libbers - that today's young woman should be happier than her predecessors.

Unfortunately, the fact is just the opposite.  A large percentage of today's women are discontent.  This fact is often the topic of articles such as "The Dream and the Disillusion" or "The Cruel Cost of Careerism" and the "Trap of Feminism."

As one writer described the situation:

"Many young couples are living in a constant, exhausting rat race.  Their income is not bad, but they nearly collapse under the burdens they face.  They attempt to raise their children with all the love they need by giving them 'quality time' rather than a full measure of attention each day.  They feel towards each other like two strangers whose only common ground is their children's affection.

"They started out as two career-minded young people who understood each other well; with time, they developed into two individuals, each with a long list of unfulfilled dreams and demands.  In addition, statistics show that the divorce rates are significantly higher among career-oriented couples."

Every human being needs to be respected.  However, the criteria for achieving prestige vary immensely from one social group to another.  Who should be honored?  On what basis?  And how should that respect be expressed?

These are questions that each social group answers in its own way.  In Tibet, one sticks out his tongue at a passer-by in order to wave "Hello."  In Western society, this same gesture is interpreted quite differently.  So, too, are the values that determine social status varied and sometimes even in conflict.

Western society places great value on advancement at the workplace.  Financial success and social popularity are said to bring contentment and happiness in their wake.  These axioms make two basic assumptions:

First, that the degree to which I am content is a function of how much my social circle admires me.  In other words, I value myself according to how much others value me (or for my bank account.)

Secondly, a person earns social prestige by contributing to "progress."  The degree of progress I produce is measured in materialistic terms: money, or talents that can produce money.  By and large, Western society does not consider personal character development as an accomplishment which contributes to the much sought after "progress" of society.  Producing a more ethical adult, or an honest child, is not a particularly praiseworthy accomplishment in a society that measures one's worth by his bank account.  The fact of the matter is that "successful" businessmen whose morals are corrupt are nonetheless chosen to fill key positions, in the merit of their potential contributions to "progress."

These two basic rules of Western society lead to the conclusion that a person who invests time and energy in improving his character or cultivating a warm family life will not earn social approval as a result.  If one's happiness depends only on the approval of his peers, this is obviously not the way to go.

This line of reasoning seems to justify women's struggle for equal rights.  Consequently, it is only natural for them to aspire to success in the marketplace or office.

"Everyone needs to be happy," they argue.  "It's a basic human need.  If we must work to be happy, then society is obligated to open the doors to a career for us no less than it does for the men in our field.  There is no reason why we should forego our basic right to be happy in life."

One even hears a young lady say to her co-worker: "I went to sleep at 3 a.m. last night."  Her colleague, not to be outdone, will answer: "But I don't have a day off, like you do."

The two are in competition for social approval of their efforts at the office.  Both are struggling to juggle a career and a home; the question is only which one is outdoing the other in her heroic efforts, and is therefore worthy of that much more social prestige, which, supposedly, is the key to happiness.

This thinking led to the struggle to open the doors of universities to women, and subsequently to permit them equal access to the workplace and career market, lest that be forced to remain sequestered within the four walls of the home.  Thus was the women's lib movement born.

This is one of the unspoken lessons many of us absorbed in our youth.  We learned what the environment expected of us, what would win us praise, and which actions, censure.  The child has a need to feel that his peers approve of him just as his father or mother has such a need.  As he matures, he concludes that he will grow in self-respect in proportion to the respect he culls from his environment.  It follows naturally that it is not worth his time and effort to invest in endeavors that will not win him social approval.

Later, as a young adult, he must make major decisions that will affect the rest of her life. The value system acquired in youth will exert a major influence on these decisions.  Everyone chooses a path that will lead him to happiness.  In Western society, this path will necessarily have to produce material "progress" if he or she is to achieve this goal.  Even before a young person chooses a vocation, he has absorbed society's message: a person's career is above everything.  Who is happy?  Who is wise?  Who is a hero? Who is deserving of approval?  He who is financially successful in his career.

No wonder that every teenager's dream is to become a millionaire, and he will take whatever steps appear to lead him to realize his ambitions.

Those who follow a different pattern will find themselves on the fringes of society, labeled as queer or eccentric.

Thus, today's young woman finds herself in the throes of a dilemma.  On the one hand, she must create a satisfactory self-image and at the same time, satisfy the dictates of a society that demands she pursue a career in order to be happy.  Should she train as a doctor or a lawyer, thus gaining society's stamp of approval?

The option of becoming "merely a housewife" does not exist. Even if it appeals to her, she knows that she will be considered a failure without a career.

All of us live our lives as actors following a script based on the self-image we have developed for ourselves.  Experience has shown that writing one's life script in keeping with the dictates of society, without taking personal needs and inclinations into account and without a true appreciation of one's unique personality, will not lead to happiness.  To the contrary, it drags a person into a bog of dissatisfaction and deprives him of the joy of living.  Building our self image only in keeping with the dictates of society can even lead to self destruction.  Unfortunately, there are women who are willing to be photographed as objects, and to appear in the spotlight in all circumstances and under all conditions, in order to win social approval.

It is not an easy task to discover what will afford us true, lasting satisfaction in life.  Sometimes we think, "Ah!  I've found what I was looking for! Now I will have full satisfaction in life!"  It doesn't take long for us to come to the conclusion that that what we thought would be our source of happiness soon wears thin because it fails to meet our emotional needs.  The joy we felt dissipates, only to be replaced by a dismal sensation of emptiness.  After repeated disappointments, one looses the initiative needed to renew one's search for the hidden formula that will lead to satisfaction in life.

There is a clear reason that many people are sorely disappointed in their search for happiness and contentment in life: they are simply unaware of their own emotional needs, because their personal "wish list" has been overwritten by what society tells them should be their goals in life.  Trying to be happy with my friend's recipe for contentment is like trying to read with someone else's prescription lenses.  It doesn't work; it can't work, because my recipe for happiness must fit me, not my comrade.

It is only after one realizes this basic truth that he or she is in a position to start out on a search for contentment and satisfaction in life.  When he learns what his needs are, and how to fill them, his heart will feel joy and he will be motivated to achieve more and more.

However, it requires a strong character not to adapt the value-scale of society at large.  However, therein lies the key to happiness - in tailoring one's life-drives to meeting his own personal needs, not those set by others.

Unfortunately, most people are not strong-willed enough to stand up to their social environment and to ignore the expectations of family, friends, and peers.  They persist in their erroneous assumption that the only way they can be happy is by winning the approval of those around them.  Tragically, they give more weight to what others think "ought" to make them happy than to what they, themselves, recognize as their personal needs.  


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