Is Blue The New Black?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


Dear Maureen Dowd:


Thank you so for your recent column, Blue is the New Black. Thanks for enlightening me about how women today are SO unhappy because of all the choices heaped upon us since the feminist revolution began in 1972. I always knew my troubles were all Gloria Steinem’s fault.


Thanks for explaining that:

  • Unlike today, before the 1970s, women in America felt greater well-being than men (I’d like to insert a smiley face here, please)
  • That having stepped into male-dominated realms (you don’t say which ones, but I assume you mean paid work like journalism, politics, medicine, academia, professional sports, television and entertainment, and perhaps the gym) we women have put more demands upon our wittle selves
  • That women are much harder on ourselves than men are on themselves (how could we CHOOSE to be so dumb?)
  • That women’s lives are increasingly crowded yet increasingly empty, even with all these darn choices
  • That having kids makes us unhappy, even though of course we’d never admit that publicly

Maureen, I’d really like you to meet my mother. She graduated from Radcliffe in 1956 – when you were four years old. She got married in 1958, and like your mother, gave birth to five children long before the Pill or reliable birth control made reproductive choice available. My mother had her last child in 1972, the year your source, The General Social Survey, began tracking Americans’ moods.


Mom mostly stayed home with us kids while my father worked long, intellectually stimulating hours in the relative peace and quiet of his law firm. He traveled frequently throughout the United States, Europe and Asia for his work. He earned lots of money. Unfortunately we kids were a handful, always hungry and thirsty and just a tad bratty, energetic and insouciant; one of my favorite memories is of Mom throwing her black high heels at us because we would not be quiet while she took a phone call. She’d played three varsity sports in college so she had darn good aim.


She raised us kids without benefit of an involved husband, disposable diapers, carseats or even regular use of a car, a microwave, a breast pump, childcare, a computer, the Internet, or even a cordless phone. Dad kept her on an allowance. I recall her crying in frustration when she did not have enough money to buy us shoes or pay the pediatrician’s bill. We did in fact have the money, Dad just controlled it rather stringently, spending it on Redskins season tickets and new suits instead. His contribution to the household was to take us to the zoo for two hours on Sundays, if the weather was good and there was no football game on tv.


When she could, Mom worked off and on in the one field open to her and many other women born in the 1930s: teaching. Then after 32 years of motherhood and marriage, my father left her. He was a partner at a prominent international law firm, with lots of professional legal relationships in our town’s courts. Let’s just say Mom had to fight like a proverbial female dog to get any economic support whatsoever. She hadn’t really worked in 30 years, people said; what was she due financially anyway?


Was Mom happy? Happier than Dad? Happier than I am today?


Amen to your column, Leslie, and bravo to your mom.



Thank you for this terrific and moving article. I loved the way you couched this as an open letter to Maureen Dowd using your mother's experience as a counterpoint to Dowd's flippant conclusions. I couldn't agree more with your view that having "too many choices" is not what's making women unhappy and that life for women was much harder (and is much harder) when they don't have real choices. I blogged about this today (and quoted you) in my Work Wednesday blog on - "National Work and Family Month: Happiness and the Working Mom" at


I'll grant you some women are unhappy (me included sometimes). I know this from my friends (and I read where the women are brutally honest). There are always going to be reasons to be unhappy but go back to how it was before when we didn't have choices that is the most ridiculous thing I have heard. I have to wonder about any woman who would say that.

Tania R

My grandmother almost died after giving birth to her fifth child. The doctor ordered her to not even think about having a number six and advised her to have her tubes tied. Back in the fifties the husband had to sign a consent form for tubal ligation. My grandfather refused to sign and my grandmother became pregnant with number six. Her doctor was certain she would not survive. He told my grandfather that if she did he was going to perform the tubal ligation even if my grandfather would not consent. Fortunately my beautiful grandmother survived. She was an amazing woman who managed to raise six kids in the turbulent sixties with an alcoholic husband. She never complained...who would have listened anyway?

So no, I don't agree that women are more unhappy. I think that the feminist generations have forgotten how to just "suck it up" and deal with life. Women disect their lives and feelings ad nauseam. Maybe Maureen should have talked to our older generations to see what they thought before sticking her foot into her mouth.

As a society we have stopped taking the time to "smell the roses" and enjoy small moments. If women are so darned unhappy maybe they should get their faces off of Facebook and devote their time to talking to their husbands and being with their children!


Bravo! I agree entirely! Since when did having choices/options mean being more unhappy? I'd like Ms Dowd to meet my grandmothers, my MIL and even my mother - whose choices were very limited. They certainly are/were not happier than I am.

'Being tired' does not equal 'being unhappy'.

Also the fact that some women make bad choices and are not realistic in what they can do, does not mean that the rest of us shouldn't be given the opportunity to have a choice. How about people take responsibility for their choices and their lives and stop blaming the 'feminist revolution'?! Or is that a too radical thought?


I have to say, that regardless of how one woman lived in 1950 to how one lives in today's it not so much the career choices, breakthrough technology or media sources that make a woman happy with her choices in life but rather the man or partner that she chooses to share her life with and how much she values her family along with that spouse/partner?

You can find many a grandmother out there who were once housewives with many children and a busy household to tend to with little money but had loving husbands and a wonderful life of memories in raising their families. And today, I still see women who are career oriented, highly educated and married and still experience a shovenistic and dominating marriage full of unhappiness and regret.

In either the past or to the present. I believe that our happiness does indeed depend on choices...for certain...and that most important choice being to choose a partner who is loving, giving, respectful of them and most committed to their family and life together...if a woman could put as much weight and consideration into their choice of life partners as they do into their education and career paths; we may have many more happier and content women; no matter which lifestyle they wish to lead...

Unfortunately, either way you wish to turn the clock there will always be men/partners out there whom are not ideal life choices for us as was there were many a man in his day; even decades ago, who cherished, loved and made their wife/partner very, very happy individuals.


Rock on!! I completely agree. And perhaps I am the exception, but I think being a working mother is a blast!! My kids are lots of fun (well, at least sometimes), I love my job, and a hectic schedule and a lot of crock-pot dinners are no great hardship in my book. One of the reasons, I think, that working mothers feel so stretched is that many of us have unrealistic expectations for how challenging it is to be a parent. Plus, we are raising children in an era where mothers are required to provide an enormous amount of stimulation to their children- much moreso than our mothers ever did. If we didn't feel so compelled to shuttle everyone to piano lessons and judo class, and if we didn't feel so guilty and sending the kids down to the basement and telling them to amuse themselves, our lives might be quite a bit easier.


This is a debate that has so many layers. Leslie, I agree with your assessment, were our moms and grandmas really happier at home without choices. And vlarson, I agree with you that choices can cause anxiety, but we have to remember communication regarding expectations can relieve a lot of the stress. Women have every right to pursure and relish in their careers and when we choose to communicate with our spouse, share the responsibilities (and that means accepting that he might do things differently than us) and delegate a little more we really can have it all...almost (there really is no cure for lack of sleep, is there?).

I say thanks for the choices, I am happy and empowered because I choose my situation.


I totally agree with you that "Lack of any real choices – and no ability to bitch about it — is much worse."

And happiness is a very hard thing to measure — and what we think will make us happy in the futures is based on what we think and feel now; all subject to change!

But I will say that our unrealistic expectations of things — work, marriage, children — have created a lot of stress. Look at Parenting magazine's "Mad at Dad" article last January. Of the 1,000 moms who responded, most feel angry: "we're mad that we spend more mental energy on the details of parenting. We're mad that having children has turned our lives upside down much more than theirs. We're mad that these guys, who can manage businesses or keep track of thousands of pieces of sports trivia, can be clueless when it comes to what our kids are eating and what supplies they need for school. And more than anything else, we're mad that they get more time to themselves than we do."

Is that making women unhappy? Granted, a study of 1,000 moms isn't the full picture, but I see and hear similar things among the moms in my community. (Of course, many of them are "hover" moms, and that's one thing our moms didn't do.)

Choices do create all sorts of anxiety, but, as you say, I'm truly glad I have those choices, anxiety be damned. Men, however, don't have the same choices as women do (how many men ponder whether they'll work full time, part time or not at all when they get married?) I wonder why they say they're "happy"?