The ‘inadequate’ wife

The ‘inadequate’ wife

American women are more unhappy than ever before. One report maintains that one out of three visits by women to doctors is for depression. Other studies echo this finding and maintain that nearly one-third of all American women are on anti-depressants.

Why are women so unhappy? Feeling constantly tired as they crumble under the burden of having to work both in the office and at home, as well as the lack of emotional support due to the sad state of the American marriage, is part of the explanation. Women feeling that their children don"t listen to them exacerbates their feelings of worthlessness and failure.

But while these factors contribute to the despondency of the American woman, the greatest cause of her depression is how society is geared toward making women feel inadequate.

Just think about what it’s like to be a woman in America today. Everything about you says you’re not good enough. You’re not pretty enough to be on the cover of Vogue or Cosmopolitan. You’re not fit or thin enough, so you better go on some new diet. Your legs are not long enough to have you saunter down a fashion show runway. Your breasts are not large enough, so you must therefore consider mutilating your body in order to make them more appealing. Your hair is not blond enough; your eyes are not blue enough. Even your brain, according to the former president of Harvard University, is not good enough to compete with a man’s brain in the important disciplines of science and mathematics. And what you certainly aren’t ever as a woman is young enough. We’ve created an environment where women should even be ashamed of simply living, because living means aging and aging means being rejected for being unattractive. To be a woman in America today is to live under the constant assault of inadequacy. To be a woman is also to be subjected to an endless barrage of expectations that are truly outside of your control. Is a woman who is born short really to feel that she will never be exciting to men? Is a woman who is born with a flat chest really to feel that she will never be good enough to truly excite her husband? I find it astonishing that the nurturers in our culture are being pummeled by a constant feeling of inadequacy.

But aside from the external pressures of inadequacy, there is a consideration much closer to home that is making so many American housewives feel that they are just not good enough. In essence, it is their husbands who unwittingly make them feel that they are not special enough to retain their attention and affection.

Recently, my "Shalom in the Home" TV show took me to a family in New York where we were ostensibly brought to repair a broken father-son relationship. However, it quickly became apparent that the person in the family suffering the most was the wife and mother. She was married to a man who had had an unhappy childhood and felt that he was not succeeding sufficiently in his career; therefore, he was emotionally distant from his family. His wife told me how lonely and inadequate she felt. When I asked her why she felt inadequate, she said that if she was not good enough to take away her husband’s pain and make him feel valuable and happy, then how special a woman can she be? I then asked her if she felt that her husband was attracted to her. She immediately said no, she did not feel that her husband found her exciting and that their intimate life was almost nonexistent. This did not mean that she did not believe her husband loved her. She was convinced that he did. Rather, she just felt utterly "inadequate" as a woman.

I hear the word "inadequate" from more and more American women whose characters and self-esteem are slowly being eroded by the men in their lives. Think about it. A woman wants to get married, make her husband happy, and feel desirable to the man she loves. Yet, how many happy men are there in America today? So many men define their success by only one standard — the money they’ve made, the position they’ve attained. But no matter how far up you climbed the corporate ladder, there’s always someone ahead of you. Men today cannot seem to find an inner identity that is impervious to external competition. And when they feel worthless, the ones who suffer the most are their wives. Husbands who feel broken create wives who feel inadequate — and slowly but surely, the whole family ends up in pieces.

For a year, I served as a radio host on one of the country’s only 50,000-watt radio stations aimed at women. The station was in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it was owned by Bonneville, which is, in turn, owned by the Mormon Church. I created a very strong rapport with my tens of thousands of female Mormon listeners. More than any other subject, they wanted to talk about why they were so unhappy and depressed, which surprised me. Mormon women have the highest rate of depression of any group of women in the United States, and I would constantly ask them to tell me why. They said that a lot was expected of them as religious women. They were expected to have large families with many children. They were expected to be a source of comfort and support to their husbands. And, since large families usually need two incomes, they were expected to work outside the home. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was that amid all those pressures, they were also expected to look fantastic. Great emphasis was put on their physical appearance. Despite all their daily pressures, they felt inadequate because they didn’t think they looked fabulous. If they put on a couple of pounds after having a baby, they had somehow failed. That’s where the bulk of the depression began to set in.

It is time for us to emphasize to women and girls from the earliest age that they are good enough, their eyes are bright enough, their minds are sharp enough, their bodies are shapely enough, and their personalities charismatic enough. We simply need to allow women to feel good enough so that the nurturers in our culture can be restored to us whole and unbroken.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s "Shalom in the Home," which airs every Monday night at 9p.m. He has just released his newest book, "Parenting with Fire: Lighting Up the Family with Passion and Inspiration" (Penguin).