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The Sleep-Deprived Housewives of Victimhood County

Posted By Jenn Q. Public On February 27, 2010 @ 10:32 pm In NewsReal Blog | No Comments

The patriarchy is keeping Naomi Wolf up at night.

Young girls in Yemen are forced into marriages with adult men, lesbians in South Africa face “corrective rape,” and women throughout the Muslim world suffer indignity, violence, and death under Sharia law.  But that’s not the sort of horrific oppression interrupting Wolf’s beauty rest.

The “next big issue” women need to address, says Wolf, is lack of sleep.

Her preoccupation with this pressing issue of our time began with this recent declaration by Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington and Glamour editor-in-chief Cindi Leive:

If you ask us, the next feminist issue is sleep. And in order for women to get ahead in this country, we’re all going to have to lie down and take a nap.

The Huffington Post is basically Entertainment Weekly with more nip slips and less class, so Huffington’s qualifications for deciding the “next feminist issue” are questionable at best.  But that doesn’t stop Huffington and Leive from suggesting that women need to “sleep our way to the top,” citing “workaholism” and “a host of temptations, from Letterman to the PTA to your e-mail inbox” as reasons women aren’t getting enough shut-eye.

Naomi Wolf agrees that might be true of mere plebs, but believes that Huffington and Leive are overlooking a major cause of sleep deprivation in women who share her upper class status: the dreaded gym-salon-retail complex.

Women “who are privileged enough theoretically to just turn out the light at 10pm” toil away at a third shift that comes after work and family, but before sleep.  Wolf calls it the “perfection shift,” but allow me to translate: she’s talking about the spa shift.

This is the time spent each week on manicures, highlights, and waxing. And it isn’t to pamper ourselves or to make ourselves presentable, but to punish ourselves for daring to be successful. She writes:

What’s up with this? I observe this trend not with judgment but with compassion. I believe that successful women — the ones with the most privileged lives of all — often feel a gnawing existential guilt about their very abundance and power. Someone has to be punished. The ones they punish are themselves.

The guilt, it eats away at us until we engage in the age old self-flagellation ritual known as the paraffin pedicure.

Another way women punish themselves? Stylish clothes. We could be sleeping, but instead, we’re shopping.  Oh, and don’t forget exercise. Hopping on the treadmill isn’t so much for fitness as it is to exceed the expectations of others.  What’s worse, Wolf says looking after our health is taking time away from our partners and kids.

Wolf’s theory is not only stunningly absurd, it’s based on false assumptions. The notion that women are sleep-deprived has been thoroughly debunked by writer Laura Vanderkam. Citing a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, she explains:

Married moms who work full time and have kids ages 6-17, according to this chart, sleep 8.09 hours per night. As for women being more sleep deprived than men? Married fathers who work full-time and have school-aged children actually sleep slightly less than their female counter-parts, though they, too, clock a full 8.0 hours per night.

Naomi Wolf, Arianna Huffington, and Cindi Leive might not get enough sleep, but their personal experiences aren’t indicative of a larger trend.

These women aren’t victims of exhaustion and a society that expects too much.  And they aren’t suffering under the self-imposed punishment of the “perfection shift.”  Instead, they’re overwhelmed by their staggering array of choices about how to spend an abundance of leisure time and disposable income.

So many choices, so little time. Life must be rough when you’re the Housewives of Perpetual Victimhood County.

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Follow Jenn Q. Public on Twitter and read more of her work at JennQPublic.com.


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