According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. However, a disproportionately large number of the afflicted are women. Studies show that women are twice as likely to suffer as men. Further, women tend to develop these disorders at an earlier age and are more likely to have multiple psychiatric disorders, the most common pair being anxiety and depression (“Facts”).
Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways (i.e. panic attacks, feelings of dread, eating disorders, self-hatred) and symptoms affect a record number of girls and women. For example, in Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary, Miss Representation, Newsom states the following statistics about girls in the US: by age 15, 78% of girls report hating their bodies. 65% of them have disordered eating, 17% of them, despite living in one of the most progressive countries in the world, are cutting themselves.
And, in a final twist, it turns out that women are actually underdiagnosed, according to experts featured in Glamour Magazine: “The average length of time between the onset of symptoms—the time a woman starts feeling bad—and when she gets actual diagnosis is between nine and 12 years” (Dreisbach). Many women will suffer through years of panic attacks rather than seek help in order to avoid being labeled crazy by society, because so-called crazy women are not taken seriously in the professional realm or anywhere else for that matter (Gray).
In an attempt to explain the anxiety disparity in America, many tend towards the conclusion that women are naturally built to worry; their minds are somehow more conducive to heightened anxiety. Research has suggested that biological factors such as hormonal fluctuations and proven differences in brain chemistry play a role in the anxiety disparity (“The Anxious Sex”). However, to assume that biological differences are the only culprits is simply ridiculous.
If women were biologically wired to be anxious, we would expect them to show signs of this at a very young age. However, according to UCLA anxiety expert, Michelle Craske, in the first few months of infants’ lives, it is actually boys who show greater emotional neediness. Girls become slightly more prone to negative feelings at two years, which happens to be the age at which kids begin learning gender roles (Clark). Research has shown that up until age 11, girls and boys are actually equally likely to develop an anxiety order. But by age fifteen, girls are six times more likely to have one than boys are (Clark).
Clearly these statistics are harrowing. But are they really that surprising when we stop to think about the numerous pressures society puts on the modern girl or woman?
Pressures include the ceaseless expectation of being thin, beautiful, and youthful, as well as the pressure to “have it all” (a successful career, despite being paid less and having a harder time advancing professionally, while being an attentive mother, wife, and house-keeper). What about the frequent worries about romantic partners cheating, the possibility of being assaulted when walking at night, or the fear of ending up old, alone, and childless?
Society undeniably puts an immense amount of pressure on the average woman by telling her that she can “have it all.” Hence, it becomes a great cause of anxiety when women fail to live up to this demanding expectation, making them feel inadequate if they choose a career over a family, or vice versa.
Of course, men are not exempt from these societal pressures; however, women have a unique set of societal standards, and they seem to be taking an especially negative toll on the psyche. While it is somewhat progressive of society to encourage women to be more than house-wives, we have to stop and question: is it fair to assume that a woman who is “just a housewife” is not living up to her full potential? Is it healthy to portray the perfect woman as one who manages to conform to several different demanding roles? Once again, women are faced with unattainable expectations, but this time they come under the guise of advancement while being nothing more than the exploitation of feminist values, such as the right of the woman to work outside the home, in order to keep us confined to yet another definition of what a woman should be.
Now, faced with this anxiety epidemic, it is crucial that those who think the war is long-over to reevaluate the meaning of feminism. Feminism was, after all, created so that woman would have more opportunities and more freedom.
How much freedom do we really have if opportunities are only acceptably pursued en masse, and not according to individual desires?
“The Anxious Sex.” Scientific American 14 July 2013: n. pag. Print.
Clark, Taylor. “Nervous Nellies.” Slate 20 Apr. 2011: n. pag. Print.
Dreisbach, Shaun. “Anxiety: The New Young Women’s Health Crisis.” Glamour 11 Aug. 2010: n. pag. Print.
“Facts.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. <http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/women/facts>.
Gray, Emma. “The Conversation We Need to Have about Women and Anxiety.” Huffington Post 24 July 2013: n. pag. Print.
Newsom, Jennifer Siebel, dir. Miss Representation. Girls’ Club Entertainment, 2011. Film.