Stressed women are in the news. Not for being stressed – we all know they are – but for where they are most stressed.
We all assumed it was at work, with major loads, decreased pay, unkind bosses and colleagues. In fact, many women – brace yourselves – experience more stress at home.
It was a surprise to them, too. Especially since they reported feeling worse in the workplace. But feelings are subjective. Hormones, however, can be measured, and a recent study did just that – measured cortisol levels in women during their day. Though they may perceive the workplace to be a source of irritation and strain, the real pressure comes when women cross the threshold of the family home.
What do they find there? According to the report, women, especially those with children (aka mothers) fling themselves into a second shift of work at home, tending children, helping with studying, cleaning surfaces and clothing, etcetera. You know the drill. In this essential work, the average woman receives scant assistance from the father of those children, even when he inhabits the same house.
It’s understandable that people would feel stressed about that. More work plus inequity is a powerful equation, what statisticians call “robust”.
But there’s one factor the study discussions haven’t even touched.
Statistics say women are more harmed by violence in their own homes than they are by cancer and car crashes combined. That’s a hell of a lot of women. Some of them must have been in this study. So why wasn’t their cortisol rise attributed to fear?
Imagine it. You get home after a long day at work. You know there’s a long evening ahead, with more work. But there’s also the man you live with. Maybe he’ll be in a good mood tonight. Maybe he won’t criticize you, insult you, hit you, beat you or your children.
Maybe he won’t rape you.
But perhaps he will.
This is not your fault. Yes, you should leave him, but you keep remembering what happened to your cousin who left the same kind of man. Her husband followed her and despite a restraining order – not worth the paper on which it was printed – he killed her. You wish there were a healthy and safe path to follow. You wish the cops would take you seriously. You know that if you held a powerful position – U.S. Senator, for example – the police would be solicitous. You’re an ordinary woman, and the local cops have not been trained to identify and respect risk factors in the lives of ordinary women.
So you return home to potential danger and stress. Even though you tell yourself you can handle it, your cortisol levels rise.
Researchers, it’s not just the second shift of work. It’s also the fear of attack. Start interviewing your subjects about relationship violence. You’ll see.