Why We Can’t Sleep | Ada Calhoun

Summary of: Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis
By: Ada Calhoun


Are you struggling to navigate the complex emotional landscape of modern womanhood? You’re not alone. ‘Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis’ by Ada Calhoun tackles the challenges and unfulfilled promises experienced by Generation X women seeking to ‘have it all.’ Raised in an era where advancements in gender equality promised limitless possibilities, Gen X women face unique obstacles spanning from financial hardships to workplace discrimination. The introduction of new parenting standards, coupled with caring for elderly parents, has left many of today’s women facing unprecedented levels of stress. Discover how Gen X women can adapt to the changing tides and learn to weather the storm with resilience, self-compassion, and unity.

The Pressure of “Having It All”

The Enjoli perfume advertisement from the 1980s encapsulates the dream of “having it all,” a promise that American women from Generation X could do and be anything. However, this promise came with tremendous pressure and unrealistic expectations. Structural barriers such as economic precarity and gender roles that have not changed to mirror new possibilities women have in the workplace have impeded women from achieving their ambitions. Women who grew up in this generation are often saddled with enormous amounts of debt and are blamed when they are unable to achieve everything they’d hoped for. The idea of “having it all” creates a culture of shame, and it is time to recognize the unrealistic expectations society places on women.

The Double Whammy for Gen X Women in the Workplace

Despite the gains made by Boomer feminists, gender and age discrimination makes it difficult for Gen X women to secure stable and well-paying jobs. Men are still more likely to hold senior executive positions by a significant percentage, and women often earn less than their male counterparts, particularly as they age. Age discrimination is also prevalent, making it challenging for Gen X women to compete with younger, tech-savvy job seekers. Freelancing may seem like an empowering alternative, but it comes with many challenges such as an inconsistent income and the hassle of running a business. Unfortunately, growing up in precarious economic conditions has only made it more challenging for Gen X women to thrive in the workplace.

The Economic Struggles of the Gen X

The Gen X went through a series of financial downturns, making them considerably poorer compared to their parents’ generation. The 1987 stock market crash, recession, and wage cuts hit them hard. The dotcom bubble’s burst in 2001, subprime mortgage crisis in 2007, and lack of good jobs led to a staggering amount of debt among Gen X. Women faced a gendered dimension of debt and had to put career plans on hold to cope with the enormous debt.

Modern Parenting Challenges

Parenting has drastically changed within a generation. While the author spent her childhood free to roam and watch TV, modern-day middle-class parents are expected to engage their children creatively, make home-cooked meals, supervise homework, and provide constant attention. This additional workload falls primarily on mothers who now spend significantly more time on paid work and childcare than their predecessors. Women also handle an invisible mental workload managing the household, including remembering appointments and buying gifts. Modern parenting has become increasingly time-consuming and complex, with significant challenges for working mothers.

The Burden of the Sandwich Generation

Are you finding it challenging to balance raising kids, supporting aging parents, and juggling a job, all while lacking societal support? You might be a Gen X woman belonging to the sandwich generation. As women have kids later in life, they are also dealing with the responsibility of taking care of their elderly parents. Unfortunately, women end up with most of the work, as parents are often divorced or don’t receive help from each other. The dwindling support networks only aggravate the situation, as does the lack of religious communities to rely on for help. Even worse, the US government provides limited unpaid leave to tend to family concerns, leaving many Gen X women overstretched and stressed.

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