Shocked to hear me say that? Don't be. Feminism doesn't guarantee a woman a date, or safety from harm, lifelong happiness, or greater health (although it has always been my opinion that being a feminist improves one's chances at all those things). The purpose of feminism is equality of opportunity, freedom, and dignity for all women. What a woman chooses to do with that equality is up to her. And I trust women to make their own choices for what they want to do with their lives, even if their choices involve risks -- just as much as I trust a man to make an intelligent choice as to whether he wants to risk his health playing a sport like boxing or football.
That's why I am not unduly disturbed by a Swedish study (touted by anti-feminist commenters) purporting to show that women who take on stressful jobs traditionally held by men suffer health consequences for doing so. Of course, I have no idea how valid the study is. As a commenter at Feministing noted, the articles use terms like "associated with" and "strongly linked," which imply that the study found correlation rather than causation. It is also unclear the degree to which women in the workplace suffer greater health problems. Is it a significant difference or a negligible difference? In addition, it should be noted that the conclusions one draws from the study may vary depending on your political outlook. If you don't like the idea of feminism, you're bound to say that too much feminism is the problem. If you are a feminist, you are bound to say that too little feminism is the problem -- if working women weren't expected to work "the second shift" at home, maybe they would have more time to eat right, exercise, and take some time to de-stress.
Be all that as it may, I don't have much of a beef with the theory that a stressful job takes a toll on one's health and that therefore women taking on these jobs often experience resulting health problems. As a litigator coping with long hours, constant deadlines, constant conflicts with others, and the stress of answering to bosses and judges and clients, I am certain that these stresses pose risks to my health that full-time homemaking would not.* All around me, I see overweight lawyers, out-of-shape lawyers, alcoholic lawyers, and depressed or anxious lawyers -- many of whom are at risk for heart conditions, strokes, diabetes, liver problems, suicide and other dangers. For the last 25 years, significant numbers of women have taken on the risks of stressful and often adversarial work traditionally borne overwhelmingly by men.
If I were inclined to a simplistic analysis (as are apparently the headline writers for the Daily Mail and the Guardian), I might conclude that "feminism" or the opportunity to pursue the same career as a man has been "bad" for me. Wouldn't it be "best for women" if we didn't have these opportunities or chose not to take them?
But under that kind of analysis, the same could be said for all sorts of decisions men make without question -- such as participating in extreme contact sports, joining the military, or working at a stressful job. Or one could argue that it is "best for women" if female college students were given a curfew as in days of yore or allowed to travel in public only in the company of a male guardian, a practice discussed approvingly by at least one extremist. I may indeed be safer traveling only with a male guardian (assuming he is himself trustworthy!) but at what cost? I may indeed experience less stress staying home full-time but at what cost?
And that's thing. Adults make cost-benefit decisions. When men do so, we don't question it. A young man decides that the risk of broken bones, concussions, and the toll on his body is worth it for the thrill of playing football! (And oh, more young women are making that decision too these days!) A young female college student decides that moving about freely at night is worth being less safe than she might if she just stayed in her dorm (as do young men who risk assault and accidents at greater rates than do young women)! And people of both sexes embrace careers that take a toll on them so that they can earn a living for their families, do work that they love, and/or use their talents to benefit their community. And women often make the decision to stay home full-time even at the risk of becoming economically vulnerable.** But it's only women who are subjected to hand wringing about "what's best" for them -- because too many of us still can't get our minds around the notion that women are capable of making weighing risks and consequences decisions for ourselves.
*Of course, anti-feminist policies and practices also often pose certain risks to the health of women and girls. This link provides but one example.
** I bet that someone is thinking, "Well, what a minute aren't you willing to criticize a woman's choice to stay home?" Ha ha! You caught me! I DO think that there is a significant sacrifice to staying home that the press rarely discusses, frequently choosing instead to rhapsodize about the "opt out" revolution. I also think there is massive hypocrisy in the way homemaking and the accompanying career sacrifices are often presented as the most wonderful thing in the world for women, but never as a wonderful opportunity for men. I also think that it would be better for women as a class if MORE women would pursue ambitious careers in public life. And finally, I think that there are societal circumstances that place more pressure on women to stay home than men. Nonetheless, I don't think it is inconsistent for me to say that I respect a woman's right and her ability to make her own cost-benefit decision to stay home based on her own preferences and the particular circumstances she faces.