Mind the Gap: How Stress is Holding Women Back

Till Lauer from the New York Times.

It’s one of those things that any woman, if actually asked, could have told you: there’s a “stress gap” between men and women. In her recent article for the New York Times, writer Kristin Wong explores the causes and consequences behind the uncompensated, often unrecognized labor women are expected to perform.

The concept of “emotional labor” has been something of a buzzword in activist circles and beyond lately, but I appreciate the consideration Wong gives to some of the physical consequences of this so-called stress gap. Not only is it true that stress manifests itself physically, but it’s also the unfortunate reality that these consequences of stress are overlooked or widely misunderstood. Think about what you consider to be the most urgent symptoms of a heart attack – chest pain is probably pretty high up there, right? Turns out that’s not always the primary symptom for half the population, and when it is, women may still be more likely to write it off or suck it up. Women are taught from an early age to accept and internalize stress, which can be physically damaging – and deadly.

Beyond the parameters of the article, I also think we’re overdue for a conversation on the “stress gap” between socioeconomic classes here in the United States. Recently, “inspirational” quotes along the lines of “you have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyoncé” have started making the rounds on Pinterest and Facebook. However, as many have been quick to point out, that’s far from the truth. No shade to Beyoncé, but the reality is that someone who has to take the bus or otherwise manage their own commute, serve as the primary caregiver for their children (and/or a spouse or parents), and work any job that will make ends meet loses a significant amount of leisure time to emotional, physical and financial stress.

So where does this leave us? It seems bleak to sit on the conclusion that women are shouldering the burden for a pervasive stress gap, with dire consequences for our physical health, emotional wellbeing and overall success. What encourages me, however, is the fact that researchers and writers are acknowledging this gap at all. The more we extend our research, thought and advocacy to include all marginalized individuals, the closer we come to understanding how we can support each other and dismantle the systems that hold us back. That, to me, is a gap worth closing.

Read Kristin Wong’s full article in the New York Times.