Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dutch women are happy and bossy and the men like it

This is the text of my Radioscope article in The Irish Times on Tuesday 9th October:

Is bossiness the key to happiness for women? That was among the theories put forward in this Woman’s Hour programme on happy – and bossy – Dutch females.

When author Ellen de Bruin (above, right) was commissioned to write “Dutch women don’t get depressed” as a satire on the book “French women don’t get fat,” both she and her publisher assumed that Dutch women were no happier than other European women.

What she found, though, was that the happiness scores of Dutch women are relatively high – higher than those of British women, for example.

When Woman’s Hour asked Dutch men and women living in London whether they agreed with the statement that Dutch women don’t get depressed, there was, as it happens, general agreement with the proposition.

But why are Dutch women happy? Confidence, freedom, independence and equality all figures in the responses. But so did bossiness.

“The women make the men do stuff around the house,” said one woman firmly. “We tell them what to do.”

Oh dear.

Ellen de Bruin attributed Dutch women’s happiness to their “freedom to make the best of themselves.” Dutch women she suggested, are centred on their family and on relationships even to the extent of looking down on women in full-time work.

And they are indeed bossy in the home she agreed. Perhaps they are just assertive, the interviewer suggested? No, Ms de Bruin, she insisted, it goes beyond assertiveness.

So what about the poor Dutch men? “It’s the way that’s men like it” she declared. The Dutch man, it appears, is not a macho chap at all. Mind you, even though the Dutch men are probably better than the rest of us doing housework, their contribution is still “not to the extent that Dutch women would like it.” Perhaps all is not lost.

There is also a sense in the programme that Dutch society is simply more relaxed, outgoing and people-friendly than many others including our own. There might be a lesson in there somewhere for us.

The programme also featured Helena Frith Powell, author of "Two Lipsticks and a Lover" whose opinions, unfortunately, appeared to consist largely of a collection of cliches. Perhaps Dutch men are happy with being told what to do because they are high on drugs all the time she suggested. Frith Powell, who lives in France, also sniffily remarked that you wouldn’t find French women wearing clogs.

But de Bruin had the last word, accusing Frith Powell of indulging in “very gross stereotypes”.

In the end, perhaps it isn’t all a matter of being bossy. Dutch society appears to give women and men a greater degree of choice as to how they want to live their lives. The Dutch are not afraid of choice nor are they afraid of having absolutely top-class and a very comprehensive public services.

Actually, they’re even not afraid of saying they’re happy. Faced with a microphone, nobody took the opportunity to whinge and whine about life. Instead they seem quite willing to acknowledge and even to celebrate their own sense of well-being.

The poor mouth, it seems, is simply not part of their mentality. It does, of course, help to have had a very successful trading empire at one time as opposed to a Great Famine when it comes to perking up the national psyche.

Even so, the Dutch appear to have an enviable and admirable attitude to life, to other people and to society in general. Good luck to them, bossy or not.

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