Why do women burn out more than men? What is the root of women’s burnout?
In Burnout, Amelia and Emily Nagoski explain that our patriarchal society has high expectations for women. The result of these expectations is physical, mental, and emotional burnout.
Continue reading to learn more about women’s burnout, according to the Nagoski sisters.
The Root of Female Burnout
The authors explain that burnout is the result of a stress overload that leaves you with feelings of inadequacy and futility—you’re exhausted, you stop caring, and you struggle to connect with others. The things that cause us stress are called stressors, and the first step to preventing burnout is to identify these stressors.
The authors elaborate that women’s burnout is the result of living in a patriarchal society in which boys are raised to be dominant takers and girls are raised to be submissive supporters. Supporters are expected to always be mild-mannered, humble, pretty, and willing to give their time, attention, affection, and bodies to the people who need them. This is a moral obligation that most women experience, and a standard that many men expect of women, but it’s completely unrealistic for any human to live up to.
(Shortform note: While the patriarchy is the root of female burnout, experts explain that patriarchal expectations are also harmful to men—men who endorse patriarchal masculine norms like self-reliance, playboy behavior, and dominance over women tend to have poorer mental health and are less likely to seek help. Further research shows that the masculine trait of anti-femininity is linked to greater hostility and masculine toughness is associated with greater vulnerability to substance abuse. Ultimately, men who feel pressured to adhere to masculine stereotypes also face symptoms of burnout.)
The situations these standards give rise to and the pressures they create for women are constant stressors and the root cause of female burnout. Below we’ll discuss these stressors and explain how they cause women’s burnout.
Stressor #1: Misogynistic Male Behavior
The authors explain that the standard for girls to be supporters and men to be takers gives rise to misogynistic practices and situations that are constant stressors for women.
First, women are constantly silenced by men and experience high levels of stress as a result. The authors explain that this misogynistic behavior stems from the patriarchal standard that teaches boys to speak up, and even to be outspoken at times, while girls are taught to listen and be polite. Female silencing discourages many women from participating in workplace discussions and results in constant stress.
Further, the authors claim that our patriarchal society allows men’s inappropriate speech and behavior to go unchecked. For example, men are often excused from behavior such as cat-calling or having emotional outbursts due to their gender. Women are often on the receiving end of these behaviors and thus face the consequences—most commonly, stress.
Stressor #2: High Risk of Sexual Violence
Further, the authors explain that the high risk of sexual and relationship violence for women in our patriarchal society is a common stressor. They explain that sexual and relationship violence disproportionally affects women and that the vast majority of perpetrators are men—many of whom go unpunished or under-prosecuted. Many women are afraid to file reports of sexual assault due to the prevalence of being blamed or ignored.
Stressor #3: Pressure to Take on Extra Work (expectations of women)
The authors explain that in many cases, patriarchal societies expect women to overexert themselves, and this unrealistic expectation is a major stressor. They add that women spend 50% more time than men on unpaid labor, even in the most balanced nations, because they’re often expected to take care of domestic work, like child care, cleaning, cooking, and so on, as a “second shift” when they get home from work. When women don’t meet these unrealistic expectations, they fear being seen as a bad partner or mother and experience self-doubt—yet another stressor.
Stressor #4: Pressure to Meet Unrealistic Body Standards (expectations of women)
The authors explain that the pressure to meet unrealistic body standards and the self-doubt it causes also causes women’s burnout. The female beauty standard—for example, being skinny yet voluptuous and having a tiny nose but large eyes and lips—describes an uncommon appearance that’s unrealistic for the majority of women. However, our culture makes this appearance seem normal—it’s broadcast throughout television, social media, magazines, and endless advertisements for diet plans, pills and potions, and even surgeries.
Further, the pressure to meet these standards and the self-doubt that arises when they can’t cause nearly all women to engage in some kind of weight control, which gives rise to more stress. When these attempts to meet unrealistic standards become futile, almost 50% of women engage in unhealthy weight control like bulimia, anorexia, or taking toxic supplements. This can cause major mental and physical health issues, another source of stress.