Jennifer O’Connell: Seven things women want

Happiness, equal pay, less guilt – and cut us a bit of slack every now and then

Sarah Jessica Parker recently said in a magazine interview that women today “are pretty unfriendly to one another”. Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Getty

Sarah Jessica Parker recently said in a magazine interview that women today “are pretty unfriendly to one another”. Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Getty


What do women really want? It is a puzzle that has perplexed everyone from Mel Gibson to Freud, who called it the “greatest question that has never been answered”. Nietzsche thought the answer was always “pregnancy”. Google suggests it could be anything from “taller men” to “doulas” to “eh, depends on the time of the month”. Actually, it’s not that complicated. Freud wrote that he gave this question 30 years’ research and was none the wiser. Shame he never thought to ask.

1 From their lives: The same thing everyone else on the planet wants: happiness. And yet women are not very good at it. Study after study has shown a decline in women’s happiness levels since the 1970s. At precisely the time when we’ve been told we will be fulfilled – within a stable relationship, after children – our happiness levels plummet. Somewhere along the way, we raised the bar too high, and “having it all” became “doing it all”. Many of us have yet to recognise it, but happiness lies in learning to cut ourselves some slack.

2 From other women: Mostly, we want them to cut us some slack too. Sarah Jessica Parker recently said in a magazine interview that women today “are pretty unfriendly to one another”. True, the Sex and the City view of female relationships as hotbeds of gossip, sex tips and Sunday morning cocktails may be a bit tough to live up to, but if it’s empathy, encouragement or belly laughs we are after, we will still turn first to our female friends. Outside our friendships, however, SJP has a point – women can be each other’s harshest critics.

3 From men: We want you to apply the same standards to us as you apply to other men: don’t call us aggressive when we’re being assertive; don’t call us a “bitch” if what you mean is “powerful” (or “absolutely right”). In relationship terms, what heterosexual women mostly want is for the man in their life to step up to the plate. We would like not to have to be the one to rush out of work early if there’s a gap in childcare or to be the one who always remembers to book a babysitter. In return, we promise to cede exclusive control of the domestic realm.

4 From their jobs: We don’t want to be defined by stereotypes at work, but we don’t necessarily want to make our gender invisible there either. There are times when acknowledging that women have different qualities to men is helpful. From our employers, we want more flexibility (yes, we know men need this too), equal pay, more opportunities, and better lighting in the office bathroom.

5 From the media and popular culture: We want to see ourselves represented in ways that we can actually identify with. So less of the bikini models and casual pornification; more women of all shapes and sizes at different stages in their lives. We don’t want to feel that we’re past it at 45, or 50, or ever. Oh, and please stop telling us whether and when to have children, how we should feed them, and what our bodies should look like afterwards.

6 From politicians: For a start, we would like more of them to reflect our own chromosomal make-up. After that, in no particular order: improved maternity arrangements, paid parental leave and flexible working arrangements for fathers, affordable childcare, better supports for stay-at-home-parents and the right to make decisions about our own fertility.

7 From society: We don’t want our children to grow up in a society where boys are told they can’t play with Barbies, and girls are told they can’t be ninjas. We want to stop feeling the weight of society’s disapproval about the choices we make about how to live, work and raise our children. In short, we want more – and we don’t want to be made feel guilty about it.


Ohio businesswoman and self-styled – oh the irony – “communications expert” Kelly Blazek recently demonstrated why women do themselves no favours when they fail to support one another. After she received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn with a recent college graduate, Blazek replied: “Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow.”

The grad got her revenge: she posted the entire interaction on Facebook. It went viral, and Blazek found herself publicly shamed on CNN. Sure, Blazek was obnoxious, self-important and unhelpful, but would the same public glee and shaming have awaited a man in her position? Unlikely.

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