There is a corner of the internet that is obsessed with depressed middle-aged women. Or, specifically, is fixated on a four-year-old study, which suggested that 41% of Americans who use antidepressants are white, female and over 45. The obsession has nothing to do with concern for these women. The viral tweeter “Bad” Billy Pratt (@KILLTOPARTY) is representative: in March he posted a graph tracking which demographics “have used antidepressants for at least five years”, circled “White women 45+”, and captioned this: “Welcome to Hell”.
The Miserable Older White Woman emerges from the same blend of old-school misogyny and ageist ugh-mom-ism that brought us first the Wine Mom and then the Karen, in the summer of 2020. In theory, a Karen was a white woman who called the police on black people who were simply minding their own business. In practice, the term started getting used (and is indeed still used) in reference to any woman over the age of 25 who has spoken up, in any context. In the early pandemic days, I was once called “Karen” after asking some teenagers on public transit to put on masks. But anti-maskers also got labelled Karens too, so we can’t win (unless we stay silent).
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Who has it in for these women? A significant number of the Twitter accounts piling hate on middle-aged women seem to be controlled by young men who give off incel vibes. They are also angry at young women for rejecting them, and their mothers for not sending their favourite meal down to them that evening in their proverbial basement. What is clear is that these women are an avatar for complaints that span, or defy, the ideological spectrum. The Miserable Older White Woman inspires an intense, if difficult to pin down, political fury. Both progressives and the Right seem to agree that “Liberal white women on antidepressants will be the end of our civilisation”, but the stereotype allows a range of people to channel a variety of frustrations. She’s the 53% of white women who supposedly (but not actually) voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but also the tear-strewn pussy-hat wearer at the Women’s March protesting that election’s outcome.
For the Left, the privileged lady wrangling a prescription for her non-problems can be blamed for all of society’s woes: racism, imperialism, the housing shortage, the cost of living, climate change, perhaps even monkeypox. Her antidepressant usage can be categorised as yet another indulgence she engages in while other people suffer, akin to a day at the spa: “White women live off of Starbucks and antidepressants.” The Left-produced caricature lives in a large suburban house with a rich husband and resents her perfect life: “Excess red wine, antidepressants, free time and money has truly done wonders to boomer white women.” This is a women whose problem is that she has it too good. If she had to deal with the same adversity as everyone else, this would build character, and she’d stop the whinging.
For the Right, the Miserable Older White Woman is the opposition: “Democratic party supporters are self-hating college-educated white women. Basically if you live in an apartment in LA and own four cats, a massive ‘sex toy’ and consume a lot of antidepressants you are a Democratic party voter.” And she is getting her comeuppance for her decades of liberalism. She foolishly bought into the feminist myth that women have brains and should have high-powered careers and look at her now, all alone with her cats, pining for the life she could have had if she’d settled down when still turning heads. If she’d stayed a virgin until marrying Ward Cleaver at 22, she wouldn’t be popping pills of any kind. She’s sad because she’s alone, but don’t feel sorry for her, it’s a misery of her own making. A lesson for young women: get married before you’re middle-aged — and why not to one of the charming young men who spend their days online mocking older women?
And yet critics from the Right also have it in for the Miserable Older White Women who have settled down, but who fail to have either aged into traditionalist matrons or remained chipper 20-somethings. Pratt, of “Welcome to Hell”, more recently made the rounds for introducing Twitter’s cynical masses to the Peach Mom, a comic about the angst of an apparently well-off stay-at-home mom (albeit with side hustles) who despises her husband for doing less of the housework and childcare. The woman behind these evidently autobiographical comics then got widely ridiculed, in part because it is objectively ridiculous to post comics to the internet that bash your spouse, but also because she was a Miserable Older White Woman, unhappy with her lot, but for no good reason. Why wasn’t she grateful that she had a provider husband who also did some housework? (Much was made of the fact that he apparently does childcare when she goes out in the evening to teach yoga, as though the teaching of yoga is an indulgence and not a part-time job.) She should be grateful, was the gist.
But the common ground of why she’s demonised is that she represents liberal modernity, to people across the political spectrum who object to it. The Miserable Older White Woman is a normie, a Hillary not Bernie supporter. An AWFL (“affluent white female liberal”); a Twitter search for that very-online acronym paints a similar picture. Her reaction to Kamala is an enthusiastic yaaas. She posts milquetoast liberal messaging to her Instagram, about Black Lives Mattering and trans rights and abortion rights, but in a cringe way.
There’s a perception, among her detractors, that liberal modernity has given women of this demographic too much ground, which has made them (as well as everyone else) worse off: “Affirmative action, war on poverty, and the modern feminist movement empowered white women. This newly empowered group remade society in a way that harmed men that couldn’t adapt. This new society is not so great and white women begin taking massive amounts of antidepressants.” Men’s rights activists agree with far-Left advocates for the true marginalised: white women are spoiled pseudo-victims. They are society’s actual most powerful, but imagine themselves oppressed.
Does it all come back to Hillary Clinton? Hillary — per her haters — the privileged complainer. Hillary, the embodiment of the dorky, stodgy mom who does not know how to relax. Unlike other ways of medicating away bad moods, antidepressants have exactly zero reputation for being edgy or fun. Much like you know who. Even Hillary’s supporters faulted her, during the 2016 US presidential campaign, for not appearing to have a good time. (Too young, too attractive, and too fun-loving is also a problem, as a certain Finnish prime minister could attest.) The people who wanted to vote Democrat in 2016 but just couldn’t stomach Hillary are, in their rhetoric, very like those who see a stat on older white women’s antidepressant usage and go: “makes sense.”
There’s also cross-ideological consensus that older women have committed the crime of having aged out of hotness. A Reddit theorist suggests older white women are upset because “they’re the most protected and coddled class when they’re young. When their looks fade they stop getting preferential treatment which is hard for most to adjust to.” The thing where “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”, in other words. So, according to their critics, these women used to have too much and are now bitter over a normal existence.
To appear old is, in a sense, to look miserable. Society values women for youth, a fleeting quality, which is enough to make anyone miserable. But there’s also the specific fact that the changes to facial features that happen naturally with age read, on women, as anger. Women sick of being told they seem angry seek Botox — an anti-aging treatment — to remedy the situation. One wonders whether Miserable Older White Women are as miserable as all that, or just look that way, and are disproportionately prescribed antidepressants because their doctors — fallible humans like the rest of us — interpret their ordinary facial expressions as ones of distress. The medical establishment has made stupider mistakes.
Women, particularly housewives, have long been prescribed drugs at a much higher rate than men. One can look at this as society throwing drugs at women to distract them from their situational misery so that they don’t question the situation itself. But one might just as easily see this as a case of men not having access to proper mental health care, or indeed to the drugs that can be used relatively safely to make them less miserable. Are the men who sneer at antidepressant-using women just repulsed, or are they also, perhaps, envious? Do they wish they could be like the women who face somewhat less stigma for going ahead and making an appointment with their GP? Is the Miserable Older White Woman’s crime being miserable, or is it valuing herself enough to do something sensible about it?