11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Ambiguity in Women's Lives

A good friend revealed to me recently that when she first got married, she found herself doing all sorts of "Little Miss Homemaker things." She was ironing her husband's shirts, making him lunch, and waiting for him to come home at the end of the day. "I have never ironed in my life!" she said. "I don't know what came over me." This was a woman who had been on her own for 15 years, was successful in her career, and was what most would call an "independent woman."

Something shifted though when she got married. She began to lose her sense of independence and started to crave being protected and cared for by her husband. She started losing focus on her career, would often second-guess her decisions, and felt her ambition dwindling.

On September 17, Arianna Huffington wrote a blog entitled, "The Sad Shocking Truth About How Women Are Feeling." She was responding to a series of studies conducted by The General Social Survey that showed women are becoming more and more unhappy.

Arianna says: "When you think about all that has happened over the last four decades -- with women securing greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence, and more money -- the decline in our collective state of mind seems to defy logic, and raises the vexing question: What in the world is going on?"

Although there is some controversy over the studies, the issues being raised are important ones. For example, last week Maureen Dowd in The New York Times wrote a piece titled, "Blue Is the New Black." In it she says: "When women stepped into male-dominated realms, they put more demands -- and stress -- on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties -- and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage."

I think it's hard to argue against the idea that the expansion of women's roles has brought on more stress for women due to the shear demand of responsibility. Add this to what Maureen Dowd talks about -- a wider audience of judgment (women, don't we all want to be perfect?). What's missing here is a mention of perhaps a deeper stress that comes from an ambiguity that certain psychologists and sociologists believe lies within women. Hint: Think of my friend above.

Ever hear of the Cinderella Complex?

Colette Dowling, New York psychotherapist and author of The Cinderella Complex, says that women have a deeply embedded wish to be taken care of and "saved." She says in her bestseller book: "We may not always recognize it ... but it exists within us all, emerging when we least expect it, permeating our dreams, dampening our ambitions." Ms. Dowling suggests that this wish goes back to the days of cave living, when man's greater physical strength was needed to protect mothers and children from the wild -- but, she says, such a wish is no longer appropriate or constructive.

Or is it?

Although Ms. Dowling published her book more than 25 years ago, these questions apply today. Is it possible for women today to be independent, ambitious, successful career women and at the same time still be taken care of and "protected" by a partner? Or is our secret need to be "saved and protected" sabotaging our ambitions and fulfillment as successful, career women?

What do you think?

Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.