Why We Can’t Sleep Book Summary - Why We Can’t Sleep Book explained in key points
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Why We Can’t Sleep summary

Ada Calhoun

Women’s New Midlife Crisis

3.7 (61 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

'Why We Can't Sleep' by Ada Calhoun investigates why Gen X women born between 1965 and 1980 experience a midlife crisis that previous generations have not. It examines the societal, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to their sleeplessness, anxiety, and burnout.

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    Why We Can’t Sleep
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    Generation X women were told they could achieve anything – but the dream didn’t measure up to reality.

    Every girl who grew up in America in the 1980s is familiar with the Enjoli perfume ad. It showed a voraciously energetic blonde woman exchanging a smart business suit for some homey clothes while she cooks dinner for her family, then transitioning into a femme fatale in a cocktail dress poised to seduce her husband. And she seemed to retain her buoyant energy throughout!

    This ad encapsulates the dream of “having it all” that American women born into Generation X grew up with, a promise that women can do and be anything. They didn’t have to be nurses; they could be doctors instead. They didn’t have to settle for being a secretary when they could be the CEO.

    This promise was tremendously exciting, and showed the progress of second-wave feminists. These women achieved wins like passing the federal law Title IX in 1972, which proclaimed that girls could no longer be discriminated against in federally-funded educational programs.

    But these new possibilities also came with tremendous pressure. The promise that girls could do everything morphed into an imperative. Girls must do everything. Now that women had these freedoms, there was theoretically nothing stopping them achieving their dreams except a lack of imagination or unwillingness to put in the work.

    However, women born into Generation X have faced structural barriers to achieving their ambitions that have nothing to do with their individual qualities or drive. For one thing, they grew up through successive recessions which caused economic precarity and job insecurity, meaning that women who grew up in this generation are often saddled with enormous amounts of debt. For another thing, gender roles haven’t changed to mirror new possibilities that women have in the workplace. 

    Saying that women are free to do anything while ignoring the enormous challenges they face creates unrealistic expectations. It also creates a culture of shame. Many women raised in this era have internalized the narrative that their lives are full of endless possibilities. They blame themselves when they aren’t able to achieve everything they’d hoped for, much less live up to the Enjoli perfume role model they grew up with.

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    What is Why We Can’t Sleep about?

    Why We Can’t Sleep (2020) explores the question of why American women from Generation X are experiencing a midlife crisis. These women were sold the story that nothing was stopping them from achieving their wildest dreams, when in reality they’ve faced enormous challenges to get ahead. Not only did they graduate into a disastrous job market, they also face gender and age discrimination and all too often end up having to care for young children and elderly parents simultaneously. Everything they’ve achieved has been against enormous odds. 

    Why We Can’t Sleep Review

    Why We Can’t Sleep (2020) explores the challenges that Gen X women face in midlife and offers valuable insights on how to navigate and overcome them. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With insightful analysis of social and economic factors, it sheds light on the unique struggles and pressures experienced by Gen X women.
    • The book offers practical solutions and suggestions for finding fulfillment and living a balanced life amidst the demands of work, family, and personal aspirations.
    • Through compelling stories and personal anecdotes, the book captures the experiences and emotions of Gen X women in a relatable way, making it both engaging and thought-provoking.

    Who should read Why We Can’t Sleep?

    • Women born between 1965 and 1980 seeking affirmation for their exhaustion
    • People interested in how parenting has changed over generations
    • Economists interested in the human toll of stock market crashes

    About the Author

    Ada Calhoun is the New York Times bestselling author of Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give and St Marks is Dead. Calhoun’s national news reporting has won multiple awards, and she is a regular contributor to prestigious publications like the New Yorker and the Atlantic. She also teaches journalism and creative writing.

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    Why We Can’t Sleep FAQs 

    What is the main message of Why We Can’t Sleep?

    The main message of Why We Can’t Sleep explores the challenges and complexities of women's midlife experiences.

    How long does it take to read Why We Can’t Sleep?

    The reading time for Why We Can’t Sleep varies depending on the reader. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Why We Can’t Sleep a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Why We Can’t Sleep is a valuable read for anyone interested in understanding the pressures and struggles faced by women in midlife.

    Who is the author of Why We Can’t Sleep?

    The author of Why We Can’t Sleep is Ada Calhoun.

    What to read after Why We Can’t Sleep?

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