A study by University of Pennsylvania researchers for the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” declares that women are “less happy after 40 years of feminism.”
I have so many problems with this study. First of all, whoever said the goal of feminism was happiness. I can’t think of another ideology in which the ideal is determined as such. Is the goal of liberalism or socialism, “happiness?” Are there smiley faces in the U.S. Constitution that I’ve missed all of these years?
Feminism, although not a monolithic ideology, at the very least espouses equal rights in the public and private sectors, public being the workplace, health care, government and private being rights relating to human sexuality and the home. What does that have to do with being happy?
Also, and maybe I’m depressed, but the notion of happiness seems to be a modern one that is based on unrealistic expectations promoted by popular and consumer culture. I never look as happy as the people in the commercials when I brush my teeth, put on deodorant, and I’ve definitely never had an orgasm shampooing my hair.
I find joy when I’m with my family and friends. An intimate relationship evokes happy feelings for as long as it lasts or is healthy. I find “flow” when I am doing something interesting at work or am in front of a classroom or writing. The point of feminism is to allow women the access to any prospect. The goal of access is not happiness, it is opportunity.
And I can’t imagine being happier with less opportunity. I don’t think the decline of happiness correlates with the rise of feminism. Rather, the expectations of what exactly makes a person happy have been increasingly fictionalized during the past 40 years, and therefore the brutal reality of what is life causes us to find less joy in what is good and what is beautiful. We take those gifts for granted and throw them to the side of the road until it’s the “right time” or the “perfect” situation. The lack of appreciation for the ordinary and the need to forget the past and move on to the next thing, is what dehappifies, not feminism.
Check out Buddhism. According to their tenets, life is suffering and the goal of life should be to end suffering. Perhaps that’s too extreme for our culture, but even if you go to Western Religion, you will see that God was never happy, nor were his patriarchs. They were “good,” “righteous,” and “blessed.” Happiness and joy are reserved for special occasions like life cycle events and holidays.
This study should not be an indictment on feminism but rather one on the concept of happiness and its exaggerated definition and role in our imbalanced culture.