The rightwing noise machine is all a twitter with the happy news that feminism has made women unhappy. At least this is the message they’re taking from a recent study that showed an increase in feminine misery since 1972.
Barbara Ehrenreich does a masterful job of deconstructing both the survey and the machine’s reaction to it. The only thing she fails to mention is the absurdity of the premises that went into the study.
The very question, itself—are women happier—reflects our national happiness fetish. This fetish is grounded on the assumption that those who are members of the white middleclass are entitled to happiness as a birthright. The fetish took hold in the postwar years as America experienced a momentary glow of prosperity because ours was the world’s only industrial nation that hadn’t been blown into oblivion. It was the child of a bored prosperity coupled with an atomized individualism that came to equate happiness with the amount of stuff one could own.
Increasingly, the “happiness of stuff” is being reinforced by SSRIs. There is a Spanish proverb that gets it right: “There is no happiness, only moments of happiness.”
The premise undergirding the right’s conclusion is even more absurd—that feminism failed because the freedom it gave rise to made women unhappy so, therefore, they should return to the happiness they knew as domestic drones.
Ignoring the fact that a statistical relationship is not a causal one, the idea that freedom is a failure if it doesn’t make one happy is bullshit.
Freedom is a pain in the ass! There is no skipping through La-La Land or the Elysian Fields. Rather, freedom demands a clarity of vision that can be painful because it refuses to find comfort in the myths and happy talk that make up so much of our mass media. It pops pipe dreams and makes hamburger of sacred cows. And it can piss people off.
It is a sign our collective decadence that we have come to equate freedom with happiness or, in the words of our pop psychologists, self actualization, which is a euphuism for instant gratification. Equally implicit in the right’s reaction is the assumption that there is happiness in servitude because one knows one’s place. They mistake numbness for happiness.
The last thing our oligarchs can afford is a free society. A free society is a thinking society, and a thinking society wouldn’t stand for the pabulum our leaders try to palm off as “freedom.”