There’s a whole battery of stereotypes and misrepresentations of feminism and feminists floating around out there. Some people seem to think we feminists are a bunch of humourless, hairy, man-haters.
So I guess I wasn’t 100% surprised to see the new thing feminism is being blamed for: making women sad.
The US National Bureau of Economic Research came out with findings recently that showed that women’s absolute happiness and happiness relative to men’s has fallen steadily since 1972.
The London Times Online titled their reporting “Women Less Happy after 40 Years of Feminism”.
Yup. Having shown that the unhappiness persists across lines of age, race, class, and marital status, some media argued the research showed that the main factor responsible for the alleged happiness decline was feminism.
The Times article features quotes from Neil Lyndon, author of No More Sex War, who states: “(Feminists) are so determined to insist that women are in a position of inequality and disadvantage, they cannot see that to repair the disadvantages of women you also have to address the inequalities of men.”
I’d absolutely agree that gender roles hurt men, too. But just so you know, Lyndon’s book argues that patriarchy is bogus and that feminism is a totalitarian ideology intent on oppressing men and even genetically engineering men out of the species. Sounds like a real credible source, London Times.
Lyndon also got a whole op-ed in the Daily Mail which includes such gems as: “Well, men might be entitled to retort, welcome to the real world, sweethearts. What you are complaining about is the very same life that you promoted and celebrated when you were swanking around chanting ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’.”
Darn those feminists. They just can’t stop insisting that they’re disadvantaged. Forget the income gap. Forget domestic violence. Forget that the USA ranks 71st in the women in parliament index with 16.8% women’s representation (Canada’s not much better at 48th with 22.1%).
Even the supposedly pro-feminist perspectives The Times presents argue that women are unhappier because their lives are more complex now that they’ve taken on responsibility.
Both views seem to suggest that women have just bitten off more than they can chew with this whole equality thing. If only some white knight would come along and make the hard decisions for us.
But this whole thing is resting on some pretty big assumptions, and there are definitely other ways to look at this thing.
First, the analysis assumes that it’s bad not to be happy all the time. Our culture promotes the idea that if you’re sad, you must be sick, that even moderate sadness is reason enough to start popping anti-depressants.
We should consider whether being down more often is necessarily bad. Newsweek ran a cool article last year called “Happiness: Enough Already” that talks more about this issue and discusses research that shows happier isn’t always better.
And even if you accept happy=good, there’s also an assumption being made that certain things innately make women happy regardless of the era. After all the research conclusions only speculated on what has changed in society since 1972 (feminism), not how women respond to what society tells them they need to be happy.
Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book The Happiness Myth documents in detail how we fail to look at history to see how “the way we do happiness is too constrained by faulty asusmptions.” Hecht convincingly argues that what society tells us we need to be happy varies over time.
Hecht uses the example of how much women are asked to push themselves to fit into a certain idealized body image. Maybe the study authors could’ve considered this as a factor in their results, as well as any number of other changing societal myths.
One letter to the New York Times aruges women may now feel it’s more acceptable to talk about their unhappiness than in previous decades.
At any rate, these are the types of things we should be considering before giving any more credence to people like Mr. Lyndon.
P.S. For more on the negative stereotypes about feminists there’ s a great article here. And a cool excerpt from the video “I was a Teenage Feminist”: