Don’t be a Feminist; Be Happy!

A recent Slate article reported with some hand-wringing that “women who strongly identify as progressive—the 15 percent who agree most with feminist ideals—have a harder time being happy than their peers.” Oh, woe is we. I’m tempted to simply snark, “I think we covered this ground in The Matrix” and leave it at that, but I’ll give it a little time.

The Happy Feminist wisely points out that it’s the wrong question.

We never see articles that talk about whether democracy will make the Iraqis happy or whether equal rights for African-Americans have made them happy or whether our civil liberties make us Americans happy. I don't think those who fought the American Revolution said to themselves, "Wouldn't we be happier if we simply accepted taxation without representation rather than fighting this rather unpleasant war?"

To frame the effectiveness of feminism in terms of whether it makes women happy is just one more way of patronizing women.
This is all true. But even though it’s certainly the wrong question, it’s a distinctly American one. We say that money can’t buy happiness, but no one can accuse us of not bloody trying! Happy Birthday—here are some presents! Happy Holidays—here are some more presents! Feeling down? Buy some happy pills! Need a vacation? Heck—the Happiest Place on Earth is right here on our shores! We’re pathologically determined to be happy, and if you’re not…well, what the hell is wrong with you?

There are those people who can’t imagine that to be an American can be anything but being happy. (These tend to be people for whom the term “ignorance is bliss” was coined, people who will ignore all sorts of ugliness—including and especially their own struggles—because if you chant “USA! USA!” while secretly harboring doubts about the totality of your happiness, it makes the baby Jesus cry.) I’ve had conversations with Americans who assert something quite close to an obligation to be happy. Why, it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence!

One might note that the clause to which they are referring is the guarantee to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Not happiness, but its pursuit. Therein lies the key to the whole feminism conundrum. Feminism is the pursuit of equality, the push for an egalitarianism that would, in its way, be a very pleasant kind of happiness. And that makes it quite decidedly American, perhaps more so than ignoring the necessity of struggle implicit in our framers’ words.

In truth, if Americans did a little less worrying about what makes us happy, and paid a bit more attention to those other two concepts, we’d probably all find happiness more readily within our collective reach. Sometimes being stuck in the muck is unpleasant, but there’s something to be said for the personal satisfaction derived of the social conscience that empathy fuels. The problem is that too many of us who express—and maybe even genuinely find—happiness in this country, do it at the expense of the happiness of others.

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