This cartoon struck a chord with me (The New Yorker, 9/21/09).
It was a good many weeks ago that Wharton School researcher Betsey Stevenson published the breathtaking news that women are less happy now than they were in the 1960s. Over the same period, men’s happiness level has actually risen somewhat, albeit not much.
Stevenson and her colleagues drew their conclusions based mostly on tracking responses to the General Social Survey done periodically since the early seventies. According to it, women report lower – and men slightly higher - levels of contentment than in the early 70s.
Well, as no less a personage than Barack Obama has said, “When Mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.” And conversely, when she’s not, no one is. So that means that, far from just leaving well enough alone, Mama’s not happy so we all have to figure out why.
When Stevenson’s study originally came out, it was drowned by a deluge of opining on the subject, including, for whatever it was worth, by me. The frame that most of those pieces placed around the issue looked like some version of “Over the past decades, women have gained so much opportunity, respect, power, wealth, etc., why are they less happy?”
Now, for reasons that escape me, an all-new wave of bloviation on the subject is washing over us. Former Gallup pollster Marcus Buckingham seems about to start a small cottage industry on the subject over at the Huffington Post and even Maureen Dowd’s gotten into the act here (New York Times, 9/20/09).
Of Dowd it must be said that depth of insight is not her forte. Indeed, anything deeper than the average layer of mascara threatens to drown her. Fortunately, in her Sunday piece, she ventures little original, preferring to channel Buckingham.
But even her regurgitations of Buckingham are mostly worthless to explain why women are less happy than they used to be. For example, Buckingham says that early in life women are happier than men, but at some point men pass them on the Halcyon Highway. But was that different 40 years ago? If not, it doesn’t explain Stevenson’s findings. If so, Buckingham doesn’t explain why it changed.
So Dowd tries this:
Add this to the fact that women are hormonally more complicated and biologically more vulnerable. Women are much harder on themselves than men.
Even if true, and she predictably cites no evidence for the proposition, women’s hormones haven’t changed in 40 years, but women’s contentment level has. So that’s strike two.
Strike three (and maybe four and five) comes when Buckingham explains, and Dowd unquestioningly repeats, that “greater prosperity has made men happier.” His evidence? Apparently none. But more to the point, if greater prosperity has made men happier, why hasn’t it done the same for women?
After all, women’s wealth, power and personal autonomy have increased at least as much as men’s since the early 70s, due to their greater workplace involvement and educations. So why not a corresponding change in attitudes? Neither Buckingham nor Dowd explains.
What they also don’t explain is that, since about 1973, real wages have been essentially flat in the United States. In other words, average Americans, have seen no increase in prosperity whatsoever. So the “greater prosperity” Buckingham refers to is a mirage for all but the far upper end of the socio-economic scale, i.e. people like Maureen Dowd and Marcus Buckingham. For the average American, it just hasn’t happened.
But there’s one thing that none of the opiners on why Mama’s not happy has mentioned. It’s why I posted the cartoon at the first of this piece. One of the things that’s happened over the past 40 years is that feminism has become an important force in our national dialogue about almost everything. And an important part of feminism’s core curriculum is that women are unhappy. According to feminism, women are mad, scared and victimized, and rarely are they anything but.
It wouldn’t be so bad if feminists confined themselves to issues and situations in which women really are those things, but they don’t. Regardless of how good the news is for women, in the feminist telling, it’s always bad. Frequently enough, when the news is good, they simply make up some bad news. Examples are legion.
Example: Back in February, when the news was reporting that 80% of job losses had been suffered by men and that women had actually gained a few jobs, feminist economists Judy Patrick and Surina Khan wrote in Women’s eNews that it was all an illusion. It was actually women who were losing jobs faster than men. How’d they figure that? They didn’t explain.
Example: Some 58% of undergraduate enrollees are now women. But according to feminist Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, women are “segregated” into majors that lead to low-paying jobs. Interpreting the fact that 58% of undergraduates are women as in some way bad for women just might win Bobbitt-Zeher a gold medal in the “poor me” olympics.
Example: Violent crime has been falling since about 1993, but feminists routinely insist that that too is an illusion. Countless incidents of violence against women are simply unknown, they tell us. How they know about them if they’re unknown, they don’t say, but there it is. For feminists, greater women’s safety is something to be hidden if possible and denied if necessary.
Example: When a study of college women found that about 2% reported having been sexually assaulted during their college years, feminists were shocked. That figure was not nearly high enough for their liking, so they did another survey designed to jack up the rates of sexual assault by defining the term in heretofore unimagined ways. Successful, they then trumpeted the “finding” that 24% of women are sexually assaulted during their four years of college. They weren’t about to allow women to think they might actually be safe.
That last one has been replicated on a small scale recently in the Hofstra false rape allegations by Danmell Ndonye against five men. Ndonye has recanted, saying the sex was consensual, but feminists at the blog Feministing are having none of it. To Ndonye they say “yes you were raped, whether you know it or not.” Again, feminists are bound and determined that she had it worse than she herself believes.
I could go on almost indefinitely, but the point is this: feminism has become a major force in our public discourse over the past 40 years. One of its most prominent messages is that things are never good for women. Indeed, even when, by all objective standards, they are good, feminists have refused to acknowledge the fact.
So maybe women have gotten the message. Maybe women have listened to and read feminist messages and absorbed the ideas that they’re overworked, underpaid, underappreciated and in constant danger. Maybe it’s one of the “successes” of feminism that women are less happy than they used to be.