Feminism Is a Pursuit of Happiness

Article excerpt

Not long ago a group of writers decided to publish a book of essays we called: "Feminism Made Me Happy." It was an in-your-face title, a deliberate attempt to counter the narrative we all knew by heart. The one that kept describing how the womenAEs movement had left us stressed out, discontented, wrenched from home, hearth and motherhood to struggle and fail at doing it all.

Life and writers being what they are, we never did the book u excuse me, we havenAEt yet done the book! u but we have had some terrific lunches. Now I think we are due for another one because we are in the midst of another dust-up over research published under the (too) provocative headline: "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness."

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, partners in marriage and research, dove into the data and came up with numbers suggesting a decline in womenAEs happiness or, to be more precise, in their "self-reported subjective well-being." In 1972, women were four points more likely than men to describe themselves as "very happy." Today they are one point less likely than men to check that box.

This is hardly proof of a mass depression, but the story fueled the predictable debates on Web sites and talk shows.

Stevenson and Wolfers should have known they were walking into this propeller when they linked the womenAEs movement and happiness. The paradox, as this pair framed it, was that despite all the improvement in womenAEs lives over the last 35 years, women werenAEt "self-reporting" greater happiness.

Our lunch group could have warned the researchers against one sentence that truly raised hackles. "As womenAEs expectations move into alignment with their experiences," they speculate, "this decline in happiness may reverse." Oh goody, lower your expectations and get happy, gals?

In fairness, the researchers didnAEt pin the decline in happiness u oops, "self-reported subjective well-being" u on any specific ideology or social change. …