Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh Woe is Feminism!

Maybe you heard about this ground-breaking study (pdf) which has found that since 1972 women have become progressively unhappier. See! See! the ant-feminist crowd is crowing. We told you so! Feminism is sooooo bad for the womens! Girls just want to stay home!

Except, of course, as Barbara Ehrenreich (among others who have looked at the study) points out in this column, well, no.

First, the "progressively unhappier" indications aren't that strong. White women are one point more likely to say they're unhappy in 2006 than white men in 2006, compared with the same groups in 1972 -- and, btw, this holds true for all groups of women/men. That is, stay-at-home moms vs working moms vs childfree women, etc. All equally happy/unhappy. So. Make of that what you will.

And: suicide has plummetted for women from 1972 to 2006, while staying stable for men, which, as Ehrenreich says, and as the study itself admits, would seem to be a more reliable measure of misery/unhappiness. Women were unhappy enough in 1972 that they were eating their guns. Not now. Isn't that a better measure of happiness than what box they tick off on a form?

And then there is this:

Another distracting little data point that no one, including the authors, seems to have much to say about is that while "women" have been getting marginally sadder, black women have been getting happier and happier. To quote the authors: "... happiness has trended quite strongly upward for both female and male African Americans. ... Indeed, the point estimates suggest that well-being may have risen more strongly for black women than for black men.

But you can see why, ah, certain groups and blogs are ignoring that data point. It's not like brown women are real people, is it?

Further: these are self-reported trends in happiness. That is, these surveys asked the women and men themselves how happy they were. Well, crap. There's this thing, see, called socialization. Women get socialized, and got socialized even more strongly back in the 1960-1970's than we do now, to claim to be happy even when we weren't.

I still remember my second grade teacher snapping at me in class, I mean just yelling at me, furiously, "Why don't you ever smile? Smile."

I need not tell you that she never said this to any little boys in class.

And what woman here has not been instructed, by some random man on the street, that we need to smile? Or scolded because we aren't smiling?

So: it's just barely possibly that the women in 1972, 1978, 1980, I'm just saying, were over-reporting their happiness; that women since then have become more able to report their actual feelings about how things are (kind of the way men do?) -- just maybe?


Bardiac said...

I'm unhappy that we haven't overthrown the patriarchy yet. But I'm working on it!

Anonymous said...

"And what woman here has not been instructed, by some random man on the street, that we need to smile? Or scolded because we aren't smiling?"

Or, as a stranger (male) told me as I handed his fast food out the window, "If you don't smile, your legs will grow together". Granted, at the time I was incredibly naive, and missed his point completely, but in retrospect....


delagar said...

Gah! That tops my favorite comment ("Smile, b*tch!" yelled from a pickup.)

Julianna said...

People (almost always random men on the street) stopped ordering me to "smile" about the time I reached middle age.

Obviously women need to set men straight that this really pisses us off, where men may very well see it as an attempt to make friendly contact, or more likely an attempt to get us to better decorate their view. This is completely misguided and they must be stopped.