Naomi Wolf: What Price Happiness?

Naomi Wolf. Photo: David Shankbone (CC)

Naomi Wolf. Photo: David Shankbone (CC)

Are women really less happy now than they were 40 years ago? Naomi Wolf stirs up the debate, writing at More:

In September 2009, Marcus Buckingham—a motivational speaker and trainer who now claims the improbable job title of “the world’s leading expert in personal strengths”—rolled out Find Your Strongest Life: What the Happiest and Most Successful Women Do Differently. His headline? Women have become less happy in the past 40 years. Unstated but clear: What happened 40 years ago is that feminism reappeared on the scene.

Buckingham’s announcement immediately stirred a press sensation. His findings were featured on the home page of the Huffington Post and worried over by Maureen Dowd on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Blogs, newsmagazines and daytime talk shows all agonized over the notion that feminism—all that freedom, all those choices!—was making women sadder. The data seemed to touch that ever-sensitive nerve: Could feminism be, at its essence, bad—not just for men, but for women themselves?

If, like me, you are over 40, you’ve seen this very same media firestorm a couple of times now in your adult life. Remember the giant 1986 feeding frenzy when Newsweek misread data and warned that an educated woman of a certain age was more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married? An entire book—Susan Faludi’s Backlash—was devoted to showing the holes in that interpretation of the research, and to shooting down the various urban legends that were cropping up at the time to “prove” that emancipation made women into lonely, downbeat losers.

But here we are again, as the media swallow whole a new set of data points asserting that something fundamental about feminism is making women—fill in the blank: crazy, solitary or, this time around, simply miserable.

Did women in fact tell the researchers that they are sadder, gloomier, less happy? Not exactly. One of the studies Buckingham cites—the General Social Survey, which has tracked American trends since 1972—does ask “How happy are you?” But Buckingham’s conclusions are also based on answers to more specific questions in the GSS that ask women about satisfaction, which is quite different. The wording of one, for example, was “How satisfied are you”—with your job, your marriage, your children.

Now, if 40 years of the women’s movement have done anything definite, they have taught women to be less “satisfied,” if what that means is less complacent…

[continues at More]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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12 Comments on "Naomi Wolf: What Price Happiness?"

  1. malatesting123 | Apr 21, 2010 at 11:09 am |

    This anti-feminist shit is so fucking tired. The agenda of those who put forth such asinine hypotheses is generally very clear, and its ridiculous. Just more retard ammunition for the right wingers and religious nuts.

    • Isn't feminist shit tired too?

      • brentskinner5 | Apr 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm |


      • The only thing that's tiring about feminism is that for some people (I'm looking at you, Phyllis Schlafly and Rush “Feminazi” Limbaugh), feminism is still considered “radical”.

        Yeah, feminism is the radical notion that women are humans too. Boo! Scaaaary!

        Then again, maybe such an idea IS scary for self-hating women, and tiny-penised misogynists.

        • Well suggesting, because I asked “Isn't feminist shit tired too?”, that I'm scared of the notion that women are humans does seem like a radical conclusion to reach, but there might be some bases for it in the case of Schlafly and Limbaugh. I've never heard of the former and I don't listen to the latter, so I don't know who I'm being lumped in with.

  2. Buckingham would have been on to something if he had specified that convincing women to seek fulfillment in the rat race was a scam.

  3. How long before Rush Limbaugh frantically masturbates to this Buckingham cat's crapfest live on the air? Besides…I think what they forget to mention is that if you ran a happiness index between 1970 and 2010 for everybody, the curve for all genders and age groups, and even most nationalities would be downwards.

    A crass, commercial, consumerism driven lifestyle plagued by perpetual media distortions of real and perceived threats of war, famine, pestilence and death looming over your shoulder while your wages shrink, opportunities dwindle and security of employment becomes a vague echo of the past.

    Yeah…it ain't just the gals who are less than thrilled. If a reset button could take us back to 1970, I'd slam it down without a moments hesitation…

    • voxmagi: “How long before Rush Limbaugh frantically masturbates to this Buckingham cat's crapfest live on the air?”

      My bet is 3 minutes.

  4. Dr. Prof. Holierthanthou | Apr 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm |

    Women are less happy today for the same reason every group is less happy today. This includes white males and mix-raced quadriplegic lesbian animal rights activists. We've been sold out by “our” parties. Time to stop thinking we are all separate special human beings, and realize we are all the same star dust.

    • Wasn't that star dust made up of a shit load of individual particles?

      And why is this the time to stop thinking we're separate, as apposed to any other time? What makes this time period special, other than the fact that you're living in it?

  5. Hadrian999 | Apr 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm |

    people need to stop defining themselves by racial/gender based roles and be who they want to be and stop bitching when things don't turn out like some idealized story book, take control of your existence and do
    what you can with it.

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