There has been some recent discussion in the press and the blogosphere of a study by sociologists Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock purporting to show that married women with traditionalist values are more likely to be happy than married women with feminist values. My first thought upon hearing of this study was: "Oh for Pete's sake: of course women with traditionalist views are more likely to be happy. They aren't fighting an uphill battle against ingrained behavioral and cultural patterns. They aren't trying to grab the brass ring of success on masculine terms while simultaneously being held to a standard of good parenting and homemaking that still generally applies only to women. They aren't working full time in a demanding job only to come home to find that they are primarily responsible for all the housework and childcare." Women with feminist values are obviously going to be a tadsy bit frustrated.
My second thought in response to this study is why the heck am I constantly seeing articles that pose this question of whether feminism makes women happy? 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. It smacks of, "Oh, but the slaves are so well-fed and content on the plantation" or "you'll be so much if it happier simply accepting the status quo rather than challenging it." For example, I might very well be happier than I am now if I were a well cared for corgi, or a five-year old child, or someone who has had a lobotomy. But that doesn't mean that becoming a corgi or reverting to childhood or having a lobotomy are acceptable outcomes. I wouldn't wanna be happy if it meant giving up freedom and equality and respect.
Feminism is about freedom and equality of opportunity for women as a class. Happiness, in turn, is up to the individual and there are no guarantees. To require feminism to serve up happiness on a platter for women is to ask of it something that is not asked of any other political or cultural movement or philosophy. And I think it's disingenuous.