The Happiness Index

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers released a paper in May of this year for the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research) about “the paradox of declining female happiness. ” Soon after, op-ed columnist for the New York Times  Ross Douthat wrote a column about the paper titled “Liberated and Unhappy.” And now we have Maureen Dowd, another NYT columnist, weighing in on the same topic in “Blue is the New Black.” (I don’t understand the title, but maybe that’s just me.)

We feminists are used to being blamed for all of society’s ills. In fact, women in general ought to be used to that, especially the ones who are uppity enough to sound off about their complaints. Look at parenting: which parent comes under the most fire when it comes to the success of their children? Apparently all the dad has to do is be there to be effective. (How many times have you heard it said that single-parent–read “mother” –households would be better off if there were a man in the house?) But the mother has to do far more than just be there. And God help her, if she doesn’t fulfill all her roles, she will be blamed for the problems her children have, as well as for all the ills of society.

This could be part of the reason women are unhappy. But does it account for their greater unhappiness which has coincidentally occurred since the feminist revolution? Douthat writes:

“In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of “the problem with no name,” American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women.”

Dowd goes a step further:

“When women stepped into male- dominated realms, they put more demands — and stress — on themselves. If they once judged themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens and dinner parties, now they judge themselves on looks, kids, hubbies, gardens, dinner parties — and grad school, work, office deadlines and meshing a two-career marriage.”

And yet how many of today’s women would want to trade their lives for the lives their mothers lived? And is it really all the choices that are making women unhappy?

I have compiled what I call “The Happiness Index.” What it does is list several factors that can contribute to a sense of well-being (or the reverse) and asks a woman to rate where she stands on a scale from 1 to 5, or “very unhappy, “unhappy,” “neutral (neither happy or unhappy),” “happy” or “very happy.”

  1. If you are in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  2. If you are not in a committed relationship, how do you feel about it?
  3. How do you feel about your marital status (single, divorced, married)? (Indicate what your status is.)
  4. How do you feel about being a parent, if you are one?
  5. If you are not a parent, how do you feel about being childless?
  6. If you have a career outside of your parenting and household duties, how do you feel about it?
  7. How do you feel about the work you do outside of the home?
  8. How do you feel about the work you do inside of the home?
  9. How do you feel about how appreciated you are (by partner, child(ren), friends, employer, co-workers)? (Answer for each category.)
  10. How do you feel about your economic status?
  11. How do you feel about where you live (the neighborhood, city, country or your actual home)?
  12. If you have a religious affiliation or a spiritual life, how happy are you with either/both?
  13. How happy are you with the part politics and government play in your life?
  14. No matter what you do, how do you feel about the amount of autonomy you have? (Do you wish you had more or less?)
  15. What is your attitude about your looks?
  16. Are you happy with how you are aging?
  17. How do you feel about your health?
  18. How do you feel about your sex life?

Now add up your scores. The higher the score, the happier you are (and the lower, the unhappier, of course). Pretty simple.

Blaming–or crediting–the feminist movement alone for your unhappiness or happiness is pointless. It’s not the degree of choice that stresses women out, it’s whether or not they have choices. It’s not what your marital status is that makes you happy or unhappy–it’s how you feel about your status, not to mention the quality of the relationships you do have. In fact, what you make of all these situations is the greatest factor of all.

And then there’s the question of the effect feminism itself has had on all of these areas. To what degree can you blame feminism for your looks, how you’re aging and and your health? Does feminism aid or hinder your parenting or relationship skills? Has feminism made your economic situation better or worse (or are there other factors that have contributed to your economic stability or instability? If you are divorced, has feminism given you more power in the negotiations? Do you think you would have gotten that promotion, salary, admission or career without feminism? Has feminism made it more or less likely that you will be stuck in a low-paying job? Would you have had enough courage to ask for sexual satisfaction or to seek out birth control if this were the ’50s?

I deplore knee-jerk reactions in either direction when it comes to the debate about what feminism has done for women–and men–in our society. What is really called for is a thoughtful consideration of all the factors that can influence happiness levels. The pursuit of happiness is a tricky thing, but important enough to be mentioned in our constitution along with life and liberty. What part does feminism play in your life satisfaction? Only you can decide.

The Female Condom

The female condom is not a new product, but it is definitely unfamiliar to most American women. Its biggest market is in Africa where 45 million were distributed last year. Why isn’t it more popular here?

For one thing, since male condom use is so high in the U.S., women don’t have as great a need to find something similar to protect themselves and are more likely to use conventional female contraceptives.

For another, information about contraceptives, period, has been limited because of the prevalence of abstinence-only sex education. If women don’t know how to use the female condom, they are less likely to purchase them.

Then there is the fact that not even health professionals are familiar enough with the product to recommend it to their patients.

Up until recently, it has been fairly costly: $2 to $5 a condom. That’s much more expensive than other forms of birth control. Now there is a second-generation female condom that is considerably cheaper. (I didn’t find any cheaper ones on the Internet, but that could be because those are first-generation condoms.)

Go here for a how-to video and a chart comparing male and female condoms.

Source article on Care2.com by Laura Sessions Stepp, Senior Media Fellow at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Also check out the National Campaign’s website, SexReally, which “seeks to foster conversations about relationships and sex while addressing gaps in people’s knowledge about fertility and contraceptive use through polling, videos, podcasts and other content.”

Talking About Sex

Want to know how to talk to your kids about sex? It’s very simple, really, any parent can do it: just tell your kids to wait. That’s it. Apparently that’s all they want to hear.

I love what Noble Savage has to say about a PSA on this topic put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Read it here: “Yes, you do need to talk about ‘the parts.'”

Like it? Here’s another Department of Health and Human Services video and a talk sheet for parents that you can find on a governmental web site for parents.

I can’t believe that our taxes are paying for this simplistic drivel.

And to shake things up a bit, here’s an alternative video. I’m not recommending it for Prime Time TV but it is more realistic.

Women Vulnerable When It Comes to Health Insurance

I was surprised, to say the least, when I read these words this morning:

“Amazingly, the majority of insurance companies exclude coverage for child bearing, and many exclude pap smears and mammograms, major reasons women need health care coverage. Over 10 states permit insurance companies to exclude coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives.

“And, at least nine states allow insurance companies to deny applications from victims of domestic violence while numbers vary, women are the vast majority of victims of convicted domestic violence offenders.”

Please refer to the entire article for reasons why women are especially vulnerable when it comes to health care and insurance.

The woman who wrote this article for the Kansas City Star, Jaci Mairs, is an RN and a JD, but her facts were called into question by most of the people who left comments. Most insisted that they had never been without coverage for mammograms and pap smears and that maternity benefits were always offered (albeit as an add-on). No one had anything to say about the exclusion of coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives.

These criticisms don’t negate the fact that women are under-insured and often ignored in the health care debate.

The most obvious obstacles to women receiving adequate (or any) health insurance were the fact that 60% of all women are not in the work force and that when they do work they tend to work part-time or in the kinds of jobs that don’t offer insurance coverage. Some of the comments said that it was a woman’s choice whether or not to work and to work part-time and at low-paying jobs. So I guess that means that these women deserve to not have insurance?? Another comment was that women are usually covered by their husband’s policies. First of all, has this person seen the divorce rate as well as the rate of single-parent households in this country? (Statistics.) And secondly, men are losing their jobs left and right in this economy, so where does that leave their dependents (not to mention themselves)?

Everyone is suffering in this economy, but women are most at risk because they have less say-so and power over what happens to them. Anti-feminists figure that women have gotten all they deserve (good and bad), but the fact that there are anti-feminists proves to me that feminists still have a lot of work cut out for them. If women in general won’t speak up for themselves, then feminists have to do it for them. And one area in which feminists should be most vocal is in the health care debate.

Friday Videos: Sarah Palin Moments

Originally Sarah Palin said that she would not be running for re-election as governor of Alaska. If she indeed is thinking of running for the presidency in 2012, that sounds like a reasonable decision. But then she announces that she is resigning her office effective the end of July, leaving her with less than two years experience in any kind of higher office. I don’t pretend to know what she’s thinking, but I do think that we haven’t heard the last of Sarah Palin. Lest we forget how scary it is that she could have become president, let’s review a few Sarah Palin moments in today’s videos.

As Matt Damon says in the following video, can we really imagine this woman going up against Vladimir Putin?