Before we start, I should clarify that I’m not sure when I’ve ever been in a state of happiness. I mean, I’ve felt happy and experienced happiness but there was never a prolonged phase where I genuinely felt happy, joyous, or good in the same way that I’ve experienced long phases of depression or anger. As I talk about (all the damn time) I’ve through varying stages of depression for at least the past 10 years and it’s been getting progressively worse as I age and as my life becomes more complex. Happiness is relative to your mental state and where you are in life. What makes kids happy does not necessarily make adults happy, what makes you happy might not be what makes anyone else happy.
So when I say that feminism destroyed my happiness, I’m talking about the potential happiness I could have had if my brain had its shit figured out as well as the happiness I could be enjoying now if I wasn’t so preoccupied with the injustices of the world. Theoretical emotions are, indeed, a sticky wicket but I’m boasting super high levels of self awareness so I trust myself to get there.
I’m going to be unhappy forever because I woke the fuck up. The minute I started understanding the inequalities of society in regard to women, I opened myself up to criticizing all of it.
I know I would be happier not knowing any of it, and that I could go on with my life just living on the surface. Sure, I’d learn things and they’d bother me but then I could drown out the bad feelings with alcohol. We live lives based on distractions. When we’re not working, we’re bombarded with sports and entertainment. We use reality tv to distract us from our own lives. We’ve got netflix to fill the voids in our day. Some of us rely on books and develop a false sense of superiority because of it. The point is that it’s all just a big distraction to keep us from questioning anything. And the truth beyond that is that we distract ourselves because we don’t want to feel bad. We know on a deeper level that there are so many problems happening globally, but if we don’t want to think about them. Distractions make us emotionally numb and we like it that way. And I don’t particularly think it’s a bad thing to an extent. If we focused on all the problems all the time we’d be nervous wrecks, but that doesn’t mean that we should ignore them completely.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World the characters are living in a dystopian future where people are grown like crops and are conditioned from birth to follow a specific social structure. There are Alphas, an all-male group of authority figures who are in charge of it all and decide how things are run. The next group are Betas, which are men and women who serve the state and are intellectual. The Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are the lower castes and are chemically and physically conditioned to be less intelligent and subservient. People in this world are expected to live pleasant lives that require no thought or feelings. A hallucinogenic drug called Soma is readily available for everyone, so that whenever they might start to feel any emotions or have troublesome thoughts they use the drug to distract them from it. Use of the drug comes from governmental and societal pressure. Everything is structured so that people don’t feel the need to deviate.
The novel changes when the protagonist visits a reservation in America and meet John and his mother Linda. Linda came from the same land but got pregnant while on vacation at the reservation and stayed there because of her shame. Her son John learned to read only through a scientific manual and the collected works of Shakespeare, which he uses to express his emotions. John and Linda return with the protagonist and John is very celebrated at first but then becomes critical at what he sees as an empty society. He has a full range of emotions that the members of the society had never experienced and he challenges the system. At the climax of the novel John, the protagonist, and another character are brought to the Controller and are exiled for being non-conformists. The Controller explains to John why the system was created and why there was a need for a caste system and social control which John rejects outright. The Controller tells John that he has “the right to be unhappy.”
More stuff happens at the end and I definitely recommend reading it, but the line about the right to be unhappy is what inspired this post.
When I first read the book I was in high school and an idiot. Reading it as an adult is a completely different experience because I know so much more about our social structure and our system and because I learned it was okay to question it.
That line in particular also reminds me of arguments against feminism. Phyllis Schlafly argued that women who worked outside of the home were unhappy women because they are unfulfilled-that happiness and fulfillment could only come from being a wife and mother. She evokes an image of a 1950s housewife who smiles as she removes her husband’s shoes after work and sings as she cleans her home. Housewives were expected to be happy because they weren’t given the tools to be unhappy. They were expected to be subservient and obedient to their husbands because their husbands ensured their happiness by providing for them. She distracts herself with her home and family, but what does she have when there are no distractions? Betty Friedan addressed this in The Feminine Mystique after learning how many housewives were depressed from having no personal purpose and from being unfulfilled by their lives (which Schlafly and other anti-feminists vehemently ignored.)
Ultimately, happiness on it’s own means nothing. Happiness can only be experienced in comparison to every other emotion. You would not understand happiness if you had not first understood what it meant to be unhappy.
I’m unhappy about a lot of things, some of which are personal and many are because of things outside of my control. This study by the University of Tennessee explains the reasons why women become angry and that they are different than the reasons men become angry. Women become angry from feelings of powerlessness, injustice, and other people’s irresponsibility.
Those three things are what we deal with every day and why I am and always will be unhappy.
I hate not being trusted with governance over my own body, that an 80% male congress and senate makes decisions about what goes in and out of my vagina.
I resent being told what to do, how to act, and how I should feel. I resent the expectation that I should want to get married or have children despite my many vocal objections. I’m angry and I’m going to stay angry as long as there’s a societal pressure for me to do anything based on my gender. We should be able to live the way we want and be free to make our own choices.
I can never be happy knowing the extent of damage done by our society to the planet, that the damage will not stop until there’s nothing left, and that money is valued more than human lives and dignity. New problems arise everyday and there’s nothing I can personally do to fix any of it. It’s infuriating and exhausting.
I’m angry that I have to participate in a system I oppose just to stay alive. I hate that Americans are worked to death and have no life to show for it, that people who try to put themselves before their work are punished for it, and that people are only valued by how much they produce. People should be valued because they are people.
I hate institutionalized racism and the cycle of poverty and the system that’s designed to keep people subordinated.
I hate that big businesses affect every aspect of our lives without any transparency like how the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the negative effects of sugar and point blame to the hazards of fat which set Americans on an extremely unhealthy course for years resulting in diet culture, high obesity rates, a surge in diabetes and life threatening illnesses all because the sugar industry wanted to make more money.
Until I can forget all of these problems I will not be content. I will not be happy until the system that holds this all in place is eradicated, which will be long after I’m dead.
Seeing positive change, seeing people fight back, is what stops me from going insane. They are small glimmers of hope that tell me we’re going in the right direction.