We’ve invited author Jill Filipovic to join us in discussing her book The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness and exploring her journey writing it in 2017, her thoughts on the feminist movement since then and much more!
As Jill expresses in her book, men have long been able to "have it all" because of free female labor, while the bar of achievement for women has only gotten higher. Never before have women at every economic level had to work so much. Never before have the standards of feminine perfection been so high. And never before have the requirements for being a "good mother" been so extreme.
Together with Jill, we explores what might change if women’s happiness were at the centre of society’s political battles and our policy-making.
Q: While writing The H-Spot, you spoke with women from all different backgrounds and life experiences. What did you find was the greatest obstacle to women’s happiness?
A: Overwhelmingly, the biggest obstacle was a combination of too little time, too few resources, too many demands, and too little support. The women I talked to overwhelmingly enjoyed their work; many found it brought purpose and meaning to their lives, while others found that getting their own paycheck was freeing. The women I talked to also overwhelmingly adored their children, partners, friends, and communities -- the people they chose to surround themselves with. But they often felt like there just wasn't enough time to do all they wanted. Many felt over-worked and under-valued, stretched thin between the demands of family, work, friends, community, and life. And many pointed to basic policy solutions that would make a huge difference, from universal childcare to paid parental leave to laws mandating regular work hours to affordable housing -- all things that many other countries are already offering, but that US largely does not.
Q: I’m curious if you feel anything has changed, whether for better or for worse, since you wrote The H-spot in 2017. How do you feel new policies or societal shifts have affected the goal of women’s happiness?
A: So much has changed. The book came out in May of 2017, which means I was writing it in the years before that -- and specifically in 2016, when I, like most Americans, believed we were about to elect our first female president. That didn't happen, and Hillary Clinton's loss to an accused sexual assailant and misogynist braggart with no political experience highlighted just how far America hasn't come when it comes to women and power. Writing the book, I was thinking of change as linear, and as one foot in front of the other. As it was coming out, I learned that the old cliche of "one step forward, two steps back" is probably truer.
But as is often the case, change can be reactive, and there was a big reaction to Trump's election. The Women's March was one early sign that American women were angry and dismayed. The #MeToo movement that followed continues to be a powerful force, not just for holding men accountable, but for questioning the biases and motivations of the men who tell our stories -- the men of #MeToo have included the men who make the movies we watch, men who dictate our news, men who make our laws. That movement has women not just saying "I've also been harassed," but asking what we're missing when our culture's story-tellers and power-brokers are also people who do not respect women.
That's tremendously powerful, and it relates to feminist happiness, too. A lot of women realized they couldn't take linear progress for granted, and are seizing on this particular moment to try to change laws and policies for the better. It's really heartening to me to see such a huge push for universal childcare, for example -- a push happening thanks to the many progressive women who were elected partly in response to Trump's win. There are many more women in political office now than even a few years ago, and they aren't sitting around waiting their turn; they're seizing this moment and pushing for the outcomes they want, which benefit so many of us.
Q: I’ love to talk about how the pursuit of happiness is a feminist goal? Can you share more about the role you see happiness playing in the feminist movement.
A: When I was coming up with the idea for this book, I started by asking myself what I thought the ultimate goal of the feminist movement is. The easy answer is "equality," and that's true. But equality with who -- men? Yes of course feminists want equality with men, but that's a pretty limited goal, and aims for equality in cultural, political, and legal systems that were created by men largely for the benefit of men. I'm unconvinced that can ever happen. Instead, I'm interested in what the world would look like if women had equal say in shaping our laws, cultures, policies and institutions. And if that happened, what would be the goal? I think it has to be what we're all here for: Happiness. And I don't mean happiness in terms of feeling happy every single moment of every single day of one's life. I mean "happiness" in the Aristotelian sense, as in living a good life -- a life that has purpose and meaning, a life that is rich in experience and connection, a life in which you get to chart your own course instead of following a path pre-determined by your sex, race, class, and place. Those broader freedoms have to be the ultimate feminist goal. And because we are human beings organized into a society with formal rules, informal social expectations, deeply-held cultural norms and taboos and so on, it's not enough to just say, "go forth, women, and chart your own course." We have to change the man-made policies that so often constrain women's freedoms, and shift the cultural norms and expectations that do the same.
Q: What are some actionable steps and ways you feel we can best celebrate Women’s Equality Day and push for necessary change.
A: The most important thing to do is to move being the feel-good cheerleading and into the realm of policy and tangible action. Pay attention to politics, and participate -- learn about what various candidates stand for, vote in elections, decide which policies are the most important to you and advocate for them. Too many of us check out of politics because it's too contentious or confusing, or because we think we aren't informed enough. So get informed, and start to connect the dots between policy and your own life.
It's also always a good idea to pay, promote, and amplify other women whose work you believe in. The more of us there are in every field and in every area of life, the better we'll all be. So champion the women around you and the women you admire.
And finally, expect more of men. Feminism is pretty great for men, too -- breaking down traditional gender roles gives men more freedom to be who they want to be instead of being trapped in a set of traditionally male expectations (breadwinning, stoicism, toughness). But we need men to feel equally as invested in this work. Women have done a pretty bang-up job of breaking barriers. We've moved into traditionally male spaces, from college campuses to workplaces. Most of us work for pay. We go to college and graduate school at higher rates than men. Women have changed a whole lot in the past 100, 50, and even 20 years. But men have been slower to shift. It's true that men do more around the house and more to care for their kids than they did a generation or two ago, but women still do much, much more in the home, even as we're also doing much, much more outside of it than ever before. We need men to step into traditionally "feminine" roles too, caring for others, organizing family and workplace tasks, and being emotionally available and competent. And more women should understand that men are plenty capable of doing all of the things we do -- and shouldn't accept less.