Marcus Buckingham sparked a media furor (his obvious intention) with his provocate Huffington Post squib, “What’s Happening to Women’s Happiness?” Buckingham, who is not a professional social scientist and has no evident academic credentials, claims that women have become less happy than men since the feminist movement began. As of this moment, 1536 people have commented on his original post, and countless pundits have weighed in on their own platforms.
The post is an obvious ploy to sell his new book, being released next month. His game is to try to convince women that they have a problem, so that they’ll have to buy his book. Buckingham wants us to believe that he alone knows how to “solve a problem like Maria.” Or Ann. Or Tanya. Or [insert your name here].
So I’ll add my own immediate thoughts.
First. I don’t take a few broad brushstrokes of cobbled-together data as the gospel truth. Until I read and analyze those studies (and the other studies in the field) myself, I don’t trust that they are accurate. You shouldn’t trust that they’re accurate, either. I see too many specious statistics and faulty interpretations parading around as gender analysis these days. In fact, I’d go so far to say that gender has become the cheap-and-easy way for third-rate thinkers (if they’re thinkers at all) to boost their twitter rankings. Or, in this case, bestseller status.
Second. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that these surveys are accurate. What, then, is the correct question to ask about them? Buckingham implicitly asks: What’s wrong with women? Listen to this again. Where have you heard it before, in so many different places in so many different ways: WHAT’S WRONG WITH WOMEN? Men have been asking this central question since the dawn of patriarchy. Henry Higgins asked it most famously, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Women have not only failed to be powerful like men and successful like men. Now they fail to be happy like men.
Third. Just because the timeframe of the survey coincides with the women’s movement does not mean there is any causal relationship between the two. Mistaking (or coercing) correlation for causation is the first sign of a rank amateur. This is someone who wants to lay down two twigs on the ground alongside each other and declare a fire. This is not someone you can believe, and certainly not someone you can learn much from.
Fourth. Buckingham would have us believe that “gender stereotyping”* is not responsible for this phenomenon because, hey, sexism as he defines it (strangely and naively) has dropped from 74% to 42%. Only half the population still thinks that “men should be the primary breadwinner and women should be the primary caretaker of home and family.” Why in the world would women be discouraged by the “fact” that, after a century of women’s rights advocacy, almost half the population still wants us barefoot and pregnant?
Fifth. Given that last one, I’d say women need to get mad, not sad. Certainly, they don’t need to buy Buckingham’s book to find out how to “fix” themselves.
* Topic for another blog post: “Gender stereotyping” is a smokescreen euphemism that blames individuals and masks the real issue: cultural beliefs.
It’s time. Let’s take back the discourse on/about women. Click on the link below to retweet this post and encourage women to speak for themselves.