Marcus Buckingham Says Women Have a Happiness Problem; I Say Men Should Stop Pathologizing Women

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.

0 Responses to Marcus Buckingham Says Women Have a Happiness Problem; I Say Men Should Stop Pathologizing Women

  1. christinecox September 24, 2009 at 10:13 am #

    Ann – thank you a hundred times for posting this. I saw the piece on Huff by Buckingham, and was frankly, befuddled. Not having the powers of discernment that you obviously have, I was scratching my head and wondering if he was right. On some points, perhaps he is – but as a whole, I don’t believe for a second that women are less happy b/c of the ‘movement’. To the contrary. Yes, we may have to deal w/ a lot more gray area than in the past, and I mean that in all the ways you think I might, but we are certainly no worse for the wear. Maybe sometimes a bit more harried, but worse – I beg not. Rather I think the evolution of ‘womankind’ is heading in the just the right direction! Viva la femme, and thanks again!

  2. Ann Daly September 24, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    Another possible interpretation: women’s expectations were raised by the movement and dashed by the reality of that 42% who still want us barefoot and pregnant.

  3. Deb B September 24, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    Why do we constantly swing to the “must be a misogynist” pov? And why don’t people READ. He didn’t say that the feminist movement was the cause of discontent and declining happiness in women. He said that the gains achieved by the feminist movement haven’t apparently translated to a net benefit in terms of increased happiness for women. He also said that this was the explicit and implicit message promise of the feminist movement: greater equality, greater responsibility, greater freedom of access and movement within society for women should (supposedly) lead to greater quality of life and experience of happiness for women. He is wondering why it hasn’t, if the studies are indicative of a trend. So am I. I am, now, an anomoly to the study. I am happier now than I have been in perhaps my entire life. That is largely a function of dropping self-pity from my personal and domestic arsenal.
    You accuse this man of pushing a book, ON YOUR WEBSITE where you SELL YOUR SERVICES as A LIFE COACH!
    And your cite about the statistics re: gender roles doesn’t acknowledge that this statistic may very well include a strong minority of WOMEN view “traditional gender roles” as part of their world view not out of oppressive paternalism, but out of their own value system.
    You do your clients a disservice by advocating a shallow reading of an article which you accuse of being shallow and proceed to misread.

  4. Ann Daly September 25, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    Probably for the same reason that men go right to pathologizing women. “Misogynist” is your word, not mine. I?d call Buckingham the perfect product of patriarchy. And of the PR machine. Let’s consider the two major strategic choices made in this blog post, which served as the major media launch (part 1) of his forthcoming book. The first was to frame it, contextualize it, and wrap it in the arms of the feminist movement. The second was to structure it as a cliffhanger. What is the function of a cliffhanger? To incite, excite, and inflame controversy. Alas, it?s controversy rather than reason that makes for bestsellers these days. But I won?t choose to use that strategy for my next book.

  5. Deb B September 25, 2009 at 3:26 am #

    I find it telling that you didn’t address the primary content of my post. You fix on my use of misogynist and avoid my references to your misreading of his article. And this for two reasons: he is a man, and he has a book coming out on the topic by which you make your life’s work. Would you, when you are most honest with yourself, deny that you would have read this article differently had the author been a woman?

    That said, I find areas of potential weakness with the interpretation of the data or the inferences drawn, at least as far as they go in Buckingham’s article. First, do the studies track the same women over time (which might tend to be too “personal” for an objective understanding of the female population’s general sense of happiness), and second, is there a “happiness” tracker for women over the same number of years from 1940 to 1972 with which to compare their relative happiness before the feminist movement gained momentum? Lastly, have any of these been normalized for conditions like economic collapse, war, and other issues which might greatly affect how a generation of women might view their lives? Add to that differing definitions of happiness and degrees of expectation of happiness and you get that lovely mud in which social science always finds itself slogging away.
    Notice that none of those questions are loaded. They don’t need to be, because I have no fear of being marginalized or belittled due to my gender for raising them. And I have no need to take a hard-line stance in defense of a livelihood or socio-political ideology. I do however believe it is unhealthy for women to believe and behave as if they are oppressed, especially if they are WASP women in the USA.