Monday, September 21, 2009

I Haz Teh Sadz

Because of that crappy post at Huffington Post and the whole idea that women are now terribly unhappy because feminism failed them. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this isn't what our Arianna is selling us. She's very unhappy herself, because she is running a website rather than washing floors back at home. But getting more clicks at the expense of feminists is well worth the tears she sheds.

And then innocent, happy goddesses like this one must put their waders on and squeeze a clothes-peg on their pretty noses and then wade through comments where assholes go on sidetracks about wanting to buy a slave-wife in Ukraine because American uppity women are impossible to cope with. Oh! And where a Progressive Guy (our brother, he is, you know) tells us that he is progressive but feminism has been a disaster because of that nature bidness. It determines what weak-and-feeble wommenz can do, though for some odd reason it puts no limits on what men might do. So yeah, he's all for equality but only among penises/penii. And of course we are told that wommenz are just basically silly critters and bitchy, too. Well, most of the comments weren't like that, but almost all of them assumed that the happiness of women is in a crisis! Crisis, I tell you!

OK. I lied to you. I don't have teh sadz. I have the Killing Rage. For the above reasons and also because of this:

1. People who don't get statistics should not interpret them. Even to sell books or to attack feminism. In particular, it is important to understand that funny little sign: %. When the number that precedes it is not 100, you shouldn't say ALL women or ALL men. You shouldn't even imagine it.

Just to put that into the proper perspective, Mark Liberman at the Language Log shows us some of the raw data on happiness that all this is about for selected years:

In the responses for 1972, 1973, and 1974, the overall proportions were:
GenderVery HappyPretty HappyNot Too Happy

In the responses for 2004, 2006, and 2008, the proportions were:
GenderVery HappyPretty HappyNot Too Happy

Isn't it interesting how something like that so quickly turns into: WOMMENZ ARE SAD! FEMINISM FAILED TO MAKE THEM HAPPY! LET'S CANCEL FEMINISM!

Mmmm. I want to thank Professor Liberman for also making available the actual study of this gender gap in happiness. You can read it, too, and you might write a little note for yourself about the fact that the study has no variables reflecting the introduction of pornography, for instance. Or any other cultural variables which might hit women differently from men. Stuff like the average weight of female and male fashion models. I'm sure you can think of other interesting variables which might relate to this question should you not wish to attack feminism with it.

The authors, Stevenson and Wolfers, analyze the time trend in responses of the above type while controlling for various economic, sociological and demographic factors. Their main conclusion is that they cannot really explain the so-called gender gap in happiness by any of the measures they test out, except that women appear too be less happy with their financial situations than men. Most importantly for the purposes of bashing feminism, stay-at-home wives are no happier than those who work. From page 6 of the pdf:

In section III we explore these trends by demographic group, finding that the relative decline in women's well-being is ubiquitous, and holds for both working and stay-at-home mothers, for those married and divorced, for the old and the young, and across education distribution.

Emphases are mine, and I added them for the following reason: If all those blame-feminism voices were correct then the happiest women would be those whose lives were most like the lives of women forty years ago. That would be stay-at-home mothers and women with less education. But that is NOT what the study found. Indeed, whatever it found appears to apply across almost all women.*

That finding is important more generally, because it deflates the anti-feminists' sails about women not wanting to succeed in the hurly-burly wars of high offices. It's not about the uppity women in the corner office we talk about here but a general (albeit very small, so small as to be almost invisible) trend across all women.

I probably should repeat here: NO! NOT ALL WOMMENZ HAVE TEH SADZ!

I might also remind Stevenson and Wolfers of their responsibility to correct faulty interpretations of their data. They may have no such legal responsibility but they certainly should have an ethical responsibility to do so. I'd also urge them to redo the analyses with some porn variables included. Oh, and to consider the possibility that what women are 'allowed' to state has changed over the time span of those surveys, what with television etcetera showing new behavior patterns to more and more women and men.

2. Here's the second reason for my Killing Rage: I went out this weekend and visited the fair state of New York. Do you know what I saw there? Women everywhere! Indeed, I started worrying that I somehow got this whole thing wrong! Surely people wouldn't write crap like that about the largest group of human beings? Surely not?

How the fuck did this happen? When did women become something like breakfast cereal? Something to be ranked in taste tests, improved upon, studied? And almost all of that as if women weren't real human beings.

I doubt I can convey that sudden feeling I had. It's such a contrast to think of crap like this topic and then to actually SEE people, to realize that women are not some monkeys kept in the basement lab somewhere (though we shouldn't do that to monkeys, either), to be studied and written up later on. Women. are. the. majority. And yet where's the power that should go with that?

Or to put it in reverse: Where are all the studies about poor men and what ails them? I get at least one thing a week about what ails poor women, too many to even cover on this here blog. I think we have been far too fucking nice for far too long, and that's why our lives can be dissected, our hides can be cut out and inspected with a magnifying glass. When others criticize our very being, our right to exist, if you like, we join in and politely argue back. Or even agree half-way, so as not to make anyone angry. Please, may I continue to exist if I stay in this corner vewy qwuietly?

3. The final reason for my rage is that this is your usual let's-make-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill because everybody loves bashing feminism! We are going to get all the creepy crawlers leave their sewage pipes and come and comment on our posts! We are going to have so much misogynistic fun! Never mind fairness and justice and boring crap like that. If women are sad because they were let out of their cages let's just put them back in their cages and lose the key this time!

And note that as I said before the very same arguments would have been presented if the trend showed men becoming progressively less happy. It would be the fault of feminism, just as boys' troubles at school are the fault of feminism. Note that anything but absolutely equal happiness figures would give the feminism-bashers an edge. Well, some would argue that even those will work, because at first glance the 2004-8 figures ARE roughly the same.

It is always the tail that wags the dog when it comes to questions like this one.

*Across a fairly large number of industrialized countries. A few countries provided inconclusive evidence. The U.S. exception is African-American women who came across as less happy in the earlier surveys than African-American men and whose happiness responses have risen over time.

Thank you for AndiF for the links to the Language Log.