In 2017, it's finally cool to be a feminist, and whether the current administration likes it or not, women's issues continue to be at the forefront of political, cultural, and social conversations. In her timely book The H-Spot, author and columnist Jill Filipovic makes the radical case for women's happiness to be included in the greater discussion that often revolves around reproductive rights, equal pay, and sexual violence. When women's contentment is the end goal, she argues, our policies, laws, and culture can change in meaningful ways that will finally meet the needs of women and the demands of feminists around the country.
Throughout history, women across different races, class, and sexualities have played the same part: serving and sacrificing for others. For centuries, it has been a gender relegated to a secondary role, one that puts women's needs behind all others, including families, partners, children, employers, and even communities. In The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, Jill Filipovic, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and a regular columnist for Cosmopolitan.com, strives to prove that there may be "no one definition of womanhood, no singular experience of pleasure seeking, and no individual thing that will bring happiness for all women, but there are a great many commonalities, and a great many ways to improve the status quo."
And, according the author, it all starts with making joy a political priority, especially for women who it is so regularly denied to.
Going all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, which made "the pursuit of happiness" a political promise, and moving forward through history covering everything from Puritan sexual ethics to the free love movement to the modern American feminist fight, The H-Spot seeks to find out what women want and what women need to be happy, and what exactly is standing in their way. A wonderfully intersectional work that includes the voices of many, including the those regularly disenfranchised and silenced due to race, class, and sexuality, Filipovic uses the stories of American women across the country to argue one main point: if we shifted our policy focus to happiness itself, we would be able to solve some of our biggest political issues, from body autonomy to equal pay to fair maternal leave, and more.
According to Filipovic, "Women today live in a world of unfinished feminism, where we're told we're equal but see our basic rights up for grabs, where we're told to just push harder at work, or recognize we can't have it all, or marry Mr. Good Enough." The solution to this, The H-Spot asserts, it not a movement centered around equality seeking, but rather the pursuit of happiness.
This is what it looks like:
1Honor and support nontraditional relationships.
The traditional idea of family is shifting in America. Whereas women once "settled down" in their early and mid twenties, they are now getting married and having children later than ever. That means, the support system that was once standard in many women's early adult lives is starting to look a lot different. Instead of husbands or wives or even parents, women increasingly lean on their friends, romantic (but unmarried) partners, and roommates to "their people," the ones there not just there emotionally, but financially too.
"Those of us who live in nontraditional, nonnuclear arrangements," Filipovic explains in The H-Spot, "are hungry to see our choices supported — and where they help out the environment or space-constrained cities, rewarded." That means a tax code, a healthcare system, a workplace environment, and an educational institution that allows women to choose their families and decide their own next of kin.
When women are able to recognize those relationships in their lives that offer them support, they are able to become more than just support beams, themselves. Rather, they can flourish alongside others standing tall and standing together.
2Advocate in favor of sex for pleasure.
Sexual pleasure is one of the pillars of individual happiness, but it continues to be a taboo subject for politicians and policy makers who insist sex is an immoral act reserved only for married couples seeking to procreate. According to Filipovic, however, "Supporting healthy, pleasurable sex lives should be a public policy goal — not just handling the public health challenges that result when sex is treated like a vice."
The H-Spot argues that, starting with the information children get at home and at school and expanding outward to an adult audience, sex education should have a simple yet important message: sex is fun experience, but with that potential for pleasure comes great responsibility. Not only is it important to acknowledge the possibility to find happiness in intimate sexual relationships, but our sexual health education and general cultural conversations around it need to be clear and inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community. As Filipovic explains, "no gender identity or sexual orientation means forgoing the possibility of a pleasurable and a healthy sex life."
In places like Scandinavia, where healthcare is affordable, family planning is accessible, and sex is talked about in equal parts pleasure and responsibility, the country as a whole achieves greater levels of happiness. Creating policies that support that messaging, including access to safe and affordable birth control and abortion, can actually build a happier society as a whole, which is good for not only women, but everyone.
3Carve out more time for the three Ps: pleasure, parenting, and play.
While Filipovic talked to many different women across the country — some single, some married, some black, some white, some working, some unemployed — she found a common problem facing all of them: time. Namely, the women she met didn't have enough of it, so they constantly had to sacrifice something that could make them happy for something they "needed" to do, usually for someone else.
"Perhaps the most pervasive and obvious challenge women face is time," Filipovic explains, "nearly every woman I talked to, whether she was a single mother or a married coparent or single child-free working woman, said she was constantly crunched for time and stressed out because of it."
By creating policies that create more time for women — more maternity leave time to be at home with their children after giving birth, more vacation days to spend with family or alone, more money and fairer salaries for working parents, paid time off to spend at home or exploring somewhere new, expanded childcare options from employers and the government — the greater opportunity women have to find happiness by "having it all." The truth is, no one can have it all when they're expected to do it all, but when women have the time and the support they need to try, they can find joy in everything they want: motherhood, work, marriage, travel, sex, and more.
4Create a fun and feminist food culture.
One of the biggest thorns in the sides of women across the country is, unsurprisingly, food and body image. We live in a society that constantly tells women to get smaller by eating less, dieting more, working out harder, all in the name of taking up less space. Our food culture is depriving women of the joys of eating, and instead replacing them with the heartache of deprivation.
"Nutrition, and the pleasures of eating well, should be part of every student's education," Filipovic argues, "and it should be taught from a place of reverence for the body and with an ethos of meeting its needs, not from a place of pushing deprivation or simply trying to make oneself smaller."
But Filipovic doesn't just argue that younger children should learn to love and take pleasure in food. She insists as adults, as politicians and policymakers, we create a culture in which health and wellness is talked about in new terms, terms that allow women, and their children and families, to access good, healthy foods, and to enjoy them without stigma.
5Make happiness a political priority.
Happiness, it may seem like, is a personal problem each individual is in charge of solving. But Filipovic would have you believe something different, something radical:
The truth is, happiness is political and it has been since the creation of the Declaration of Independence. It's time we start making it a priority.