BOOK CLUB This month we talk about the The H-Spot with author Jill Filipovic.
EVERY ISSUE WE’LL PICK A BRILLIANT BOOK WE THINK
YOU’D LOVE TO READ AND WE’LL CHAT WITH THE
AUTHOR TO FIND OUT MORE
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the three unalienable rights that the United States Declaration of Independence claimed for all humans. But this noble theory has not always been realised in practice, especially for women. Feminism has forced the claims for life and liberty onto the agenda for women, and now Jill Filipovic wants to draw our attention to the third part with her book The H-Spot. What makes us happy? What stops women from being happier? And why does talking about female pleasure make so many people so uncomfortable?
When women are expected to be sel ess carers, putting our own happiness rst can incite a surprising amount of resistance. Often, the things we’re encouraged to nd pleasurable are actually painful or selfdenying: it seems unlikely that a society which really believed women have a right to happiness would claim that waxing is “pampering”, or a low-fat yogurt is a sensual treat. In our work and in our families, in our friendships and in our sex lives, women are supposed to defer our own happiness so that other people can live ful lled and satisfying lives. What if, suggests Filipovic, we decided it was our turn now?
Filipovic is from New York (though she now lives in Nairobi), and her focus is understandably American; her conclusions, however, are universal. Her interviews with women at all stages of their lives and from all backgrounds vividly illustrate the extensive research supporting her argument. When female happiness is taboo, making an argument for it as a right can’t help but be radical, yet the things she highlights as sources of happiness are often reassuringly simple: friendship, a sense of purpose, security. “Now,” she writes, “it’s time we decided that female pleasure isn’t an indulgence or a privilege but a social good.”
THE ABILITY TO LIVE A FULL LIFE SURROUNDED BY OTHER WOMEN HAS BEEN
SUCH A FORMATIVE PART OF MY OWN LIFE.
Q Why is happiness political?
A I’ve been writing about feminism and the challenges women face for a solid decade now, and it just felt like we are coming up against the same problems over and over and over. Part of the problem is that we’re operating in a society and a culture and with institutions and systems that have been created for men. But if we are creating our own institutions and norms, what’s the ultimate goal? And it sounds a little bit ippant but I think the answer has to be happiness, because what else is there? What are we all doing here if not trying to live happy and ful lled lives?
But as you write, women haven’t been considered entitled to happiness…
A The idea that women should pursue things that feel good, that bring us joy, is very unfeminine – we’re supposed to be people who sacri ce and who give to others, and there’s a real scepticism and anger towards any woman who seems like she’s doing things because they feel good.
How did you de ne happiness?
A It’s like that famous Supreme Court case about pornography: “I can’t de ne it, but I know it when I see it.” That seems to be how a lot of people feel about happiness, which makes it hard to measure. In the book, I was looking at happiness both as a bigger life project – which is about pursuing passions, knowledge and excellence – and growing as a person: that’s known as the eudemonic tradition de nition. But it’s also important to think about what researchers call subjective wellbeing, and what philosophers call the hedonic version of happiness. Positive experiences, things which stimulate the ve senses, things that we think about more as pleasure. We have to address both.
One little-discussed source of happiness is female friendship. How did writing about your relationships change your feelings about them?
A One challenge about talking about women friends is it can take on one of two themes: backstabbing frenemies, or best friends forever. The reality is more complicated than that. We can talk about romantic relationships in a way that allows for those complications. With friendships there isn’t the same discourse around them and there isn’t the same room for them to be considered impactful, which I think impoverishes the ways in which we’re able to talk about our lives.
If happiness is political, should we try to be happier, or spend time thinking about what makes us unhappy?
A You have to do both. In order to make ourselves happier, we have to think how happy are we actually?
What is driving down our happiness, and how can we change that? We know certain things, like paid time o for new parents drives up happiness, but it is going to be some trial and error. We do trial and error with political policy all the time
– we go back and assess, is this working? How expensive is it? And so it makes sense to me that, ‘How does this seem to be impacting people’s wellbeing and their happiness?’ should be one measure to evaluate public policy.
What makes you happy?
A The big one is having a job that feels both meaningful and tied into my identity. Getting to wake up every day and do something that I really like doing and I care about, and that I also think and hope impacts the world in some sort of positive way. Living a slightly unconventional life and not making choices according to what you’re supposed to be doing is one key to an interesting and happy life, if not always an easy life. And then the third thing is the degree to which our social connections deeply impact our happiness. The intimacy and the intellectual engagement that they foster is crucial to not just day-to-day happiness but leading an interesting and meaningful life.
“What’s the ultimate
goal? It has to be happiness... What are we all doing here if not trying to live happy =J@ BQH HHA@ HERAO
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