BOOK CLUB This month we talk about the The H-Spot with au­thor Jill Filipovic.

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Sarah Di­tum




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.”



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




In­spired by our re­view? Why not sug­gest it to your

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