what if “what women want” isn’t what we want?

Much has been said about a recent study (.pdf) that shows that womens’ happiness is actually trending downward,

I think Mrs. Marge Sutton, Ideal Housewife, makes a great illustration for this post.  Via the Google LIFE archive.
I think Mrs. Marge Sutton, Ideal Housewife, makes a great illustration for this post. Via the Google LIFE archive.

rather than upward as time, and presumably society, progresses.  To conservatives, it’s proof that feminism and liberation are contrary to nature and naturally lead to unhappiness.  To progressives, it’s proof that feminism hasn’t gone far enough.  To environmentalists, it’s proof that consumerism just makes us less happy.

I’ve been wondering about a different angle.  I’ve mentioned that we recently got rid of cable, and are now relying on the internet and Netflix (both DVDs via mail and streaming via our Xbox 360) for our televised entertainment.  And while I’m not generally one to blame problems on the ominous “The Media,” I “can’t help but wonder” (to pull a Carrie Bradshaw) if maybe it isn’t all our media connectedness that is making us unhappy. 

For one, in our media-saturated world, we are constantly bombarded with advertising messaging.  An average person may see as many as 5,000 advertising messages per day.  What does advertising do?  In order to be effective, it has to convince you that, as you are, you’re not happy.  You may think you are, but really, you’re not.  But you could be! If only you had this THING.  This THING is the key to all your happiness.  It will make your life so much better, but you have to buy it.

And moreover, what is advertising full of?  Unrealistic standards of female beauty.  Everywhere we look, we see images of women who have been retouched into oblivion, who look nothing like real people, and yet over and over, the message is: this is what pretty is.  This is what men want.  This is what happiness looks like.  And not only that, but we’re supposed to have spotless floors, sparkling dishes, smart children, loving husbands, shiny cars, and an all-natural, free-range, organic dinner on the table every night by 6 pm, the kids in bed by 8, so we can be a tiger in the bedroom by 9.

And then there’s Facebook.  It’s like one never-ending high school reunion.  Now you don’t have to wait 10 years to compare yourself to ever girl you ever knew; you can do it 50 times per day from the comfort of your couch, wondering why your boyfriend/husband isn’t as cute or as romantic as hers, why your job isn’t as prestigious and lucrative as hers, why you don’t look as good in your vacation photos as she does, why you never seem to go out and have fun as often as she does.  I mean, I love Facebook, think it brings more good than bad into my life, but there is some bad that comes along.

So there we have it.  Women may have more freedom and choices than ever before, but negative messages also reach us more easily and with greater numbers than ever as well.  And yes, I know men are also marketed to.  I just don’t feel (and my husband agreed) that they are bombarded with negativity, with unattainable standards, with the idea that everything about them is part of a competition in the same way that women are.  And so, it’s no wonder to me that so many women are less happy than before.  After all, it’s only after getting rid of television that I realized I was actually MUCH HAPPIER than before.

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