Tuesday, 17 March 2009

rights or wrongs

bet you've all read the book "don't sweat the small stuff". if you haven't, give it a go. i started off enjoying it, but by the end i was finding the advice pretty insufferable. the phrase "insufferable, sanctimonious do-gooder" kept coming to mind, and i think i never managed to finish the book.

the only piece of advice that i can remember was "would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?". this was in the context that you should give up arguing even though you know you're right, and compromise to reach a position where you'll actually be happy. if i recall correctly, the author gives nice little anecdotes to illustrate his various points. in this case, it was something along the lines of quarelling relatives who hadn't seen each other in years, but then one of them decides that they would rather be happy than right, so rings up & starts the relationship afresh.

yes, i do have a point, i'm getting to it! i was thinking about life as a feminist and an activist. i find that it involves a lot of angst and a lot of arguments, certianly a lot of energy. i've always tried to speak out against things that are wrong, both in my personal life and in the wider community. i try to challenge the status quo, and the responses can vary from positive to rather nasty.

the nastiness tends to be more in the personal sphere than the public one. i read of the experiences of other women who fight for their rights to not have to do all the housework after having to do a full day's paid employment, some who fight for the right to have paid employment, or who argue about names for themselves and their children, or so many other battles as they try to achieve fairness in their relationships. of those, i think the arguments over housework are often the most common and the most frustrating.

in the public sphere, there is still quite a bit of nastiness for the women who dare to speak out. we now have wonderful words like "feminazi" and "sisterhood" along with other put downs (hairy-legged, ugly etc etc), to marginalise such women. and the marginalisation is often just as strong from other women as it is from men. this is something i really struggle with, the notion that such women think of us activitsts as lesser persons than themselves, and the changes we're trying to make as detrimental to their own happiness.

i know in my heart that what we try to achieve is right. i know it's important to take up the fight, to brave the consequences, hold our heads high and keep working on those incremental changes that move us towards our goals. this is what the great women before us have done, so that we can enjoy a better life than they had.

i don't regret my own choices for a minute. i couldn't have lived any other way, i could not have submitted to expectations that were unfair and in the end, too burdensome for me to bear. i'm quite prepared to keep on keeping on & not particularly fussed about the consequences.

but when it comes to my daughters, i come a little unstuck. i want to bring them up to be strong women who speak their minds, are mindful of their rights and keep working for justice. that would be right. but i don't know that it would make them happy. when i look around me, the happier women are the ones who conform, who accept the injustices in their lives as just the way things are and don't waste their time worrying about it. that's not really surprising, as society is set up in such a way that the women who conform are rewarded and valued much more than those who assert themselves.

knowing that, i do wonder if the best thing i can do for my daughters is to give them room to be conformers. after all, if the choice is being right or being happy, for them i'd much rather the latter. so why is it that i can't reconcile myself to sending them down that path?


Anonymous said...

Maybe the women who conform only look happy? I want my daughters to be fighters and non-conformists. I want them to THINK and decide for themselves.

Psycho Milt said...

The ancient and brilliant Dead Kennedys song "Hyperactive Child," contains this sarcasm-dripping line from the guy giving them their medication:

Wouldn't you rather be happy? Now you will obey!

Better to be unhappy, if the alternative is "now you will obey."

Anonymous said...

This very subject has been plaguing me lately. I dabble in Buddhism, which must be the origin of the "Small Stuff" premise of letting go of attachment to your opinions. Sure, I suppose that if I were to abstain from passing judgment I'd be a much happier person, but it would be a willfully oblvious sort of happiness, and the world would be short one more feminist and one more outraged voice of reason that the world needs *more* of. It feels irresponsible and selfish to choose blissful ignorance over fighting tooth and nail for progress, and so I choose to remain outraged with eyes wide open. It's an uncomfortable place to be, but it seems like the only morally correct choice. At least I can die knowing that I tried to inject some good into the world, even if my existence was defined by the injustices I could not close my eyes to.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's such a black and white choice really. I think there are lots of routes to happiness and i know that feeling I've done the right thing even when it was hard makes me happy in the long run even if I'm miserable in the short term.

I also think the pressure to be happy can be a really dangerous thing. My mother always wanted me to be happy and somehow the message I got from that was that if I was unhappy it was due to some flaw in my being. I think feeling that way rather than accepting that when bad shit happens unhappiness is the normal way to feel was a big contributing factor to my depression.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Yeah, I'm with artandmylife (and Dworkin's extract from Friday feminist of... two weeks ago, was it?). I doubt that conformity actually leads to happiness. It might simplify life somewhat, but simple is hardly synonimous with happy.

Anna said...

To thineself be true? Did I quote Bill right there?

I think some people are genuinely happy with conformity, and I'm occasionally jealous of 'normal' people who don't lie awake stewing about all of life's injustices at two in the morning.

I found this post really poignant, Anjum, and it definitely resonated with me. I often feel really deeply hurt by the dumb, flippant comments people make - things like 'feminazi', etc. But that's who I am, and I can't will myself to be any other way. On the other hand, I also get a lot of happiness from solidarity with others who care about the same stuff I do.

I, too, worry about my kids. The older, over-sensitive one, also stews about things at two in the morning. It's too soon to say, but I have a feeling that my son will go through life quite cheerfully, without bearing too much of the weight of the world on his shoulders. So they too will become the people they will become - and I'll do my maternal best to help them through!

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"we now have wonderful words like "feminazi" and "sisterhood" along with other put downs"

I'm a non-conformist and get called a misogynist:-)

Let your daughters be what they want.

Some women don't mind doing the ironing. I do it with a glass of wine and a race meeting on the telly. Highlight of my week.

Anna said...

I don't think it's a matter of whether or not you do the ironing - I don't mind ironing either, although I hate dusting with a passion.

It's more about doing stuff (or not doing stuff) that will earn you flak from other people. For example, we have a very strong ethos in our family of standing up to bullying. That's quite a hard thing to do, for kids and adults alike - it can make you pretty unpopular.

I personally like people who have the courage of their convictions even when I don't agree with the convictions - but plenty of others regard them as cranky or eccentric or irritating. I want my kids to have a firm sense of right and wrong, but I don't want to see them feeling socially alienated either.

stargazer said...

PM, i don't think it's about "obeying" so much as not caring much about things (as anna says) and therefore not fighting against current trends, cultural norms and the like.

and lindsay, of course i'll be letting my daughters do what they want. that's hardly the point.

the point is whether or not i expose them to a whole lot of feminist thought or to my (seemingly) out-of-synch views of the world. or i just let them find those views for themselves, and if they never stumble across them, if they never choose to question the way things are structured, then i just keep quiet and let them be.

all parents influence our kids, in our every day conversations, and in the choices we make. the messages are overt and covert & often pretty hard to control. so the question for me is: how much do i control my own views, if at all? sure, i want them to be fighters, but what i want is not necessarily what's best for them.

and it's really not as simple as doing the ironing. it's the washing, drying, cooking, dishes, help with the homework, cleaning the shower and toilet, changing nappies, feeding the kids, getting them dressed & to school, putting things away, shopping for groceries, shopping for presents (birthdays, xmas & the like), making the beds, changing the sheets, dusting, taking the kids to the doctor and tending to them when sick, paying the bills when due, driving the kids to their sports games & music lessons, vacuuming, keeping an eye on the bank balance. and i'm sure i've only covered half the unpaid work in any household.

so let's not oversimplify things too much...

backin15 said...

Not sweating the small stuff doesn't mean not being concerned about basic human rights and justice though?

I don't care that my youngest daughter loves pink and dressing up as a fairy, I do care that she is confronted by near universal sexualisation of women. A while back, at Deborah's blog, I commented about a sign on a pub near my house which I avoided 'cause of the imagery. Now another pubs promoting topless waitresses with gigantic photos of the half naked waitresses. I care about that, it's not small stuff, it's important and ignoring it won't simplify my life, won't bring me peace and sure as hell won't relieve my daughter from prejudice and stereotypes. I have to confess that my previously liberal views about the sex industry are in fact being challenged...

barvasfiend said...

Here's the two things my Dad drilled into me early on;

1. "You should reconcile yourself to being bolshie. You can be bolshie and happy"

1. "It's the government's job to make criminals out of everyone! Everyone! Kids! Are you listening?....! Now, where was that wine....?"

He was completely accurate on both counts. Many women who are compliant and apathetic have to work hard at swallowing injustice. At times it's very very pointy.