Pleasure as Reason

I recently read a book about 1960s hippie culture that reminded me about how once upon a time the attainment of pleasure was adequate reason to do something.  If you played a game or did some sort of physical sport the warm sore glow and slightly achy feel of muscles along with the physical pleasure of having done it was enough.

One did not have to climb the highest mountain faster than anyone ever has. Or be the best to enjoy it.

If one enjoyed playing at playing guitar the pleasure was enough, one did not have to have a popular band.

We used to say, “You are never too old to have that happy childhood that may have eluded you when you were actually a child.”

Then the conservative Taliban puritanical religious forces came into power and play for the pleasure became frivolity.  “Winning isn’t the most important thing, it is the only thing.”

We are to live vicariously rooting for teams rather than doing our own thing.  We are to buy products in an illusive search for the object that will make us happy, working to purchase ever more even when we are too tired to go our for a walk with our cameras or other toys.

In the 60s and 70s the puritans called us hedonistic for our finding joy in sex.

I’m an atheist, I go to museums and concerts.

When I was younger I went to festivals and street fairs in San Francisco and LA where gays and lesbians openly displayed their preferences for certain modes of sexual play.

And Christo-fascist trolls like Porno Pete LaBarbera would watch inflaming their puritanical lust, working themselves into an indignant rage that is their only pleasure.

The anti-pleasure crew was always at work when it came to us.  Perversifying anything that might bring  pleasure and relief to childhood filled with abuse and loneliness.

We weren’t even supposed to fantasize much less act out or play.

Years ago I saw a movie called “Paris is Burning” about the shows and pageants put on by the black and Latina “Houses” in New York City.  One old queen offered the insight that at the balls kids who had nothing and were no one could dress up and play at being someone, even if that some one was simply ordinary.

Pleasure can be a reason.  Life does not always need to about work or adherence to some set of rules.

Bill would give benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers

(Washington) Legislation has been introduced in the the House and Senate to  provide benefits for same-sex domestic partners of federal civilian employees on the same basis as spousal benefits.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act is sponsored by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in the House and Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) in the Senate.

The benefits would include participation in applicable retirement programs, life and health insurance benefits, and family and medical leave.

“This legislation would allow the federal government to keep pace with other top employers,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“It is not only a matter of equal pay for equal work, but also the best way to ensure that the government has access to the top talent on the same basis as the nation’s leading corporations.”

Currently, 57 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide domestic partner benefits to their employees.

Many of America’s leading companies, including defense giant Raytheon, IBM, Microsoft, Shell Oil, Walt Disney, Fannie Mae, Citigroup, Xerox, Time Warner and United and American Airlines offer the benefits.

In addition, 16 states and over 200 local governments offer their public employees domestic partnership benefits.

Meanwhile, at a House committee markup on the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Chairman Howard Berman reiterated Secretary of State Clinton’s commitment to provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners of  US diplomats stationed overseas.

The benefits would include medical care, transport between postings and security training to partners.

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Are Women Today Really More Unhappy?

By Sady Doyle, Comment Is Free

Posted on May 23, 2009, Printed on May 23, 2009

Women: you are all terribly sad now. This, anyway, is the message of “The paradox of declining female happiness,” a new study by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolvers of the University of Pennsylvania. The study, which takes into account various happiness surveys – these exist! And people are paid to conduct them! – from the 1970s to the present, comes to some fairly troubling conclusions: although women have better educations, better pay, more sexual and reproductive freedom, and a greater capacity for self-determination than ever before, we’re less happy than ever.

“Women have become less happy, both absolutely and relative to men. Women have traditionally reported higher levels of happiness than men, but are now reporting happiness levels that are similar or even lower than those of men,” quoth the study. It’s a fairly sensational point. (Feminism has betrayed women! Don’t you miss the days when all you had to worry about was birthing babies, cleaning kitchens, and satisfying your man? Well, you should!) However, as you read the study – which I have done, at great risk to my own personal happiness – it becomes clear that it isn’t the whole story.

The questions raised by the research are many. For example: is it really wise to trust a study that cites the “Virginia Slims American Women’s Opinion Polls?” Is it useful to come to conclusions about “women” as a whole from a study that cites strong upwards trends in happiness for both black men and black women (black women, it is noted, were less happy than black men in 1972; the opposite is true now), then abruptly switches back to lamenting those poor, depressed white ladies? Why focus on (white) women’s declining happiness, when the fact is that both (white) women and (white) men have had an overall happiness decline? How does the narrative about declining female happiness fit in with the fact that fewer women now commit suicide? And, last but most certainly not least, why does a study of such a fuzzy and subjective thing as “happiness” or “satisfaction” mean anything at all? Can’t overall quality of life be measured by looking at harder, more objective data: things like crime rates, rates of unemployment or underemployment, or access to basic needs such as adequate health care and education? People can always find something to complain about, after all. That doesn’t mean that their lives haven’t objectively improved.

Yet the “happiness” question is interesting, precisely because it is so subjective. As Susan Faludi noted in her seminal work, Backlash, one of the primary tactics of anti-feminists is the argument that the freedoms provided by feminist progress will ultimately ruin women’s lives. Women have access to birth control and abortion? Trot out the old biological clock, and tell women they’ll die childless if they don’t conceive in their mid-twenties! Women are delaying marriage, and going for serial monogamy or casual sex instead? Tell them that it’s more likely for them to be struck by lightning than to find a husband after the age of 30, and that hooking up lessens their “market value” for the menfolks! (Of course, there is a certain kind of woman that doesn’t necessarily want to get married, and is frankly repelled by the idea of dating a man that would assign her “value” corresponding to her sexual inexperience or lack thereof: the anti-feminist answer to this, of course, is always some variant on, “oh, you will care – when it’s too late.”) Women have greater access to the professions of their choice? Say, does anyone have some stereotypes of bitter, unfulfilled, unfeminine career women to throw around?

Yet, when you look at the study, without the sensationalist “women: now sad” trappings, it doesn’t seem to convey that women are descending into the black pits of despair. What it says is that women and men now experience similar levels of happiness: there’s been an overall happiness decline (well, unless you take the increased happiness of black people into account – which, again, the study doesn’t; nor does it seem to address other people of colour), with women’s being slightly more precipitous than that of men. In other words, as women and men have become more equal, their subjective experiences of life have become … more equal. Shocking!

Well, not if you’re a feminist. The point of the movement has always been that women and men are more alike than they are different, and that it doesn’t make sense to assign limited roles or grant access to social power and status based on something as arbitrary as gender, rather than talent or intelligence or work ethic.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you have a job, you can lose your job. If you have sexual freedom, and the ability to try out multiple relationships before settling down (if you ever want to settle down), you’re also going to break up with more people. If you have the ability to choose what you want to do with your life, it’s also possible to fail at what you’ve chosen. That’s true for everyone.

But oh, how infatuated the world at large seems to be with female failure! The old restrictions have lessened, but haven’t gone away, and women are constantly being bombarded with contradictory expectations: be as good at your job as any man, but never lose that special feminine touch. Be pretty and sexy, but not so pretty and sexy that people can’t take you seriously – and, for the love of God, not so sexy that you actually wind up having lots of sex. Get an education, work hard, be ambitious – but don’t be so focused on your career that you can’t find time for your man or your inevitable babies. Speaking of those babies, you should be having them, don’t you think? Remember how sad you’ll be if you don’t have the babies! And, about the success thing: you should have some, but not too much of it. You don’t want to scare the men off by getting more attention than they do.

If women are less happy than men, maybe it’s just because they have more to work at than men, and therefore more chances to screw up. Which brings me to the main thing I learned from this study: we’re not done yet. By the time that we are, it won’t make sense to measure happiness – or any other basic human experience – by gender. We’ll all just be people.

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