Author Jill Filipovic Believes Equality Is Not Enough
“Women today live in a world of unfinished feminism…”. That truth bomb is one of the many you’ll find in the first pages of Jill Filipovic’s book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” You’ll have to read the book (and thank us later) to understand it’s underlying significance, but for now, don’t miss this interview where Jill spoke to Mindful Feminism about her visions for a world that transcends the subject of equality and takes women’s happiness seriously.
Why did you decide to write this book?
One of the things I always find motivating is thinking about the “end-game.” Within feminism, the obvious answer may be a more equitable world…but it seems to me that the end goal of that activism would have to be achieving happiness. Because why else are we here doing any of this if not to make the world a place in which female happiness is a priority?
What’s your personal definition of happiness?
A life that is rich and purpose-driven, which doesn’t always mean that every single day feels happy, it actually quite often means that the days are challenging. Also, a life that really prioritizes experiential happiness, enjoying beauty, food, sex, music, and all the things that make us human. Experiencing those things not just in the service of feeling good –although feeling good is vastly underrated- but also within the framework of having a life that has depth, variety, and meaning.
What do you think about the critique that happiness is a subject reserved for a privileged few?
Our society assumes that experiential pleasure or purpose should be focused on the privileged, or that these things are a kind of “extras,” but to me those things are fundamental. I don't think that hedonic pleasures of sensations, touch, enjoying great beauty, and eating food that feels nourishing, should be tied to income or race. There's no reason why having a life that's purposeful or meaningful has to be linked to income or privilege. Thinking about this way of life as a privilege is one of the many failures of the capitalist patriarchal system we inhabit.
In your book, you mention the importance of changing policy and laws to prioritize women’s happiness…but what do you think is up to us as individuals?
Cultural changes are key. I think for women one of the biggest ones and most challenging changes is really shifting the degree to which femaleness is hinged on self-sacrifice. I feel myself and every woman I know, spend an incredible amount of effort taking care of other people. It's not that that’s a bad thing, caretaking is a good and positive thing. But for many of us caretaking of others comes at the expense of care-taking for ourselves or at the cost of pleasure and enjoyment in our own lives. I don’t think that’s a very healthy model, I think that frankly, it establishes a giant pool of free labor that then allows policymakers to be much slower in creating the kind of changes we want to see. So on an individual level, there’s a ton of things we can all do, but a big one for women is to take one’s own happiness and pleasure seriously, to consider those things political.
How do we take this dialogue about women’s happiness to a global level?
To me, something key for achieving global feminist solidarity is assuming that people know their own context better than you do. Understanding that (a) there are feminists, and women worth supporting everywhere, and (b) that just because that version is not identical to another, doesn’t mean that one or the other is better, truer, or more legitimate. Recognizing that just like in the U.S. cultures and movements, aren’t static or universal, there isn’t a singular American feminism, and in the same way, there isn’t a single Colombian feminism or Kenyan feminism, for example. We should create global solidarity movements that involve supporting each other’s aims and also having the respect to converse, debate, skill-share and learn, without the ego of assuming that your way is the best way of doing things.
Do you think you’ll see your vision become a reality in this lifetime?
(laughs) No. I’m going to be long dead before any of this happens or at least before it comes to full fruition. I hope to live to see some of it happen. I frankly see a lot of restructuring coming from communities of color. I think the feminist movement is increasingly mindful of how white women have dominated the movement for so long and how white ideas and experiences have taken up a disproportionate amount of space. And as more voices are recognized, I think we’re seeing a greater diversity of opinions and better ideas. We’re increasingly seeing more radical and interesting ways of going about feminism, and I think we’re trending in a good direction.
What makes you feel hopeful about the future?
From the US context, the number of incredible women who just got elected in the midterms has really warmed my heart.
From the global context, I’ve been working on a story about abortion access in crisis zones for the past couple of months and will continue working on it for the next year or so. It’s a depressing as hell story to report, but reporting in places with incredible rates of sexual violence, where there are so many women who’ve experienced truly hellish things, I’ve also met a lot of women who are not only themselves trying to improve their lives, but are really operating from a place of incredible selflessness. They're trying to make things better for those around them. It’s a degree of strength and selflessness that I don’t know that I would be able to exhibit in my life. These aren’t women who are activists, they’re totally ordinary people who are deciding to do these extraordinary things, and that gives me tremendous hope.