“It changed in such sad ways! At the time, we at least had a male feminist-minded president of the United States, who not only moved the conversation, but also law and policy on a variety of women’s rights issues, forward. Not far enough, in my opinion, but we were in forward motion. I was writing with the assumption that progress on a lot of these issues was inevitable — especially on the really obvious ones, like paid parental leave and affordable child care, and that we would be seeing substantive policy changes in the foreseeable future.
“Right? Which is so sad because it’s like: What are we all doing here, if not try to live happy and fulfilling lives? It speaks to a really not excellent part of American culture, that we don’t think happiness is worthwhile in and of itself — that it seems frivolous.”
“In the Declaration of Independence, there is this promise that all men will be able to have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [The founders] were talking about happiness in this sort of Aristotelian vision of what a good life looks like: a life that is about pursuing knowledge and purpose. So many of our laws and institutions were shaped, in our earliest days, to allow a select group of men that right — to have jobs that conferred upon them identity, to pursue higher education, to have access to public life, generally. While white women were relegated to domestic life — as were women of color, not just in their own homes but also inside the homes of other people, you had this invisible, unpaid labor that all went into allowing men to pursue their life path.
“A lot of women have this experience of playing by the rules — being good girls, doing well in school, doing all the things we’re supposed to be doing — and then, especially once we hit the workplace, coming up against these really stubborn barriers that we thought had been long dismantled. The number of times that I have been told throughout my career, ‘You can’t have it all, no one can have it all...' I don’t think that men ever hear that. Men don’t go to a million panel discussions about all the ways in which they can never have it all, or how to balance work and family.
It is possible to evenly distribute labor around the house. It is possible to redistribute emotional labor — to not have one person who’s always in charge of everyone’s feelings. It is possible to really, deeply commit yourself to loving another person in a way that isn’t primarily or even partly sexual.
“I think the advice that you should settle in romance is the worst possible advice. This is a person who, at least in theory, you’re going to be spending the rest of your life with, if all goes well. You should really, really like that person; that should not be the relationship, of all relationships, that you settle for.
“Female friends are crucial, not only to women’s happiness but also to the women’s movement — to political movements for women’s rights. One of the things I write about in the book is that, though I am currently living with a male partner, before that, I’d only lived with other women: I have spent 15 years sharing space with women. So I have learned very intuitively: It is possible to evenly distribute labor around the house. It is possible to redistribute emotional labor — to not have one person who’s always in charge of everyone’s feelings. It is possible to really, deeply commit yourself to loving another person in a way that isn’t primarily or even partly sexual. Those are all really good lessons about how to build and maintain and sometimes even dismantle a relationship. Obviously there is carryover into a romantic relationship — which doesn’t mean female friendships are good only insofar as they prepare you for marriage.
“There is this study that came out several years ago that showed that women’s happiness has been declining since the ‘70s. All the headlines in response to the study were ‘Feminism Makes Women Unhappy’ or ‘Since Feminism, Women Are Unhappy.' But if you actually sit down and read it, what it was actually pointing to was the fact that women, post Second Wave, have entered the workforce and institutions of higher learning — these institutional, public, heavily male domains — but these institutional, public domains aren’t made for people who have babies or people who perhaps face sexual harassment, or lack of upward mobility at work, or because of certain gender stereotypes and assumptions.
“A very definitional part of womanhood is sacrifice. Mothers are supposed to sacrifice for their children. Women are supposed to sacrifice for everyone else’s comfort — that’s part of the kind of feminine duty, to be kind and gracious and generous and not to make anyone uncomfortable. When women transgress those norms, they’re punished for it. The idea that women have a right to be happy and have a right to pleasure: that concept, in and of itself, is met with an incredible amount of hostility. And it’s not just from the right, it comes from the left as well."