The Happiest Woman On Earth: A Look at the Conversation on Women’s Empowerment and Happiness

For the past few weeks, we’ve talked a bit about feminism, Judaism, and the question of sexism. My hope was that by responding to (rather than answering) the question “Isn’t Judaism Sexist?” we could take a fresh look at the conversation about religion and women. I loved reading the questions and comments you guys had on social media and on the blog and I truly appreciate your engagement!

Today and in future posts, I'd love to take the conversation a bit further and talk about how the current cultural debate on women’s empowerment, happiness, and self-fulfillment has not only caused tension between communities, but has placed an enormous burden on individual women to prove their happiness and level of empowerment to others. Last week I wrote a bit about the scrutiny and questions I face as a religion woman, but I don’t think I’m alone in grappling with what it means to prove yourself as an empowered, successful woman today.

What does a happy and empowered woman look like? Every woman and every community has been called upon to answer. Every group, from the most religious to the most radically liberal communities, feels a certain pressure today to prove that they indeed have the happiest, most truly “liberated” women. There is now an expectation for each woman to show that she is indeed empowered and productive in the culture and community she lives in. But this cultural race to find or become the most empowered woman does not come without consequence. By taking a step back for a moment we can see what this all implies – that “unhappy” women threaten the image and legitimacy of a community, group, or society.

The pressure that staunchly feminist women, orthodox Jewish women, Mormon women, Muslim women, liberal/democratic women, or republican women feel to “not let their community down” is both overwhelming and unsustainable. Depression, anxiety, “excessive” struggle, and an “inability” to cope with our societal expectations for perfection has become the ultimate source of shame for many. I don’t believe that we are doing this maliciously, nor do I believe we intended for women to be pitted against one another. But it will be important to take a look at the consequences of this cultural debate and to discuss how we can potentially let go of our defensiveness and ease the burden on women.