Summary: Researchers comment moral demands for women to be fun and be happy undermine their citizenship and commitment to community.
Source: The Conversation
Girls are constantly told to smile, from T-shirts sold in stores that say “everyone loves a happy girl” to the catcallers telling young women to smile when they walk down the street.
Audrey Hepburn once famously stated that “happy girls are the prettiest girls” — now this quote is reiterated in the post-feminist marketplace on T-shirts, pillow cases and stationery.
Perhaps the most public callout to a girl to smile was Donald Trump’s caustically sarcastic tweet that climate activist Greta Thunberg “seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”
But lift up the hood of this pressure to be perceived as carefree and happy and look underneath: something much more disturbing is revealed.
I have been studying the experiences of girls, particularly tweens aged eight to 12, with regards to consumer culture for the past 15 years. The pressure on girls to be fun, happy and smiling reveals much about the cultural expectations projected onto girls and girlhood.
This constant expectation of girls to be always smiling depoliticizes girls and positions them as compliant in their own subjugation. “Fun” acts as a distraction from deeper political issues, discouraging girls from considering the exploitation and violence that girls worldwide face.
Fun can be had with others, but at its root is an individual endeavour to be responsible for one’s own fun. The call to smile is not an invitation to celebrate the resolution of the misogynistic and patriarchal structures that are often at the root of unhappiness.
Happiness and fun are forms of popular feminism that frame gender equality as individual empowerment eclipsing a feminist structural critique. Unhappiness deviates from the post-feminist script in which women — who are responsible for their own happiness and emancipation — need to think positively and be inspired to make change. The emphasis is on individual actions over collective consciousness.
The call to happiness and fun lets patriarchal structures and institutions off the hook for the injustices, unhappiness and pains of girls worldwide, and posits the responsibility for their own happiness on girls’ shoulders. But girls are no longer complying, including Greta Thunberg, who brilliantly turned Trump’s own words back on him.