By Brianna Heldt
Just Showing Up
Did anyone else hear about the article running in this month’s edition of Good Housekeeping magazine, titled “10 Reasons It’s Good to Be Bad”? While I have never, ever read Good Housekeeping in all my days, I’ve seen a couple of different people calling attention to this particular piece, so I did the obvious and natural thing: I read it.
And, ohmygoodness. What is wrong with people? The article reads like a who’s who of Worst Advice Ever–I can’t decide which suggestion is lamer, flirting with someone who is not your husband, getting mad and staying mad, or reading erotica. And does anyone deny that it feels good to do bad things? Who doesn’t love a little adrenaline rush from time to time? I’m not sure we need an author or researcher to tell us that a lot of Really Bad Things are, well, a heck of a lot of fun. Just ask any 16-year-old kid at a rave, or the 35-year-old woman who owns the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy.
It isn’t rocket science. Sometimes “bad” things feel “good.”
But this idea that, as women in pursuit of happiness, we should be aspiring to these things is positively ridiculous. The perspective of this piece more closely resembles that of a petulant child’s (who must have what he or she wants right this very second) than a grown-up’s with a journalism degree. Consider this choice selection from the piece:
Make eyes at the waiter when your mate’s in the loo. Wink at the UPS guy. If you don’t turn it on once in a while, you risk switching off permanently. “Flirting with others keeps you plugged into your sexual energy and self-confidence,” says Greer. It also sparks libido, which you can take directly to the bedroom—and your husband.
Good grief. Clearly the author never heard the old adage “the ends don’t always justify the means.”
Of course wise readers will see right through these stupid ideas and move on to the next article. It’s just a magazine, after all, and you’d hope that no one is expecting to receive infallible life instruction from the Hearst Corporation. But the reason it caught my eye in the first place (and the reason I’m writing about it today) is that it serves as further proof that modern women are being lied to by other women. Over and over again. And it’s a real problem because millions of ladies really are looking to magazines, television, and social media for cues on how to think about themselves, their relationships, and their world. And instead of presenting a dignified, sincere, and ultimately whole picture of personhood, family life, and the human experience, each of these sources is instead committed to a twisted and destructive perspective on womanhood that has firmly embedded itself in the female psyche.
Maybe that sounds overly dramatic to you, or perhaps a bit alarmist. If so, I’d encourage you to check out the women’s magazine covers next time you’re at the grocery store. And not just the edgier ones like Cosmpolitan, but some of the more “respectable” publications too. You might actually be surprised to discover some of the underlying values being sold to generally-unsuspecting readers, values that tell them that what matters in life is appearance, self-fulfillment, and autonomy, while simultaneously convincing them that the average middle-class American woman’s life is so hard!, fraught with unhappiness! and scary things!
And for some reason, we believe them.
Myrna Blyth, former editor-in-chief of Ladies Home Journal, published a book six years ago entitled Spin Sisters: How Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness and Liberalism to the Women of America. It is a fascinating read to be sure, and even if you disagree with her personal politics it is hard to argue against the general idea that the media is in the business of making women believe they are victims: to men, to tradition, to society at large, and to their own biology.
The only sensible solution then (according to the media) is liberation and freedom from the shackles of the simple and practical life of our grandmothers–which necessitates the use of hormonal birth control, the scourge of abortion, disdain for the woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mom for philosophical or moral reasons, fear of any religion that commands adherence to a moral code, worship of autonomy, and the outright resentment of marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood–to name but a few. And certainly not all women have embraced this message in its entirety but we can, at the very least, see its widespread acceptance after years of insidious and intentional media marketing.
The Good Housekeeping article of course only works as a premise when woman herself is isolated and cut off from any and everybody else. This is the only way her momentary experience of happiness and endorphin-induced euphoria can take precedence over the well-being of her family and even the totality of her life, because think about it–in a vacuum, sure, a little intentional flirting with the waiter while her unsuspecting husband uses the restroom is not a huge deal. But when you take into account her marriage, her financial stability, the good of her children and her husband, her mental and emotional state over time, and the health of her faith community if she has one, all of a sudden gleefully pursuing vice sounds like a pretty dangerous proposition.
Now I’m not saying that women aren’t particularly vulnerable to being victimized–I believe quite the opposite, actually. But the true oppression, shaming and silencing of women is being perpetrated by precisely the people who are promising deliverance. And the underlying message that we see in this publication and others like it is that we aren’t happy, or can’t find happiness within the confines of a properly-ordered and virtuous existence. And that a marriage marked by commitment to faithfulness and chastity is inherently unhappy.
How terribly wrong this is! And how utterly insulting to our intelligence as women, to imply that actually being a good person, a faithful wife, or a woman of strong character is not only out of our reach but actually opposed to a healthy and happy life.
Because friends, it is simply untrue. Seeking out “happy feelings” at the cost of hurting our spouse or our children, or even just ourselves in doing something that is an affront to our dignity, is not a recipe for happiness but for disaster. They say it will leave us fulfilled and satisfied, but I suspect that even if it does? It will also eventually culminate in brokenness and destruction. My marriage works best when my husband and I choose love, trust, fidelity, reconciliation, and redemption. My life feels happy when things are right in my relationships with those close to me, when I am working hard, when I am kind, and when I am attempting to meet God’s standard for womanhood. Not when I am a god unto myself and isolated by the walls of sin and selfishness, because when the fleeting happy feelings eventually diminish, I will discover that I am alone. And we were never, ever meant to be alone in this sense.
As women we must reject any idea or philosophy which stands in opposition to the beauty and truth reflected in God’s design for the world. We must understand what it means to be a woman, and what it means to love. We must learn to appreciate the roles that self-sacrifice and faithfulness play in our lives, and pursue a healthy and whole life that is properly ordered towards virtue and wellness. Because only then can we be truly happy.
So ladies, make the choice not to flirt with other men. Love your husbands instead. Immerse yourselves in good literature, beautiful art, and stimulating conversation, over their ugly counterfeits. Choose forgiveness, and seek forgiveness. Be somebody that you’d want to know, and don’t fall for the lies of the culture–because the culture hates women, as cultures always have and always will. The great thing though is that our culture does not define us. God does. And while I can’t make you feel happy, I can say that ignoring Good Housekeeping‘s ten tips is a darn good place to start.
Brianna Heldt is a mother to eight and contributor to Ignitum Today, Catholic Stand, and Catholic Exchange. In addition to her four biological children, she and her husband are also parents to four adopted children from Ethiopia, including two daughters with Down syndrome. When Brianna is not busy blogging or homeschooling, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading good books, thrifting, and advocating for orphaned children with medical needs. She lives with her husband and kids in Denver and blogs at Just Showing Up, where this post originally appeared.