Let a Bitch Celebrate! Women and the Culture of Happiness Shaming

For a woman, joy must be expressed carefully. Because to express your happiness too wantonly, too ebulliently or widely, is to risk a quick shutdown from those who are not experiencing the same happiness.
Publish date:
September 20, 2012
kids, marriage, happiness, fill-in-the-blank-shaming

I know, I know, the "shaming" thing is overdone. (See prime picks from yesterday's #parodyxojaneheadlines hashtag like "Shame Shaming: It's the New Privilege").

But is there a tidier way to describe the feeling of that particular brand of swift, sudden social smackdown? Does any other word express the power of another human being to make you feel fundamentally incorrect? The girl who poked at my bathing-suited stomach at summer camp and counted my pre-adolescent fat rolls didn't just kinda make me feel bad. She SHAMED me into a melted lump of little-girl-mortification-emitting radioactive waves that pulsed on into adulthood. If you can think of another verb as evocative of that particular toxicity, I will gladly start using it.

A lot of awesome stuff has happened to me this year. I got engaged. Then, in the natural order of things, three weeks later I got a kid. Do things this way if you're a fucking maniac -- in the middle of writing this, I got sucked into a wedding venue website K-hole and started to hyperventilate a little. But while cramming two huge life events into the span of a month borders on insane, it's also made for a time of hypercharged joyfulness in my daily life. Babies are getting haircuts and shit and I'm in a permanent state of "PMSing while watching an 'American Idol' contestant overcome adversity." I'm so happy it hurts a little -- like my heart is kind of stretchy?

But it didn't take long to learn that for a woman, joy must be expressed carefully, in select settings and with trusted friends. Because to express your happiness too wantonly, too ebulliently or widely, is to risk a quick shutdown from those who are not experiencing the same happiness.

Hence, that Debbie Downer acquaintance who shut down my recap of the past few months by saying, "Hearing about your life just reminds me that I'm old and alone." Or this Conde Nast employee now being publicly shamed for writing a cutesy away message celebrating her wedding. Or the fact that I wrote approximately one post and spent a few days tweeting about my engagement before someone Tweeted this at me:

Let a bitch celebrate for 5-7 minutes, damn! Also, "it's not an accomplishment"? The fuck it isn’t. I used to drink so much I pissed myself on the regular, and now someone wants to share a bed with me forever. Finding someone you want to spend your life with and committing to them for keeps is an accomplishment for those who choose it. Just because you’re not into becoming a potter doesn’t mean you have to shit all over your friend’s beautiful vase. (And if you don't think growing another human inside your body is a fucking accomplishment, then I want to see the magical shit you can do.)

In fact, this whole topic came up on the heels of a story from my new-mom friend, whose presence with her baby at a social gathering actually elicited someone to say, "The babies here are making me really uncomfortable, because they remind me of my abortion." Wah Wah WWWWWAAAAAAHHHHH.

I get that marriage and babies in particular are loaded topics for women and the fuckload of societal expectations heaped upon us are apt to make us FEEL THINGS. I even think these feelings can be inoffensively discussed among close friends. But to lob your sob story into a crowd of acquaintances amounts to a kind of happiness terrorism meant to scare us all away from experiencing unguarded joy. The message is clear: A lot of people just want you to shut the fuck up about your fucking engagement, raise, wedding, promotion, marriage, nice apartment or kids. Why do you think the "humble brag" is a thing? Because we're too scared to just come out and acknowledge it when good things are happening for us!

For my money, when someone else's happiness makes you angry instead of happy, the problem is always you. I mean, really. Is my happiness hurting you? Is it melting your freaking face? Is it poking you with pins and goading you into retaliatory action?

Things are going pretty awesome for me right now. I try to be humble and grateful for my blessings each day, but I still often feel that I am tiptoeing around my good fortune, afraid to express it too effusively lest I rub someone the wrong way. But you know what? Happiness in this life is fleeting. I plan to embrace mine while I can, secure in the knowledge that on another day it will be someone else's turn. And if anybody has a problem with it, they can just comfort themselves with the fact that everyone I love will someday die. Wah Wah WAAAAAAHHHHH.

Have you ever been happiness shamed? Do you think getting married is an accomplishment? What's your favorite parody xoJane headline? I CELEBRATE ALL YOUR HAPPINESSES.