Satisfaction: A Model For Millennial Happiness?
Though The Feminine Mystique, the classic text that helped launch the modern feminist movement, discusses inequality on the levels of education, sex, the economy and beyond, it is, at its heart, a book about happiness. It identified “the problem that has no name”: the persistent unhappiness of women based on confinement to the roles of wife and mother. This classic text undeniably helped mobilize women to fight for equality, for a life beyond domesticity complete with all of the professional and personal opportunities available to men. But, somewhere down the line, it seems that, embroiled in these overarching, socioeconomic goals, feminists got confused about the personal, intimate fight for happiness. Or, more likely, feminists didn’t forget, but mistakenly equated male privilege itself with personal fulfillment, failing to realize that men, though they certainly enjoy various benefits based on their privilege, may not have been quite as happy as women assumed. No matter the disconnect, the fact remains: recent discussions about “having it all” have revealed that feminism has still failed to cut to the core of the goals that launched the movement in the first place: fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness for all.
Fifty years later, my peers and I, at the precipice of having to make the first impactful decisions that will shape the rest of our lives, are still left without any kind of certain path to fulfillment. Millennials have been paying attention to and are invested in the growing chorus of voices, of both women and men, who have recently broken the silence about what it’s really like to balance a career and family under the guise of postfeminist equality. We hear these admissions and warnings: we’re aware that we must make choices about our partners, careers, and families carefully, that the tried and true equation we were force fed by the media and society at large may not be so truly fulfilling after all. But we’ve hardly been presented with viable alternatives either.
Enter Satisfaction, which promises to explore how women and men can find fulfillment beyond the dominant stereotypic, static path encouraged by mainstream society. Satisfaction follows Neil and Grace Truman, a married couple that followed social conventions to a T: they met in college, got married, and had a child. Neil excelled at a high paying (yet soulless) financial job while his artistic wife stayed home and raised their child. They built and enjoy access to class-based privilege – they have a beautiful home, expensive car and send their daughter to private school. Yet both still find satisfaction elusive.
Satisfaction addresses gender-based issues of fulfillment, but moves beyond them, reverting tropes about how each member of a married couple feels about their shared situation, recognizing that both husbands and wives find satisfaction elusive in static relationships. Both husband and wife in this couple have personal, sexual and professional needs that aren’t being met. Grace, though she does contend with more typical gender-based issues of fulfillment in her failed attempt to seek work outside of the home after previously “opting out” defies stereotypical presentations of the wife as sexually (and otherwise) dependent on her husband: she is the spouse who first seeks sexual fulfillment outside of the marriage. Yet Neil is not the stereotypically distant and sexually unfulfilled husband, but rather is perhaps distant because he craves deeper meaning in all aspects of his life, although he also quickly picks up the gambit by experimenting sexually outside of the marriage as well. Grace and Neil defy media presentations of dissatisfied husbands and wives as opposite sides of a coin: of husbands professionally fulfilled and sexually unsatisfied and wives as the opposite. These characters’ journeys recognize that gender may shape the ways in which adults feel unsatisfied by the stagnation of marriage, but doesn’t necessarily cause or explain it. They raise the possibility that dissatisfaction has a much more inherent, human root that can’t be so easily understood.
Satisfaction may not offer a concrete alternative model to finding fulfillment, but it does offer a possibility: that we should all accept change and evolution throughout our lives. This show promises to explore what these journeys might look like, offering a much needed reference point for women and men of my generation. Rather than reinforce tired tropes about gender, marriage and happiness, it seems this show will do the challenging work of questioning all models to which viewers have become accustomed. My only hope is that Satisfaction continues to interrogate these models and, rather than shy away from such difficult questions, chooses to continue to delve into them completely.