The Lizard of Fun looks out from under its beer-funnel baseball hat and party shades, and says derisively, "You’re looking glum. I don’t like that."
I shrug. "It’s just that since I’ve been reading this book, I’m not sure if I’m having fun or not."
"Well, no wonder," says the Lizard, popping open another Guinness. "You’re reading a book instead of getting out there and making yourself happy."
Maybe so. This particular book is called What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman. Written by postfeminist firebrand Danielle Crittenden, it was published by Simon & Schuster last week, and it’s been pissing me off ever since it landed on my desk.
But like a box of chocolates, I just can’t resist opening it up and nibbling a bit every now and then. And, like chocolates, I keep devouring it even though it makes me feel sick and makes my teeth hurt.
For one thing, it brings to mind pop-feminist tomes, such as Women Who Love Men Who Don’t Put the Toilet Seat Down or Women Who Hang Out With Lizards Because They Can’t Find a Real Man. (Obviously, I’m a woman who reads too much, especially between the lines.)
For another thing, even if we thought we were reasonably content with our TV dinners, pink-collar jobs and lizardly companions, it shouts, "Attention, all women! If you’re living in the modern world, you’re not happy!"
Our mothers and grandmothers were bummed out by housework and baby care and the lack of decent daytime television (OK, that’s still a thorn). Now, apparently, "modern" women are miserable about exactly the same things, only in this postfeminist world, it’s from the other side of the vacuum cleaner.
According to the Roper Starch poll, an annual study Crittenden frequently cites, the age-old question "What do women want?" can be answered in three words: Not "world peace now" or "free beer always" or even "sport-utility vehicles," but, astonishingly, "marriage, career, family."
Snore. What happened to moonlit escapades with a scantily clad Brad Pitt? Have our collective dreams of wildly impractical romances on tropical beaches dissolved into a full-blown, chenille-lined Martha Stewart fetish (served with a darling little bow on top, sculpted from fresh handmade goat cheese)?
Seems so. According to the 30-something Crittenden (who’s a fine example of someone who has it all, including a brilliant career, successful husband, two kids, a home in Washington, D.C., and now an annoying book, too), the women who are most unhappy are those who haven’t found a way to achieve — or balance — everything she has.
These cheerless women, according to Crittenden, are those who squander the best years of their lives (in this case, their early 20s) hanging out with lizards; sleeping with guys they’re not going to talk to in the morning, let alone marry and have babies with; scratching their way up the corporate or academic ladder and — when occasion strikes them — launching complicated sexual harassment suits which do more for their incomes than a decade’s worth of White House interning.
Then, suddenly staring 30 in the fangs, women realize they’re not happy. The book says so. After a decade or so of steadfastly avoiding marriage and pregnancy, they’re highlighting pages in The Rules and yearning for stretch marks. (No wonder happiness leaps out the window!)
Ultimately, they end up like the slim, attractive 30-something businesswoman the Lizard of Fun spotted recently in Toys "R" Us, wearing an immaculate silk suit and high heels, pushing a shopping cart with so many cans of infant formula, packages of diapers, baby blankets and little outfits they threatened to smother the actual, live baby sleeping in a new carseat in the bottom of the cart. ("They sell the kids here, too?" asked the Lizard of Fun, almost dropping its new Sega cartridge. "Complete starter packs! Just add water!")
Crittenden would argue that instead of adopting — or worse, trying to conceive — babies in their midcareer 40s and 50s, women should have arranged for grandchildren by then. If they haven’t, they’re setting themselves up for sure grief.
"You humans. Just do it the way lizards do: Lay eggs." The Lizard wags its tail lasciviously. "All the fun and none of the mess, and years later when some kid comes up and claims it’s your long-lost offspring, you can deny everything. Works extra-well for celebrities and those with million-dollar insurance policies."
Speaking of which, you don’t often catch celebrities whining about how unhappy they are. Could it be because the only women who really manage to balance everything they want in life are those with impossibly bloated bank accounts?
When I start to chew angrily at the cover of the book, the Lizard of Fun drags me out to the Auto Show. ("Candy-colored Hummers! Let’s see if we can hot-wire these suckers!")
But at the Volkswagen exhibit, a pretty narrator-model (not to be confused with a showroom model) in her mid-30s confesses, after drooling over a visitor’s baby, that her biological clock is cuckooing louder every day. "And I’m not even involved with anybody!" she laments, as though she can see her future in the shiny car windows, and it’s an image of her face, alone.
"Hey, wanna take a ride?" I ask the Lizard. "I know a book we need to go and drive over."