Breaking: Single women are not tragic, lonely, were-witches

OK, I haven’t really heard any one call single ladies were-witches, but if you believe we are tragic, scary, cat hoarders–then I have to wonder what else you think is true.

The life and times of single ladies is the subject of constant speculation. You would think there is an actual news story there seeing as how much mainstream news coverage it gets–but there isn’t. Most stories about single women people are full of stereotypes, sexism, unrealistic expectations and the assumption that everyone is looking to get marry and make baby. Even if they continually say they are not or they just don’t care.

The problem with a world that relies on the worst dating advice imaginable is that even when someone writes something that is trying to give a refreshing new perspective, they fail. One such horrible piece was published last week in the New York Times reminding all of us that we can write forever and not get published in major newspapers, but people who reproduce myths about single and married life do.

Dominique Browning thinks it’s men that can’t be alone and they might have a point. After falling down (literally) Browning realizes, being alone is scurry and this breaks open the deeper psyche of the single lady who loves the independence she has, unlike the sad lonely men that are continually pining for marriage after marriage after marriage. The story ends with single ladies realizing that single life is all well and good, but…not really. Wait, what, am I in the twilight zone?

The world divides into two groups: one (men), who think you can fall at any moment, and when you’re down, you’re out, and you need help; the other (women), who pick themselves up and move on.

Judging by statistics, to say nothing of the glaring evidence around me, men do not have any problem remarrying. In fact, most men seem unable to live alone for longer than, say, at the outside … three months.

Did you read that correctly? Binary gender norms are alive and thriving, except the roles have reversed (sort of).  Interestingly, research does suggest that more men remarry after their first marriage (data set is from 2004 tho). But I think their reason for remarriage is a result of more than men being needy and women being independent. Instead try: a) women are taught their self worth is based on their marital status so they are often more willing to marry, even if the man is divorced b) divorced women are considered a tragedy and divorced men are single and on the market and c) and most importantly, men get a WIFE out of the deal. Who wouldn’t line up for that?

This type of non-radical-attempted-radical retelling of the differences between men and women should come as exciting and new, except that it is ripe with the same reductive fiction about gender differences and spook stories about single-dom. Only this time it is sliced with half ass anecdotes about how much women like single life and men can’t stand it. Her reason is that men are manly man hunters that need dinner ready for them and women are nesters, nesting. (Someone please come see my apartment for disproof. Then clean something up thx).

In contrast to this, another article came out last week that tells the story of several people that chose single life and are truly happy with it. Janelle Nanos did her research for Boston Magazine and concludes that there actually are people that chose to be single (100 million Americans are currently single) and they are by most common indicators happy. In fact, she even debunks the studies that say people perish in isolation–if anything people that stay in healthy relationships or make choices based on what is best for themselves are the happiest and healthiest.

“There’s no real evidence showing that being in a bad relationship or marriage is better for you than being alone or living alone,” says Klinenberg. “In my research with hundreds of interviews with people who live alone, a common theme was that there’s nothing more lonely than being in the wrong relationship.”

Lisa Berkman, an epidemiologist and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has found that single people who have strong social ties often have fewer health risks than those “greedy” married couples who isolate themselves. She believes that people who choose to be single can still find emotional fulfillment. “What we’ve pretty consistently found is that people can substitute close friendship or other family ties for being married or being a partner,” she says. “Intimacy doesn’t need to be physical or sexual. It’s the emotional intimacy that is really important.” She’s found that when people get the emotional support from friends and family for being who they are — like how Trespicio’s mother stands by her decision to remain alone — it can be just as beneficial. “It probably trumps the physical,” Berkman says.

Are there people that don’t want to be single? Sure. But there are also people in relationships that are unhappy and these desires transcend gender identification. It’s hard to find writing on dating and single life that is honest and reflective of our actual experiences which is problematic–it forces us to draw our romantic realities on false ideas about love, romance, desire and marriage.

So while we are at it, why don’t we take advice from this lovely lady and just kill the narrative of tragic single ladies, black and otherwise.

Also, I don’t know if you heard, but I actually wrote a book about this.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Maybe they write articles about single ladies because they sell. There you are, reading about single ladies, relating, writing articles. Maybe everything that can be said has been said, but maybe it’s just a massively relateable topic that attracts readers and sells ads. After all, just aboute everyone is single or has been single at some point. You could ask “Why do they keep writing these articles that I keep reading?”

    It is fascinating how differently we treat the issues of single men and single women. Single women are some kind of problem that we seem to be concerned about. Either people are worried about them being sadly alone, or they’re defending their right to be single. For men, we have the “forever alone guy” meme. We tend to only care about single men in terms of their potential to create instability in societies.

  2. Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    While I agree that the tragic single woman narratives à la Bridget Jones literally just need to stop, I’m disliking the generalizations about men being incapable of solitude or singledom especially given the article’s heteronormative context (do all gay men desperately strive for relationships?). We’re not all desperately seeking relationships (in any form). Remember, some feminists are (queer) men, who do understand your argumentation, but don’t appreciate generalizations about men nor enjoy a mild form of reverse sexism. (I generally find your articles excellent though!) -Ragnar

  3. Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    I think our culture needs to get rid of this notion that being in a relationship, whether it’s a good or bad one, is some sort of magical panacea for any and all of a person’s problems, or that not being in a relationship is the root cause of all of them. Not to mention this notion’s cruder cousin “You just need to get laid”. Some single people may feel lonely, some may not, I suspect most have their good days and their bad days, just like I did when I was single and you know what? I’m no longer single and I still have good days and bad days.

    As far as the cat-hoarding stereotype goes, I don’t even know where that comes from, but believe me, that’s another thing that a relationship isn’t gonna change—I know, because all my husband’s cats (yeah, you read that right, gender stereotypers, the guy was the big cat person here)moved in with us! But no worries, they get along really great with my rats. :)

  4. Posted January 12, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    May I say, I am a teenager who has had a lot of older adults talking at me from every which-way. Having my extended family over for new year’s was no exception. Everyone was trying to get us young whippersnappers to clean up, cook, be sociable, or any number of things. Most of the married folk just placed their requests in imperative (or bell-ringing) form, but one of our aunts–who just happens to be single–was the only one who asked us nicely (and, when we mentioned it to the family, didn’t abuse her power). Thought I’d share this lovely family story with y’all.

  5. Posted January 13, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Coming from a “high”-finance career background, I definitely saw the phenomena where as a woman, you could not win regardless of your marital status…either you were single, single-mindedly devoted to your career and successful (but then painted as a sad and crazy dried up cat lady), you were married and therefore not serious about your career (because, after all, you had a husband to support you or GASP children who prevented you from working 24/7/365), or you were married to a man who assumed the traditional “wife” role and therefore painted as a domineering bitch married to a sissy.

    Meanwhile, the single and married men silently chuckled as they promoted each other to partner and occasionally let in a token member of aforesaid female types into their club.

    Too often women in these different camps judged and berated each other. One some magical occasions we looked across the table from each other and realized we were all different sides of the same sexist coin.

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