Rebecca Traister is an award-winning journalist and writer at large for New York Magazine who focuses on women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective. In the wake of last Tuesday’s discouraging loss for Hillary Clinton and women’s equality in America, Traister wrote a moving article about Clinton’s loss that reflected on how white women failed to support a candidate that represented a huge step forward for women’s rights.
The media has been feverishly trying to justify how wrong they and all the polls were on the election’s outcome, but they’ve also generally avoided saying the obvious. Clinton lost because she is a woman. As Traister writes in her article “Few seem eager to examine the possibility that certain segments of America simply do not want to be led by a woman, and that almost every other explanation for what was wrong with [Clinton] — her high negatives, reputation for being untrustworthy, the email mess — originates with the ways she has been systematically demonized her whole career for being a threatening woman.” There were certainly many other factors at play, but ultimately this was yet another instance of an over-qualified female losing out on a job to an embarrassingly under-qualified male.
Clinton was demonized for aspiring to a role that is outside the traditional realm of what some Americans are comfortable with women aspiring too. In the same way, unmarried women living alone in this country are more accepted today than ever before, and yet still subject to misogynistic caricatures as dried up career women, unfit to be loving wives and mothers. It’s always a double-edged sword for women in America (similarly to other discriminated groups). Here’s some freedom, but we’ll judge you and villify you for exercising it.
As Traister notes, it was actually married white women who were much more likely to vote for Trump in this past week’s election, while single white women still predominantly voted for Clinton. In All The Single Ladies Rebecca Traister reflects on how the increasing independence experienced by unmarried women in America over the last century can and has been a huge agent of social change, leading the movements for abolition, suffrage and equality for women in the workforce. I hope that the progress in the lives of unmarried women in America, which certainly helped Hillary to become the first female major-party candidate in this past election, will continue to accelerate in future years, propeling a woman into the U.S. Presidency in our lifetime.
All The Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
Published: March 1st 2016
All The Single Ladies is a structured look into the social, economic and political influences that have changed the state of unmarried woman from a social aberration to the norm in America. In 2009, the percentage of married women in the U.S. dropped below fifty percent, with women on average choosing to marry much later than previously. In this look at modern American life, in which unmarried women are reshaping social expectations of what the purpose and desire for marriage should be, Traister leads the reader to the conclusion that enabling women to opt out of marriage has strengthened rather than weakened the institution. By marrying later, women are able to focus on establishing their own financial independence before deciding if to tie themselves to a man, leading to fewer unhappy marriages of expediency and also a lowered divorce rate for women who marry later in life.
What I Liked
I picked up All The Single Ladies because I am an unmarried woman in my early thirties and I was looking for some insight into my ‘condition’. Having spent over a decade at the beginning of my adult life as single (not just unmarried but also romantically unattached for a majority of the time), has given me the freedom to focus on my career and the independence to decide how every minute of my life is spent without someone else to take into account. It’s a liberating position to be in, while in many ways being single at my age still flies in the face of traditional advice that if you don’t marry young and get too used to being on your own, you’ll die an old maid.
I had a lot invested at the outset in the book’s message – and in the end All The Single Ladies made me feel that my situation is becoming the norm for women in America and other affluent countries, and that the fact that women are marrying later nowadays does not actually mean that they are staying single forever. In the United States and in other ‘developed’ countries around the world, despite the fact that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to supporting women’s rights, women are benefiting from the freedom of it being more socially and also somewhat financially feasible for them to live independently, giving them more choice about when and if to partner with hopefully the right mate.
“The revolution is the expansion of options, the lifting of the imperative that for centuries hustled nearly all (non-enslaved) women, regardless of their individuals desires, ambitions, circumstances, or the quality of available matches, down a single highway toward early heterosexual marriage and motherhood. There are now an infinite number of alternative routes open; they wind around combinations of love, sex, partnership, parenthood, work, and friendship, at different speeds.”
I found my thoughts most poignantly reflected in the chapter on living as a single woman and solitude or loneliness. As an introvert, I personally thrive when I have sufficient time to spend on my own and recharge. The fact that I enjoy being alone more than other people does not mean that I don’t experience loneliness – just like everyone else. Ultimately, I know that I want to find the right man for me and build a family, but it will definitely be hard to give up all the time to myself that I enjoy in my current unmarried, unburdened state. Also, as a single woman it becomes easy to worry that you’re becoming progressively less suited to a life with others – too set in your ways and unable to eventually adapt to living with someone else. Traister writes:
“In the years I lived alone, I worried and was regularly warned, that I was growing more intractable in my habits, becomes so set in my ways that I would never be able to make room for another person… In retrospect, however, I see that the fierce protection of my space, schedule, and solitude served as a prophylactic against relationships I didn’t really want to be in.”
I can definitely relate. As single women, we’re not necessarily alone because we never want to be with someone. We’re alone because we have the freedom and ability to be, while often still looking for the right person with whom to spend our lives. Personally, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to view marriage as the automatic choice to make after college, but rather as something I can take my sweet time deciding on while I enjoy years spent learning about myself while on my own.
Traister also expertly delves into many other nuances of unmarried female reality – the significant racial differences that exist in the experiences of single women in America, and the work that still remains to be done in convincing politicians and public opinion that allowing women to remain single longer is actually good for the success of marriage. In the different chapters of her book, Traister discusses single women and social progress in America, the role of cities in increasing unmarried women’s freedom, the importance of friendships acting as support systems for single women and the role that career plays in women’s decision to delay or forego marriage.
I really liked that at the end of the book Traister provides an Appendix with an outline of the types of policies that must be enacted by government and its electorate in order to support women, whether married or unmarried, in America. By including this list of political ideals to uphold, Traister ties her analysis back to reality and to what can be done moving forward to continue to work on bettering the conditions of women of every race, married, unmarried, mothers or not, in this country.
What I Didn’t Like
The book was a little dry and long-winded at times. I felt that some of the chapters could have been half as long while still providing just as much analysis and information on the topic they covered. I also felt that at times Traister didn’t tie the anecdotes on women’s lives she uses as part of her analysis back to the themes she was covering in a way that felt cohesive. Overall, I think the book could have been more powerful in its message if the chapters and writing had been tighter.
A detailed look at a specific topic that impacts the lives of all Americans – an engaging read for unmarried women reflecting on their status in life and for others interested in the subject.
Have you read All The Single Ladies? What did you think? Are there other books on the role of women in America and in the world that you would recommend?
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