Archives for December, 2011
In my last post, I began to discuss Katherine J. Lehman’s book, Those Girls: Single Women in Sixties and Seventies Popular Culture. Lehman draws on scholarship and popular writings, as do many media critics. She goes a big step further, though, and tracks down original scripts and proposals, and discovers how they were often trimmed and tamed by industry censorship and by societal concerns about how single women should behave. So what did Lehman learn about the storytelling about single women in 1960s and 1970s movies and television? Would single women who ventured into the city discover that they really could make it on their own, or would they find that they were courting danger? Would single women who wanted to pursue sexual experiences be glamorized or punished? What should we make of the heroines of series such as The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels? Should we mock them for their skimpy and silly attire, or admire them for modeling single-women strength in arenas typically dominated by men?
I spent way too much time during my first weeks of college feeling intimidated and scared. I grew up in the small town of Dunmore, Pennsylvania (near Scranton) and went to the very public Dunmore High School. Then there I was, in 1971, at Vassar College. At my high school, when someone said a word with more than three syllables, it was intended as a joke. Those first few weeks of college, I found myself laughing at all sorts of inappropriate times. The first weekend of my first semester of college, I went to a movie on campus with many other students. On the way back, several of those students were analyzing what they had just seen. What did it really mean? What was wrong with the assumptions in the film and the portrayals of different kinds of people? I had never discussed a movie with my friends in that way. I was sure I was going to flunk out. Now I love to think critically about popular culture, and to read other people’s analyses, especially when the topic is the portrayal of single people. My most recent discovery of a wonderfully thoughtful and carefully researched book is Katherine J. Lehman’s Those Girls: Single Women in Sixties and Seventies Popular Culture.
“We draw pleasure and pain from what is happening at the moment, if we attend to it.” So says Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman in his recent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Some of the research described in Thinking, Fast and Slow is based on a “Day Reconstruction Method,” in which people relive the experiences of the previous day, and answer questions about their activities during that day. They also name the people they were with during the various activities, and they describe their emotions. Results showed “no differences in experienced well-being between women who lived with a mate and women who did not.” Kahneman believes that the ways in which the two sets of women spend their time explain why neither group was happier than the other:
I was out of the country when the Pew Research Center released the latest report showing that the percentage of Americans who are married is now at a record low. I’ve just now had a chance to read the entire report. The statistics on the decline of marriage are dramatic, and I’ll get to those later. What I found most interesting, though, did not appear until the very last paragraph of the report. As many of you know, I’m 58 and have always been single. When I tell other people that I love my single life (except for the singlism), sometimes they protest that I can’t really know that married life would not be better because I’ve never tried it. That’s why the last paragraph of the latest Pew report was especially intriguing:
One of the welcome aspects of the holiday season is that the people who most deserve recognition and thanks sometimes actually get it. The people who serve in the military make sacrifices that other citizens do not. They earn respect for that, even from those who may not support any or all combat missions. The part that strikes me as deeply unfair is when the lives of particular soldiers are valued much more than those of others – specifically, a quarter million dollars more. The Canadian press is reporting that the families of married soldiers who are killed in war are awarded a $250,000 death benefit. The families of single soldiers get nothing. It is not just in Canada that single soldiers get dramatically less compensation for the same work. In the U.S., too, single soldiers are targets of discrimination in many domains of the military, from survivors’ benefits to pay to housing and more.
When I was a kid, I used to love getting Christmas presents. Birthday gifts, too. Now as an adult, I love giving them – when I can think of something that seems like just the right thing for the person I have in mind. There is a particular present that I have often wanted to give but always hesitated to do so because I wasn’t sure what the recipient would think. That’s the gift of contributing, in the recipient’s name, to someone who needs a gift far more than anyone in my gift-exchange community.
I like to write about people who are single at heart – people who love their single lives and who feel that single is who they really are. I recognize, though, that there are plenty of single people who really do want to be coupled. I write less about them because they already get lots of attention. In fact, the prevailing myth is that, deep down inside, all singles are exactly like them. If singles say they love their single lives, the myth insists, they are just kidding themselves. I was asked an interesting question recently: In your everyday life, is it harder to be single at heart or single and wanting to be coupled? The most obvious answer seems to be that singles who are pining for a partner are having a harder time – after all, they do not have what they want, whereas singles who are single at heart are living life on their own preferred terms.
Who is mean to other people? What kinds of people get treated most cruelly? “Mean Girls” is not just a part of our popular culture -- it is a topic that professional psychologists actually study. When researchers first started studying aggression, they mostly studied physical aggression. More recently, they have recognized how mean people can be to one another without ever lifting a finger. “Relational aggression” is the term psychologists use to refer to the ways we purposefully hurt other people in our various relationships. Sadly, there are countless ways we can hurt the ones we love – and I don’t just mean romantic partners. We can hurt friends by ostracizing them, gossiping about them, and ending the friendship. We can hurt romantic partners by cheating on them and withholding intimacy. In a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Personal Relationships, Sara Goldstein asked 479 undergraduates (93% heterosexual) to complete a set of questionnaires asking about their relational aggression toward friends and romantic partners. Here are some examples of the items they answered:
[Bella’s intro: Impression management is part of all of our lives. We change who we are with certain people, often in the hopes that they will like us more. Sometimes we just edit our self-presentations; other times we lie. We can act like chameleons with anyone but the temptation may be especially great with potential romantic partners. In our research on lying, for example, my colleagues and I found that people lie more often to romantic partners than to friends. As someone who is single at heart, I don’t blog about dating. When Danae Matthews sent me this essay, though, I wanted to share it here. She describes the challenge of being authentic in the context of dating, but her bigger points are relevant far beyond the domain of romantic pursuits. I thank her for her contribution and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.]