Caryl Rivers – a notable professor, author, feminist, and cultural critic – has a problem with what the Atlantic magazine has to say about women:
“The venerable magazine regularly publishes thoughtful reporting and analysis about the Middle East, U.S. politics, the future of China, the global economy, climate change — on and on. It’s only when the publication gazes on the 50 percent of the population that is not male that it wanders off into Cloud cuckoo land.”
The first half of Rivers’ essay takes on the writings of Caitlin Flanagan who, Rivers notes, “advocates for a very retro style of marriage. She believes husbands should be in charge and women accommodating.” I love that part of the essay. It is brilliant and hilarious.
Then Rivers turns to the woman she sees as representing “the other half of the universe of women in Atlantic’s vision” – Sandra Tsing Loh. Rivers believes that Tsing Loh’s article, “Let’s call the whole thing off,” is “as atypical of American women as is Flanagan’s Victoriana.” Rivers goes on to say this about Tsing Loh and her article:
“She has decided that smart, fortyish women like her are so capable and competent in all realms of life that they don’t need husbands. As Tsing Loh (who has jettisoned hers) writes, ‘I can pay the bills, I can refinance the house at the best reasonable rates’ and, she adds, take care of all the children’s needs as well. She can do it all. Alone. So why not? There are always guys out there for sex.
“But how many accomplished — and yes, feminist — women share that view? None that I know.”
So there you have it. A smart, respected professor and feminist, in the year 2012, is claiming that no accomplished women share Tsing Loh’s view that they do not need husbands. To Rivers, the notion that a woman doesn’t need a man is as much a part of “Cloud cuckoo land” as the belief that “husbands should be in charge and women accommodating.”
Caryl Rivers, please get to know some contemporary single women. I hereby double down on Tsing Loh’s claim – not only do plenty of single women not need husbands, they don’t want them. I’m one of them. Our perspective is not about antipathy to men. (Dare I say that some of my best friends are men?) We don’t have “issues” and we are not running away from commitment. We are not broken products of “broken homes.” We are embracing our single lives and living them fully, joyfully, and unapologetically. We are single at heart. Single is who we really are.
I don’t disagree with the distinction Rivers is underscoring between two perspectives. I, too, have contrasted Caitlin Flanagan’s writings with Sandra Tsing Loh’s – to make the point that Tsing Loh’s arguments (including claims about the children of single parents) are more scientifically accurate and more in tune with the profound changes in marital mentalities that are rippling through our contemporary cultural landscape.
More so than ever before, many women (and men) really can have full, rewarding, meaningful lives without marrying. As I noted in the opening chapter of Singled Out:
“Financial freedom – women’s, in particular – is high on the list of social changes that have empowered many single people. Although women are still paid less than men for comparable work,and far too many women and men live in poverty, there are currently sizable numbers of women who earn enough money on their own to support themselves, and maybe even some kids. They are no longer tethered to husbands for economic life support. Neither men nor women need a spouse to have sex without stigma or shame. Children born to single mothers now have the same legal rights as those born to married mothers. With the advent of birth control and legalized abortion, and with progress in medical reproductive technology, women can have sex without having children, and children without having sex” (pp. 10-11).
In 2004, law professor Rachel Moran published an important article, “How second-wave feminism forgot the single woman.” I hope that the next time I pick up a thoughtful article about American women by Caryl Rivers or other contemporary feminists, I will find that they have, at last, remembered and respected the choice that many single women (and men) make to live single.
Confident women photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 23 Jan 2012