Archives for November, 2012
Maybe you have already heard about the essay, “The war on men,” that has kicked up a firestorm. I did not jump in right away on this. The essay, by Suzanne Venker, is just another variation of the “evil feminists” theme, articulated so ridiculously that it is a caricature of itself. I’ll share a few choice passages so you can judge for yourself. (You can also partake of Stephen Colbert’s parody – it is the opening segment of the November 28, 2012 show.) Then I will get to the point that really did bother me – an outrageous, singlist reaction made by someone who is often a smart and witty commentator of the political and cultural scene.
Just before Thanksgiving, NPR posted a question on its website asking people to weigh in about spending holidays alone. Are they doing so themselves and why? NPR got a flood of answers. From my perch as a practitioner and scholar of single life, what I found most intriguing was the range of responses. My guess is that if NPR had posed this question three or four decades ago, the reactions would have been overwhelmingly negative – people appalled at the idea of spending a holiday alone, or pitying those who do. People who were planning to be alone perhaps would have been reluctant to say so.
I’m a social scientist and an author. I like to explain things with numbers and words. In some ways, though, my Explainer-in-Chief hero is Jon Stewart. To me, there is nothing quite like great humor – especially Daily Show style – to make a point in a way that sticks. At its best, humor knocks down your defenses and leaves you on the floor laughing before you can muster any personal outrage or indignation. (Of course, it helps if you agree with the point of the humor.) My favorite recent example of this is an awesome Daily Show send-up of pundits’ attempts to explain the voting proclivities of single and married women in the 2012 Presidential election. Unlike single women, who favored Obama over Romney by a huge margin, married women favored Romney. Here’s the clip of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show’s Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent Kristen Schaal: The married vs. single woman vote. If you want to generate your own reasons why it is so good at myth-busting (if you agree that it is), then watch it first, then read on.
I’m very attuned to the often-subtle ways that people stereotype and marginalize single people in their everyday behaviors and conversations. Many times, the people who practice this singlism do not even realize that there is anything wrong with their prejudicial behavior – or even that it is prejudicial. That’s why we need consciousness-raising. Sometimes, what people say about single people is so crude, and so over-the-top, that it is tempting to dismiss it out of hand. Who would ever take such offensive stuff seriously? When the person in question is Rush Limbaugh, or others with loud voices and national platforms, then too many people really do believe what they are hearing. Sometimes they not only believe it, they repeat it. They even say such disdainful things to the faces of people they know to be single.
Some holidays are celebrated in ways that can make single people feel stereotyped, stigmatized, or ignored. Valentine’s Day, obviously. Christmas. New Year’s Eve. Thanksgiving. Veterans Day, I think, is an exception. In fact, of the major holidays, it may well be the fairest of them all. That’s not just because veterans are involved.
“You don’t count.” It is something that is rarely said out loud. People who think that of other groups of people typically do not admit it. The history of social movements is one of marginalized groups fighting back and insisting that they cannot be relegated to the sidelines anymore. One way we can tell that a social justice movement by and for a particular group has succeeded, at least in part, is when the mainstream media becomes self-conscious about not stereotyping or excluding that group. No longer is it acceptable to act as if the world is comprised solely of white men, for example, or that white men are the only humans who count. Protests against racism and sexism helped us achieve that. Other groups have jumped into action, too. Now we also can’t pretend that the only humans who count are white, heterosexual, married men. Consciousness-raising about heterosexism and singlism has done that. Sometimes, though, old prejudices peak out. No, actually, they jump out, even in high-profile media accounts written by reporters who probably see themselves as sophisticated, savvy and totally without prejudice.
They appear every year – those lists of “top cities for singles.” I keep waiting for one that is not a parody of itself, but sadly, the most recent was one of the worst of the bunch. The latest list is from Bloomberg News. Unlike most “top” lists that base their picks on numerous criteria, Bloomberg gets right down to just two: (1) percent of the men and women of that city who live alone; and (2) percent by which the median income exceeds the national average. These are not necessarily bad criteria. I’m single at heart, and I can see the advantages of both. In a city where lots of people live alone, there may be lots of single people interested in friendship. There may be lots of cultural activities, sports, and other events that do not cater to married couples or to two-parent families with little kids. These cities could be places where single people feel welcome to live single, without a lot of pressure to couple up. A higher than average income level might mean that these cities are places with good jobs. That could be appealing to plenty of single people who love their single lives.
Remember when people interested in dating were ashamed to admit that they looked for partners online? It was seen as a sign of desperation and loser-dom to try to connect with strangers online. Can’t you meet real people face-to-face? Sure, maybe other people would “set you up,” but they would know the people they were recommending to you as matches. Now, meeting potential romantic partners online is ordinary. But what if you are interested in platonic friends?