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Everywhere I go, it seems, people want to talk about the election. I know lots of centered, secure people, but these days, when the topic turns to the election, they all seem anxious. The American Psychological Association must have noticed the same thing because they commissioned the Harris Poll to conduct an online survey on the topic. More than 3,500 adults participated, either in English or Spanish. It was a diverse sample.
It came in a beautiful envelope, with an elegant smaller envelope for my reply – almost like a wedding invitation. The organizers of this event for my alma mater, Vassar College, must have had marriage on their minds. The invitation was to an event called “Reflections on an Election Year.” The reply card included the note, “Due to our limited capacity, we ask that you limit your one guest to a spouse, partner, or Vassar alumna/us.”
People are put down for being single. We know this not just from our own personal experiences and observations but from numerous scientific studies showing that single people are indeed relentlessly stereotyped. But who is stereotyped more? Are single men or single women judged more harshly?
Singlism (the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single) is different from other more familiar isms such as racism, heterosexism, and sexism. For example, other isms are sometimes linked to violence. On the other hand, because singlism is rarely part of our cultural conversations, people practice it without awareness or apology. What is especially disheartening is that it is practiced unselfconsciously by some of the intellectual vanguard of our times, the cutting edge thinkers and writers.
Many people believe that no one can never be truly, deeply happy unless they get married. That’s not true, as I have been arguing for a very long time, but people cling to that belief nonetheless.
[Bella’s intro: There are so many things wrong with the scare story served up to single people about how they will die alone. But that particular threat seems to have some real staying power, so it needs to be challenged over and over again. Someone I have long admired wrote a particularly insightful challenge and gave me permission to share it with you here. She does not want me to use her name, so I’m going to refer to her as ‘Think Again.” Today marks the beginning of Unmarried and Single Americans Week, and this thoughtful essay is a great way to get it started.]
The third full week of September, September 18-24, is National Singles Week (more formally known as Unmarried and Single Americans Week). In some ways, this has been a good year for insightful and enlightening stories about single people. In fact, just yesterday (September 17, 2016), Fusion published “Meet the people who want to be single forever.” Earlier, New York magazine gave us “The new science of single people” and a story in the Huffington Post, “Research says single people – wait for it – live rich, meaningful lives,” was shared on Facebook more than 50,000 times. Over at the TED blog, readers learned about “The price of being single.”
A professor of philosophy looked into the lives of the most influential philosophers in history, and found that many of them had something in common. He sees their commonality as a problem that cries out for a solution.
I wish I could say that it is hard to find examples of singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people. Unfortunately, singlism is relentless. It ranges from the subtle to the shocking. And it is often practiced unselfconsciously even by respected intellectuals and ordinary people who pride themselves on being open-minded and totally untainted by prejudice.
When you are away from home – for example, when traveling for work – will you go out on your own? Will you go out to restaurants on your own, go out exploring or to local attractions, or maybe try to meet with others if you know people in the place you are visiting?