[Bella’s intro: The previous article here at “Single at Heart” was a guest post by scholar Laura Dales, “Single Women in Japan, Part I: Getting Called Loser Dogs and Parasites.” This is Part 2.]
Guest Post by Laura Dales
[Bella’s intro: There has been so much in the media lately about single people in Japan, much of it sensational. Have they given up on sex? Do they hide out in their rooms and never come out? When I read stories about single people in Japan, I always wonder what people who actually study single people in Japan have to say. So I was delighted when the very smart and thoughtful scholar Professor Laura Dales agreed to tell us what she has learned about single women in Japan. This is Part 1. Thanks, Laura!]
Singlism, the ways in which single people are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, is evident in many different domains, as well as in the ordinary interactions of everyday life. It can be especially hurtful when singlism occurs in places that are supposed to be all about love and caring and healing and wide open arms. I’m talking about churches and other places of worship.
It is almost unfathomable that such a thing could happen here in the matrimaniacal United States, but in Japan, it is the new normal: Young and youngish single people just are not all that interested in sex, romance, or marriage.
The headline at Slate was intriguing: “The Dutch don’t care about marriage.” So was the subheading: “Americans can learn a lot from their indifference.” A big picture of happy, relaxing single people was captioned, “Being single in the Netherlands is pretty great.”
I’m always interested in places where being single is great and marriage is met with a shrug so of course I was all over this article. Based on her brief visit to Amsterdam, Katie Roiphe (author of In Praise of Messy Lives) had this to say:
“The Dutch attitude, which I like, is that marriage is not for everyone; it is a personal choice, an option, a pleasant possibility, but not marrying is not a failure, a great blot on your achievements in life, a critical rite of passage you have missed. Sometimes people get around to getting married, and sometimes they don’t.”
I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy from the very first season. With regard to its treatment of issues around single life and marriage, it has been a mixed bag. I thought the early shows were the strongest in that regard. Two themes were central – the characters’ friendships with one another, and their total, utter devotion to and love of their work.
You can probably recognize those people, though if you are reading this, you are probably not one of them. I’m talking about people who are afraid to be single. They are rushing into romantic relationships – and staying in bad ones – because they are so scared of living single.
For the entire history of theorizing about single life and some people’s eagerness to escape it, what I just said was merely a guess. But now we know for sure. Stephanie Spielmann and six of her colleagues at the University of Toronto have just developed a “Fear of Being Single Scale” and then conducted a series of studies to see how it matters if you are fearful, vs. fearless, about living single. The title of their journal article says it all: “Settling for Less Out of Fear of Being Single.”
In the past two posts (here and here), I have been critiquing the latest study making claims about marital status and cancer survival rates. In this final post in the series, I will show you examples of how the New York Times and an editorial in an academic journal gave readers a misleading impression of what the study really did demonstrate.
At the end of my previous post, I challenged you to come up with other explanations for the study claiming that marriage results in better survival from cancer. How did you do? Some of my alternatives are below. I bet you came up with some others.
When I was out of the country a few weeks ago, the latest study proclaiming that single people are doomed followed me around. It was in the headlines of newspapers in the airports, and a story about it in another language was shown to me by a journalist at a conference where I was speaking – about the stereotyping and stigmatizing of single people that I call singlism. Ironic, in a way.
I’m talking about the study of marital status and cancer, claiming, predictably, that married cancer patients fare better than single ones: they are more likely to get diagnosed before the cancer has spread, they are more likely to receive the treatment considered definitive, and they are more likely to survive their cancer.