For years, I have been railing about the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people that I call singlism. What bothers me is not just that it happens, but that the people who practice singlism do so without apology and often without any awareness that what they are doing is offensive.
Occasionally, though, those who try to stigmatize, stereotype, or shame single people actually get called on it. Here are two recent examples from the world of politics, one from Japan and the other from the U.S.
As a scholar and practitioner of single life, I should probably be collecting great quips and quotes about singlehood and solitude. There are some classics, such as Mae West’s “Marriage is a fine institution, but I’m not ready for an institution.”
Starting later this year, if you want to get a divorce in Oklahoma and you have kids younger than 18, you are going to have to take a course first, and pay for it yourself. Among the topics to be included in the course is “the effects divorce has on a child’s well-being.”
My guess is that Oklahomans are being forced to pay for propaganda. For many years, I have been scrutinizing claims about the supposed effects of divorce on children, and the implications for children of single parenting. Wildly exaggerated claims and misrepresentations of the actual data are rampant.
[Bella’s intro: I recently discovered UK singles blogger and author Paula Coston. One of her posts included a set of pros and cons about single life that I found particularly clever, so I asked if I could share some of them here. Happily, she agreed. Thanks, Paula! Readers, please contribute your witty pairs of pros and cons.]
From Paula Coston: I’m a British female singleton, 59 and childless.
Some cons and pros of singledom, as I see them.
Con: I talk to myself.
Pro: I make more sense than most people.
How many people must that mass murderer have fooled about who he was and what he was about to do before he went on a rampage and killed six people and injured many more? It happened just outside of the campus of UC Santa Barbara, the university I’ve been associated with for nearly 14 years.
I have to admit that when I heard that law enforcement personnel (four sheriff’s deputies, a police officer, and a dispatcher) had been sent to talk to the killer less than a month before his killing spree, my jaw dropped. The killer’s mother and therapist had both become disturbed by the videos he had been posting, and contacted the police to ask them to check up on him.
Just about every day, I take a break from whatever I am doing and head out to one of the many trails in Santa Barbara. This is southern California, so it is often warm and sunny. That alone makes most of these exercise breaks pleasant experiences. They’ve always seemed good in other ways, too. I usually don’t go hiking with the intent of thinking some more about whatever I’ve been working on, but often that’s what happens – I do end up thinking some more, and, more importantly, along different lines than I had been when I was sitting in front of my computer.
“Make Room for Singles in Teaching and Research” (also available here) was the title of an article I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, together with sociologist Kay Trimberger and law professor (and now Dean of UCLA Law School) Rachel Moran. When the Chronicle published the article, it was in a special issue on diversity.
I think that was apt. We need a singles perspective in academia in the same way we need the perspectives of other groups such as women and people of color. Without these different points of view, we end up asking a limited set of questions and coming up with a narrow set of predictable answers. We miss some things entirely and see too much of other things.
When writers of movies and TV shows want to reach for an easy plot line, they all come up with the same sort of answer – a marriage proposal, a wedding, or some other tired old form of matrimania. It doesn’t matter what the genre is – comedies, dramas, crime procedurals, even sporting events and newscasts, not to even mention the reality shows that at least have the decency to announce that they are about marriage proposals; somehow matrimania will rear its boring, predictable head.
Now something else is happening.
I’m going to tell you the first few words of a sentence in a true story. See if you can predict how it ends.
The story is of a woman who is alone in Paris. She is at the opera, where she “had a seat in a box: a plush crimson closet that one shares with six strangers.” Her description continues like this: “The claret-cushioned chairs were arranged two, two, two, and then – at the rear of the box centered between all of the coupled seats – was a single chair: mine. I was ____.”
That blank at the end of the sentence? That’s for you to fill in. What do you think this real person really did say?
There’s good news and bad news about dining alone. The bad news is that many people are intimidated by the mere thought of dining solo. They think that other people will see them as lonely, pathetic – as people who do not have a friend in the world. The good news is that they are wrong. In research my colleagues and I did, we found that on average, other people were no more likely to think ill of a solo diner than of the same person dining as part of a couple, a group, or any other arrangement.