One of the most frustrating things about singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against people who are single – is that it is not just practiced by select portions of the population, say, those who practice racism or sexism or ageism or heterosexism or any of the other more familiar isms. Sadly, the sin of singlism knows no bounds. Smart, progressive people, cutting-edge publications, successful businesses – all of them, and more, practice singlism, usually without apology or even any awareness that there is anything to apologize for.
When I was living on the East Coast and looking to buy a home, one of the places I visited needed some work. “Oh, that should be no problem,” the person showing the home insisted – I could just stay home while the contractors and repair people came in and out during the day.
Well actually, no, I could not stay home. I had a job, including sometimes teaching an entire lecture hall full of students. I ran studies in my lab, attended faculty meetings, and did all of the other routine tasks that are part of the life of a college professor and that take place at the university, not in my personal living room.
As a single person living alone, I did not have a spouse or a roommate who could stay home and wait for repair people to show up, or to trade off with me in taking time away from the job.
So what are we supposed to do?
I love chocolate, but do you know what I love even more? Smart, enlightening writings about single people and single life! Yesterday, to my surprise and delight, one story after another set aside the tired old Valentine’s Day stories about gooey-eyed couples and myths about the transformative powers of marriage and coupling, and instead told some truths – or, in some cases, they at least got close to some truths.
Considering that this is not the first time that the matrimaniacal holiday was inflected with a bit of singles savvy (here, for example), maybe we can start expecting something like this to continue into the future.
Here are some of the sweetest things I found online, or in my email inbox, over the past day or so:
To be single-at-heart is to feel that single life is, for you, the most meaningful way to live. People who embrace their single-at-heart status pursue the life that fits them best as individuals. That might mean spending lots of time alone or lots of time with friends or family. It might mean pursuing some passion, such as art or science or sports or social justice. Or it may mean feeling totally comfortable in a routine of your own making.
Being single-at-heart can mean lots of things, but what it does not mean is becoming a sappy, matrimaniac when many in the rest of the nation lose their collective minds over the 14th of February. I am so used to dealing with – or ignoring – hype about coupling every other day of the year that I would be happy to just continue rolling my eyes on Valentine’s Day. The problem is, February is peak season for people who just cannot believe that other people do not share their obsession with coupling.
The English language is filled with an ever-growing collection of nasty and insulting words to refer to maligned groups. Just think of all the slurs used over the years to refer to African-Americans, or to gays and lesbians, or to just about any group that has ever been stigmatized or marginalized. I don’t even want to list any of them.
Those labels can be horribly hurtful. They can also set off shouting matches over what should happen when people use those words. Sometimes, though, people who are the targets of those slurs adopt a bold and imaginative strategy for sapping them of their power: They embrace the words and make them their own.
[Bella’s intro: This is the second and last part of my Q & A with Karen Reed, who in a very short time created a very successful first-ever Singles Day celebration. Part 1 is here. You can find more pictures from the event here.]
Bella: How did the Singles Day kickoff celebration go?
Karen Reed: Come January 11th, we had built what would turn out to be a day to remember. According to managers at the kickoff event venue, we brought in over 100 people to their typically low-key afternoon time slot. According to our informal “sticker count” of Singles Day stickers before and after the event, over 160 were given out to enthusiastic event-goers looking to display them at local businesses for specials and discounts.
[Bella’s intro: Well over 100 million Americans are single, yet as a group, they are not really taken all that seriously. What they contribute to society is mostly overlooked, and the ways in which they are stereotyped, stigmatized, discriminated against, and ignored (what I call singlism) is mostly, well, ignored. There is a week devoted to changing that, a national Singles Week, in late September. I always blog about it when it comes around. Others do, too. Yet the occasion has never really taken off.
Karen Reed (you can read more about her at the end of this post) thought there should be a Singles Day, like the wildly successful one in China, only without all the awful matrimanical mate-seeking themes. I have to admit that I was skeptical – Singles Week has never made a splash and it has been promoted since 2001, and around even longer than that. Karen, though, was undeterred. In a short time, she managed to create a very successful Singles Day celebration.
It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? A single woman is offered a job as a college president, where she will live in the college’s presidential home, but her contract forbids any cohabitation with a romantic partner. Maybe this would be plausible if it had happened in the last century?
With the War on Poverty marking its 50th anniversary, the scolds are out in force. Their target? Single mothers – especially the poor ones. The preachy ones are reviving an old argument – that if you are a single mother and you are poor, there is a clear solution for you – just get married. There is a blaming quality to the argument, an implication that if you are poor it is your own fault.
To bolster their argument, the just-get-married crowd says that two can live more cheaply than one and that married people have more money than single people do. It is important to recognize the ways in which these claims are true and the ways in which they are misleading.
Liberty and justice for all! What a great aspiration. Too bad it didn’t apply to single people in the American colonies.
Stanford sociologist Michael J. Rosenfeld, author of The Age of Independence, has a thing or two to say about singlism in early American history. Here are just a few historical gems (from this review) that make me happy to be living in the 21st century: