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.
I’ll start with an example that is subtle. Richard Florida, who injected the idea of the “creative class” into our cultural conversations, said this in an article in the Atlantic:
“There are three big decisions we make in life: What we choose to do for a living, who we choose for a life partner, and where we choose to live.”
Longtime readers of my work probably have already recognized what’s wrong with this: Professor Florida has already robbed us of one of those decisions. He’s predetermined that we all will want to choose a life partner. It is an odd bit of obliviousness at a time when so many people are living single, often by choice, but it is also a widely shared obliviousness. It is the same sort of narrow, conventional thinking that’s going on when people say things like, “I want to walk my daughter down the aisle,” when their daughter is just a baby or is a grown-up and has no interest in marrying. What’s so striking about singlism is that it is perpetuated even by people supposedly on the vanguard of thinking and creativity, such as Richard Florida.
At first blush, this sort of subtle singlism may seem harmless enough, similar to using male pronouns to refer to both men and women. But the thing is, using the male pronoun as a universal pronoun is no longer acceptable at most publications. It is not okay to erase half of humanity.
Another example is much more crude. When Donald Trump named Stephen Bannon to be his campaign C.E.O., BuzzFeed and Vanity Fair did some digging and found this comment he made in 2011 about the rise of conservative women such as Ann Coulter, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin:
“…the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England.”
In Vanity Fair, an article about the comment was published under the heading, “Donald Trump’s new campaign CEO recorded using anti-gay slur.” Prejudices against LGBT people are widely recognized. But the snide remark was also a put down of all single women, regardless of sexual orientation – and by implication, any women with no children. (Also kind of interesting: Ann Coulter is included in Bannon’s list even though, so far as I know, she has no husband and no children.)
Even more consequential are the instances in which people in power try to turn their prejudices into laws that discriminate against single people. For example, Idaho Republican Raul Labrador introduced the “First Amendment Defense Act,” which has been interpreted as letting bosses fire single women for getting pregnant. In Illinois, Republican state Representatives John Cavaletto and Keith Wheeler proposed a bill that included this:
“Provides that if the unmarried mother cannot or refuses to name the child’s father, either a father must be conclusively established by DNA evidence or, within 30 days after birth, another family member who will financially provide for the child must be named, in court, on the birth certificate.”
As Salon noted, “If a single mother fails to name the father or identify another guardian, the child will not be issued a birth certificate and the family will be permanently banned from public assistance. The bill makes no exception for rape or incest victims.” Fortunately, that bill did not survive.
I have learned about so many instances of singlism over the years that – as disappointed as I am with each new one – I am rarely shocked. That changed recently when a single gay man from Canada wrote to me to share his experience in trying to become a foster parent. He told me that he is “genuinely happy being single.” The report assessing his suitability included this:
“…because he is content being single and does not seek a romantic partnership with a man, I do not see how he can support the emotional needs of a child.”
Wow. Now being contentedly single is punishable by the denial of the opportunity to be a foster parent. (The children lose, too.)
I don’t think this should be legal, but I don’t know anything about Canadian law. If you do, please post a comment or get in touch.