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.”
I was so appalled. This is outright singlism – shameful discrimination against people who are single. Married or partnered people can bring their partner as a guest, but I, as a single person cannot bring a friend or anyone else (other than a fellow alum, an option also available to married people).
Can you imagine an invitation that said, “Due to our limited capacity, we ask that you limit your one guest to a man (or a white person or a heterosexual or – well, you get the picture)”?
That’s the thing about singlism. Unlike more familiar isms such as sexism or racism or heterosexism, singlism is practiced unselfconsciously, without apology or even awareness. Even by an elite and supposedly fair-minded institution like Vassar, whose leaders would never think of themselves as perpetrators of prejudice or discrimination.
I’m not just appalled but disappointed. My time at Vassar (granted, a million years ago; I’m in the class of 1975) was transformational – eye-opening, mind-expanding, exciting, and affirming. I came to Vassar with a love of learning, and that love was all around me. That’s the sort of love that was celebrated there.
When I got to my last year, my friends and I joyfully (if also a bit anxiously) shared our plans and dreams for the year to come – the graduate training that came next, the careers we would begin, the passions we would pursue. I remember just one person who, instead of embarking on some such intellectual or creative endeavor, was planning a wedding. I felt sorry for her.
Vassar simply wasn’t a matrimaniacal sort of place. There was no over-the-top celebrating of marriage or coupling or weddings, no valuing of married people over single people, no valuing of the important people in the lives of married people over the important people in the lives of single people. And now, 41 years later, I can’t bring a guest to a special Vassar event because I’m not married.
The solution is straightforward. Let everyone bring one guest of their choice.