In her new book, Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower, Roseann Lake tells the story of China’s search for its first female astronaut. In the state-run newspaper, the headline announcing the quest was “Female astronauts: Single women need not apply.” Any single women who did apply, the article explained, would be “deemed unfit for the job.”
Lake notes that China did find its married mother to send into space in 2012. She acknowledges that it is good news that a woman finally got to do what a man first did nine years earlier, but “to imply that an unmarried woman is unfit for space travel because she is ‘psychologically and physically inferior’ to her married counterparts is also a giant leap backward for Chinese womankind.”
Did you find it appalling that the Chinese newspaper said that single women are “psychologically and physically inferior” to married women? I did. It is especially outrageous that such a belief is used as one of the pretexts for accepting astronaut applications only from married women.
But you know what else is outrageous? These kinds of statements are made routinely in the U.S. press, not just about single women but single men, too. How often have you heard that marriage makes people happier and healthier? That if you get married, you will live longer? That if you raise kids as a single parent, they will be doomed? All these claims are gross exaggerations or just plain false, as I’ve been demonstrating for many years. But they are repeated as truths, over and over again, not just in second-rate publications but leading ones. Claims like these have been made by scholars who should know better. They have been incorporated into important court rulings.
So far as I know, this ideology of marital superiority has not been used in the U.S. to ban single women from space, but I wonder how many employers, and other people as well, really do believe that people who marry are better people than those who stay single. I wonder how many decisions are affected, perhaps unwittingly, by the mythology of marriage that far too often, goes unchallenged.