When I see examples of what I call singlism – the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and marginalizing of single people, and the discrimination against them – I like to point them out in my blog posts. Consciousness-raising is especially important when it comes to singlism. In contrast to more familiar isms such as racism and sexism, singlism is less often recognized. And sometimes, when instances are described, other people deny that they count as examples of prejudice, or they dismiss them as inconsequential. (In fact, some are deadly serious.)
I’ve been challenging singlism for a long time. I find that easy to do when the practice is impersonal – for example, when single people are charged more per person than coupled people for an event or a product or service. An example is when a couple can buy two tickets for $100, but a single person is charged $60 for one. I don’t hesitate to send an email to the offending organization, leave a comment on the group’s Facebook page and on the Fairness for Single People page, or tag them on twitter.
It is different, though, when it is a specific person who is the perpetrator, and especially when I’ve had some contact with that person.
Years ago, I learned that a blogger had just published a book on a topic that interested me. I had never met her, but we were fellow bloggers on another site, so I thought it would be a nice gesture to offer to review her book.
Once I got the book, I found that the topic was in fact of interest. But I was dismayed to discover that throughout the book, married women and mothers were praised, and single women and women who were not mothers were disparaged. I wrote the review and ended it like this:
It is never the single woman or the professional woman who has made a brave decision or who is extremely adept. In the specific stories that are told, again and again it is the mother (or the married woman) who is heroic and the single woman, or the woman with no children, who shows a “refusal to understand” the mother’s life and is “non-compliant” with the mother’s priorities as a mom. “Children take up a lot of time and energy,” the authors note, adding, “Friends who do not have kids may lack appreciation for this fact.” I am a sixty-something year old. I have chosen to live single and not have kids. I love my work and my solitude (and my friends). I felt diminished by this book.
I do not think for a moment that the authors intended to be so dismissive of women who are not mothers. But they were. That attitude marred what was otherwise a book that had quite a lot to offer.
The author had insulted me and millions of other single women and women who are not mothers. But I was the one who felt bad. I couldn’t let the singlism go – that would betray my decades of advocacy and one of my life goals. Still, I felt something like guilt about writing what I did.
Also, tellingly, I never again emailed the author (and she has never emailed me). My offer to review her book was meant to be a kind gesture. It never occurred to me that the book could be filled with digs against single women or women who were not mothers. I was so disappointed that I was not able to write what I thought I would – a very positive review. Having written what I really did think of the book, I could not “face” the author with a personal email.
I think I should have contacted her personally, before the review came out. I should have told her that I did not think she meant to put down single women or women without children, but she did. And is that really what she thought of people like me?
Something very similar just happened a week or so ago, and this time I did a tiny bit better. A woman who wrote a book aimed at parents asked if I would write an endorsement. I said I’d take a look and would write a blurb if I liked what I read. I started by skimming a few pages here and there, just to get a feel for it. I liked the writing and the ideas. But then I looked at the table of contents and got the impression that she was only discussing married parents and parents who got divorced. I emailed her, saying that before I continued reading, I just wanted to check to see if parents who had always been single really were left out of her book. She wrote back and said the deadline had passed (it hadn’t) and she no longer needed my endorsement.
I often hear from people who have experienced singlism in their interpersonal interactions. Sometimes they ask me what I think they should do. What I wish that everyone would do in those instances is to find a tactful but persuasive way to point out the singlism. But I have trouble with that myself, so I understand that not everyone is up for it. And one thing is certain: People do not like to hear that they may have acted in a biased way, even if it was unintentional. The odds of getting a defensive or even cruel response are pretty high.
In the long run, my goal is to make singlism immediately recognizable, the way racism and sexism often are. That way, the practice will be familiar to just about everyone. People will know that it is not okay to stereotype, stigmatize, marginalize, or ignore single people, or discriminate against them. When we get to that point, it will no longer be up to specific individuals to make their case. There will be books and articles and public conversations about it. Singlism, and what’s wrong with it, will be part of our conventional wisdom.