3 thoughts on “Kate, Kay, and the Single Ladies, Part 2: Experiments in Living Outside of a Nuclear Family Household

  • June 22, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Fascinating post. I’m especially intrigued with the statement “that single women (of 2nd Wave feminism) had not left a legacy that women like Kate could build on.” That is sad. Maybe the backlash against calling oneself a feminist in many circles prevented that, and societal pressure and lack of room for singles in many venues when over 40, probably is a greater barrier than we thought back then.

  • July 8, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    I enjoyed reading your two pieces! Congratulations! As a professor emerita, you have established an “encore career” as a public intellectual and a good one at that!

    Here are my comments:

    1. You write : As a feminist, I now believed I could have satisfying work and a family life,1) but both the impact of the 1970s counterculture and my continuing 2) fear of being swallowed by the nuclear family, led me to look for alternatives to living as a couple.

    While I agree that the counter-culture played a role encouraging and modeling alternative living styles, I think its impact was more as part of in the “back to the land” movement. See Bennett Berger’s Survival of the Counter-Culture. I think the women’s movement’s critique of marriage and the nuclear family and its link to the patriarchy as a sanctioned institution for female subordination was more significant. See Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon (eds), Dispatches from the Sisters and Robin Morgan’s, Sisterhood is Powerful. It is important to discuss 2nd feminist wave beliefs about marriage and romance.

    2. About your statement that you feared being swallowed by the nuclear family. One of the women I interviewed for my research on the post-movement lives of 2nd wave feminists told me that while she had no problem being a boss , she became a piece of putty in her heterosexual relationships. She explained that she was inconsistent in her work and personal life because she learned how to have relationships from watching her parents and that in the 60s no blueprint existed for how to enter the professions so she could start fresh without emotional baggage. Her anecdote raises the issue for me about what is the relationship in a given’s society’s public and private spheres? At least in this case, behavior between the two isn’t consistent or even parallel.

    3. In future writings, I encourage you to consider the role of male domination/hegemonic masculinity as one of the reasons for your fear of being involved in the nuclear family. Is it the couple relationship that makes you feel swallowed? If you were in a lesbian relationship-, do you think you would fear being swallowed?

    4. You write that “alternatives to living either in a nuclear family or by oneself faded from popular culture after 1990.” I agree. While the women I interviewed persist over their lives in being involved in feminist political activity and remain engaged in public life, the heterosexual women that started in alternative arrangement, with the exception of one, are now in nuclear family arrangements living alone with their partners. The one that continues is basically living with her extended biological family.

    5. You write, “Like almost all the single professional women I know from my generation, I identified with my father. Are you familiar with Carole Lopate’s book, Women in Medicine? If I remember correctly ( and I may not), for women to cross the barrier into male-dominated professional jobs, they needed both a father as a model and a mother supportive of their efforts. For many of the 2nd wave feminists I interviewed, seeing the frustration of their mother’s lives became a a catalyst for their actions, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    6. I think you are absolutely right when you write, “What I found was that second wave feminism never developed an attractive vision of single life. Neither Steinem, nor the ordinary women I interviewed, identified as single; they were only delaying marriage.”

    7. You write that Kate’s many involvements with single men, most of them her age, was a much healthier alternative and allowed for more personal growth. In her twenties and thirties, Kate in loving coupledom fought to create and hold onto an ideal of autonomy and her commitment as a writer. One of the things I was surprised to find was that many of the heterosexual women I interviewed chose to marry married younger men or men with less status than they had who could support them.

    8. Finally, you say, “In her forties, Kate, too, has a network of friends, but not one rooted in the community and culture that I found in the 1970s and early 1980s. Right on! Sigh.

    I miss that sense of community and culture too!

    Keep up the good work!

    • July 9, 2015 at 5:34 am

      Hi Kathryn, I can’t tell who you are based on just the first name you used here, but you seem to know a lot about these issues. If you are interested in writing a guest post (especially about the alternative living arrangements you mentioned in #4), feel free to get in touch with me at belladepaulo [at] gmail.com.

      To other readers: if you have expertise or passion about an issue relevant to single life, you should also feel free to get in touch if you are interested in writing a guest post.


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