Literature | All the Single Ladies

‘When people call single women selfish for the act of tending to themselves, it’s important to remember that the very acknowledgement that women have selves that exist independently of others, and especially independent of husbands and children, is revolutionary. A true age of female selfishness, in which women recognized and prioritized their own drives to the same degree to which they have always been trained to tend to the needs of all others, might, in fact, be an enlightened corrective to centuries of self-sacrifice.’

Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

Never judge a book by a cover… Well, this sat on the shelf for 2 years because I thought it would be too American for my taste. As it turns out, it was both educational and riveting. Providing a comprehensive history of feminism; changes to American laws; societal values; and the role of education and employment opportunities in changing how women approach marriage.  In 1960, 60% of women were married by age 29. Today, it is closer to 20%. That’s an enormous change. Gone are the days when in order to buy property, be intimate, or have a child, a woman needed a husband. There is no doubt that women have always been capable, but societal values and archaic laws limited our opportunities.

I never considered my life choices as radical because I never saw putting myself first as unusual, despite eternal opinions, mostly from those in my orbit. Today, an entire legion of women are walking on a similar path. We’ve thankfully evolved beyond defining ourselves by our partners and are confident enough to carve out our own identities and joy independent from traditional family units. Opting to focus on self, careers, travel, and general independence over marriage and children has increased. Times are changing.

Domestic servitude is a key factor: the burden of housework and childcare still fall to the woman, regardless of her employment status. The sacrifice of self to keep the house running and husband’s career ticking along. Wives pretty much give up work to home-school and cook because husbands are clueless and, importantly, are generally paid more, so it’s vital they continue working. A lot has been written about this, and the pandemic brought it to the fore. The book goes on to talk of men who, frustrated with their career-driven wives’s lack of domesticity, still go home to mama for supper and clean laundry. Is this attractive? Men who can’t iron, cook, or care for their children or, worse, mistake their wives for housekeepers, often enabled by their mothers. What do women see in such men? I’ve corrected family, friends, and acquaintances when they boast about their ‘heroic’ spouses ‘babysitting’. You can’t babysit your own child! I try not to judge, but I find this attitude utterly ridiculous and disturbing. If we want equality in the home, we need to recognise our role in our perpetuating female oppression.

Traister is quick to note that, naturally, plenty of women still marry for mutual commitment, love, respect, and other reasons (trust me, I’m not the one to ask). Yet, many are marrying out of necessity. In typical barbaric American tradition, the US is the only OECD country without a national statutory paid maternity, paternity or parental leave. Imagine getting married simply to legally access your spouses’s healthcare and pension. No woman should be compelled to marry for financial security, nor should she have to forgo motherhood simply because she cannot afford to pay hospital bills or take an unpaid absence from work. This is yet another example of how fraudulent the concept of ‘freedom’ for women truly is, particularly for those without means.

I don’t have particularly strong views on marriage. However, I’m uncompromising on my view that financial independence is vital. It doesn’t matter if you got married yesterday or your last child just left home and started university. I advocate for women having their own independent source of income. No woman should have to stay in a bad situation because she doesn’t have the means to leave. Again, however, returning to work is not an option for many women due to the cost of childcare, inflexible hours and, lest we forget, unpaid domestic chores. ‘Freedom’ isn’t looking so good.

Traister acknowledges the flaws of her book: the focus is on university-educated, gainfully-employed white women with choices (well, as much choice as one is permitted in this patriarchal world).  To be fair, there’s a touch of diversity in the book, but it’s limited. Flaws aside, I learnt a lot about the evolution of feminism in the US, greatly appreciated the referencing (I like what I like!), and, quite simply, thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Recommended.

P.S. For UK-based readers, I recommend using Hive Books as they source books from independent bookshops throughout the country and offer free delivery. No Amazon around these parts!

1 Comment

  1. 25 June 2020 / 13:32

    This sounds fascinating and important, thank you for the overview, Milla! I will definitely be adding it to my reading list. Thank you also for recommending Hive, I’ve never heard of them and will definitely try them out. Laura x

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