In her recent book “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation,” Rebecca Traister offers plenty of evidence that a sea change is happening across America. Single women are no longer “spinsters” to be pitied, but an economic and political force. We talked with Traister about single shaming, the rising number of female (and male) singles and the happiness promise.
Q: How did single women used to be viewed by society at large?
A: The history of single shaming is long and ugly. In colonial times, women were considered old maids at 26. In the beginning of the 20th century, a lot of women were devoting their energies to reshaping the nation. At the same time, you have Teddy Roosevelt railing about middle-class women not having enough babies.
Q: What about now?
A: Unmarried women used to get blamed for everything — today it’s different, but there’s an aggressive backlash, a rebuke to people searching for independence. Slut shaming is still going on. And married women still feel threatened by and/or jealous of single women and vice versa.
Q: How about single men?
A: Our society has supported the independence of men far longer than the independence of women. Men are also increasingly single, but they’ve also had much more economic and sexual liberty.
Q: It’s clear that it’s a little easier being single now, but is it easier than being married?
A: I don’t mean to discount that living as a single in a world built for married people is easy, without that practical support. But the things we think partners are supposed to give us, they often don’t. And society, along with the wedding industrial complex, continues to send the message that marriage is the key to happiness. We know from the unhappy relationships we see that feeling unloved, unsupported, longing and desire aren’t exclusive to singlehood.
Q: Yet you say that single women have growing political power.
A: Government hasn’t responded to their existence. They also vote less. So many single women are young, many struggling financially with lack of day care and no paid leave, which affects whether they can get out and vote. When they do, they can have a profound impact.