Following the publication in 1962 of the then-scandalous Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown and the feminine manifesto against suburban domesticity by Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique in 1963, comes the well-researched and nuanced work by Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies, now published in paperback.
Traister, a journalist and writer-at-large for New Yorker magazine and author of the previously well-received Big Girls Don’t Cry, has spent six years interviewing 100 women, writing as well as researching the life and work of women of her own generation, a cohort of well-educated, late 20- to 30-year-olds living mostly in big cities and leading professional lives equal to that of single young men, striving to become self-aware and stand proud of their own strength.
She quotes the feminist icon Gloria Steinem: “We have become the men we intended to marry.” Traister’s premise is that women of her generation no longer need to marry a man to validate their existence and place in society; they prefer to do it for themselves and delay marriage until they find the right partner or choose not to marry at all but live a full life in a community of like-minded friends, both male and female.
Being single is no longer as restrictive for women as it once was, Traister claims. Women can work, they can borrow money, buy houses, start businesses, travel the world and adopt or have children as single mothers, without needing a man to whom they are attached to formalize any or all of these transactions, and they can participate fully in the political and economic sphere.
From the late 19th century on, women mostly married by age 20 or 22. That age has now risen to 27 or older, proving that women can reach adulthood without marriage.
According to Traister, women now spend 10 to 14 years working and living mostly on their own, thus becoming more independent and more content to marry and commit to a long-lasting marriage, when and if they meet a compatible mate. Indeed, she herself did exactly that – she married at 35 and is still married at this time. She also states that these marriages have a better rate of success because both parties are more mature.
Traister contends that whether women eventually marry or not does not constitute the sole purpose of her research. She is more interested in the fact that women now have the choice to do so.
“The revolution is in the expansion of options, the lifting of the imperative that for centuries hustled nearly all (non-enslaved) women, regardless of their individual desires, ambitions, circumstances or the quality of the available matches, down a single highway toward early heterosexual marriage and motherhood.”
She notes that more single women had the time, the space and the opportunity to become some of the more successful writers, artists and thinkers. They also had more time to devote to the fight for abolition of slavery and for universal suffrage. They kept the country running during wars “doing men’s work,” and sometimes even governed countries themselves.
She also notes that not all women had the luxury of the good education that most middle- and upper-middle-class parents were able to provide, thus giving their daughters the freedom of choice and the opportunity to pursue successful careers. Most poor white women and black women had no choice but to work for their living, and in many cases were the means by which their more fortunate sisters escaped domestic drudgery.
Single women now constitute 23 per cent of voters, almost a quarter of the total, Traister says, and were responsible for electing and re-electing U.S. President Barack Obama, a fact she says worries the Republicans quite a bit. She believes Democrats are much more likely to be in favour of child-care, health-care and freedom of choice for women overall, thus making single women voters a single majority nation, a force to be reckoned with, if they once again vote as a bloc.