jump to navigation

My Company Essentially Gives Married People $25,000 August 13, 2020

Posted by Onely in Marital Status Discrimination.
Tags: , , ,
4 comments

Welcome to the latest installment in our ongoing series, “Onely Gets Pissy About Marital Status Discrimination,” where we flag discriminatory laws and corporate policies, then use our righteous indignation as an excuse to make up fun swear words. 

It’s that special time of year at my company: benefits renewal! When I got the email reminding us to go to the benefits site and select the policies we wanted, I logged in immediately, because I am nothing if not a good little corporate cublicle monkey. I started checking boxes:  $2750 in my health FSA! BAM!   Short term disability insurance! BAM!   Long term disability insurance! BAM!   $150,000 life insurance for in case I choke on arugula (a persistent fear of mine, because those long leaves dangle dangerously into one’s throat)! BAM!    $25,000 life insurance for my spouse in case he chokes on arugula! BA—   

Not so fast, little cubicle monkey! 

Our long-time Copious Readers already see the problem:  If I were married, I’d have the option to spend 73 cents per pay period to purchase $25,000 of life insurance for my spouse. But because I am not married, I do not have the option of purchasing the $25,000 policy for my spouse, nor for anyone else.  

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–instead of structuring benefits packages around spouses and the nuclear family, companies should just let their employees choose who the important people in their lives are. You can already do this to some extent; for example, I chose my sister as my IRA beneficiary. Wouldn’t it be nice if I, as a single person, had the option to purchase cheap life insurance for someone important in my life, like my co-blogger Lisa or my cat Theo? On a related note, all employees should be required to choose a handful of loved ones they would want to be able to take bereavement leave for. This prevents discrimination against people who do not have a typical nuclear family. I was not allowed to take bereavement leave for the deaths of an uncle and a cousin, but if I’d been married, I would have been allowed to take bereavement leave if my husband’s grandparents died. Because presumably that’s far more tragic. 

I love being single, am good at being single, and have dodged the marriage bullet at least twice in my life. But do I get credit for my Matrix-level bullet-dodging? NO! I get to accidentally check the “$25,000 spousal life insurance” box, then see a big red error message popup that says, 

YOU MUST ENTER A TURDF&CKING SPOUSE

And even though I love being single and am good at being single, when those words (or a similar approximation thereof) flash onto the screen, a small part of me feels less-than, as if I’ve chosed the deviant path. But because I’ve been doing a lot of self-work over the last few decades, that less-than feeling doesn’t last too long. Just long enough for me to write a pissy (yet righteous) blog post. 

–Christina 

Sitting on the Couch in Stained Sweatpants: Is it Cool? July 13, 2020

Posted by Onely in Great Onely Activities.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

Unpartnered people are unfettered. They are free to live bigger, fuller, more intellectually and physically stimulating lives than marrieds. Singles can volunteer to build fences at big cat refuges in Namibia, or vacation in a hut on the beach in Belize, take late-night programming or language classes, or . . . SCREEEEEEEECH.

Hold on a second. Just how accurate is this trope? Pro-singleness rhetoric often says that singles have more opportunities to expand their minds and follow their dreams. But this is only true for some very privileged singles. What about single people with disabilities, financial challenges, children, or obligations to elderly parents? Speaking as a single person with an invisible disability who frankly sits around in stained sweatpants a lot (even before COVID), I feel conflicted when I hear stories that praise single people who are zooming around helping their communities and learning about different cultures and starting businesses. These stories often imply, “It’s ok that Sue is single, because look at all the cool things she does to compensate for her lack of attachments!” It creates a false equivalence:

Single Person Living Mindblowing Life = Married Person Living Non-Mindblowing Life

This sometimes makes me ask myself, on a near-subconsious level, 

Should I be doing more cool stuff, to compensate for being single? 

But now I pose a healthier query: 

How can we make sitting on the couch in stained sweatpants cool? 

It should be obvious that regardless of relationship status, a person’s level of engagement with the world has no bearing on their worth as a person. We just have to make space in the cultural consciousness for this image:  A relatively sedentary single person living a non-mindblowing life is as respect-worthy as the single person hammering fenceposts at the refuge in Namibia. Activities don’t matter–what’s important is your inner moral compass and kindness to others. (Or so I tell myself, while I’m binging Youtube videos of My Cat From Hell and scratching my unwashed scalp.)   

In singles advocate and behavioral economist Peter McGraw‘s excellent podcast, Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life, he has an episode about whether single people are cool. Spoiler alert: Yes, they are! In the episode, McGraw discusses how Caleb Warren’s Theory of Coolness applies to single people. McGraw and Warren talk about what makes a single person cool. Some of the podcast veers into the “action-oriented, high-achieving single person” coolness trope. To be clear, I’m not against this image or rhetoric–I just want to also value couchbound singles who are not physically, financially, or socially privileged enough to live mindblowing (my term) lives. Fortunately, large chunks of McGraw’s podcast do honor these people. Specifically, in the discussions about what makes a remarkable life, the participants cite criteria that can apply to all singles, not just physcially and financially privileged singles. Some of their examples of what makes people cool and remarkable are: tenacity, maintaining your wonder, being nice and doing no harm, feeling grateful, working within your means, and helping out when you can. 

Per these criteria, I am pretty cool, although I probably lose points on “being nice” because I’ve been known to cuss out health insurance company reps and people who stop their car at the first set of gas pumps even though the next set is empty and now I have to drive around them and back my car up to the pumps. . . 

Copious Readers, are you cool? What criteria do you use to make your assessment? (Other than the obvious fact that you’re reading Onely.)

–Christina

Photo credit: Markus Spizke at Unsplash @markusspiske

 

“How To Be A Happy Bachelor”: Singles’ Rights From the Male Perspective July 2, 2020

Posted by Onely in book review, Reviews.
Tags:
add a comment

The conversation about singles rights has traditionally been dominated by white cis hetero women. The singles advocacy community can benefit from the voices of single women of color (see Dr. Kris Marsh‘s work), single LGBTQA people, and single cis/hetero men. This post will focus on the latter. Historically, whereas single women have almost always been seen as deficient, single men at least had a chance of being seen as positive: the freewheeling, sexually engaged, George Clooney trope. Boring, but positive. Nonetheless, single men still need advocacy. They experience the same financial and legal discrimination that single women do, and moreover, there’s a dark side to the single man stereotypes that single women don’t generally experience: the loner/serial killer stereotype. As single women, Lisa and I have been accused of being: sexually repressed, sexually loose, emotionally disturbed, and selfish, but no one has ever suggested that if I were married I’d be less likely to murder people. This is, however, a common insinuation in rhetoric about male violent criminals (media pieces about violent offenders almost always use one of the terms “family man” or “loner” to describe the perpetrator).

My point is: Single men need their stories told in a positive way, and I’m delighted that Craig Wynne, singles advocate and self-proclaimed crazy cat guy, has taken on that mission. His new book “How to Be A Happy Bachelor” dismantles both the George Clooney and serial killer stereotypes and challenges negative representations of single men in the media. A blend of personal essay, reportage, and pop culture reviews, Wynne’s book reaches out to men whose lives and goals and inner monologs are shaped by toxic “hook-up culture.”

Wynne himself spent years struggling with such internalized singlism, before stumbling upon Bella DePaulo’s writings about relationship status discrimination.  Inspired, Wynne started his blog The Happy Bachelor, then developed it into the above-mentioned book How to be a Happy Bachelor.  While the book does contain material relevant to all genders, its primary focus is helping (cis/het) men be happy as singletons.  It shows them how to question popular but problematic notions of manhood (like the stress on “getting a girlfriend” or “getting a wife”), critique societal perceptions of singlehood, and be comfortable in their own skin. But again, ultimately all genders can benefit from the progressive anti-singlism advice offered here.

As an academic in the field of writing and rhetoric, Wynne is in the unique and privileged (and hard-won) position to be able to teach college students about singlism. Stay tuned for a follow-up post where we examine How To Be A Happy Bachelor through the eyes of his college students. . .

–Christina

Photo credit: Kendall Hunt

Google Autofill Searches: Singlist, But Not Super Singlist June 11, 2020

Posted by Onely in Everyday Happenings, Look What Google Barfed Up.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

Do Google’s autofill searches reflect our culture’s obsession with dating and marriage? I googled the funny and insightful authors Tenaya Darlington and Samantha Irby because their names had come up in a writing retreat I was attending, and I wanted to choose some of their books.  For Darlington, two of the six top Google autofill searches were related to her marital status:

Tenaya Darlington husband and Tenaya Darlington married.

For Irby, the second Google autofill was Samantha Irby wife. The rest were related to Irby’s and Darlington’s work. Because I make my living complaining about singlism,* I immediately thought, “Does this mean literary Googlers are disproportionally interested in the love lives of authors, at the expense of those author’s hard writing work?” The answer, of course, is yes. We are all disproportionally interested in the love lives of people in the public eye (tell me you don’t dawdle in line at CVS to finish reading the headlines about Brad and Jennifer). We’ve touched on this topic at Onely before, when we did an in-depth statistical analysis** of how author bios always mention a location and spouse. When I saw the Darlington and Irby autofills, I wondered if another experiment was in order. I needed to know just how far down the autofill rabbithole the literary Googlers’ matrimania went. Would the author’s gender make a difference in whether the autofill searches included references to a spouse? Would their sexual orientation? Would it matter whether the author were dead or alive?  Whether they wrote fiction or nonfiction? Short or long? Prose or poetry?

Before I reveal my startling, totally comprehensive, and in no way ad-hoc discoveries, let’s examine some of the valid, non-matrimaniacal reasons a literary Googler might search for an author in relation to their spouse/partner:

  1. The spouse plays a significant role as a character in the author’s nonfiction work.
  2. The literary Googler may wonder, how did the author get the privilege of having writing time? Were they supported by their partner? Ann Bauer wrote an important article on the underdiscussed topic of writers who are sponsored by their spouses.
  3. N/A

For the experiment, I typed in a selection of writers off the top of my head and noted the autofill options. The result? (more…)

The Dark Side of Singles’ Advocacy: Ignoring Institutionalized Singlism May 26, 2020

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Marital Status Discrimination.
Tags: , , , , , ,
4 comments

Welcome to the first installment in our new series, The Dark Side of Singles’ Advocacy. By dark, we mostly mean “unrecognized”. An updated and more personal version of this post was published on Bella DePaulo’s column at Psychology Today

The singles advocacy community consists (pretty much) of progressive people who are in favor of equal rights and opportunities for everyone regardless of lifestyle, but sometimes we act in regressive ways that do harm to ourselves and our cause. Or sometimes, we just miss a big part of the picture.

Today’s installment of The Dark Side is about the gigantic chasm between our movement against socio-cultural singlism and our movement against institutionalized singlism. Relatively few people in the community for singles’ rights pay attention to institutionalized singlism. That’s a problem. That needs to change. Now. While I appreciate memes and media pieces that tout singleness as a valid–or even preferable–lifestyle (socio-cultural), I want more discussion about how marital status discrimination is written into laws (institutionalized). All the rah-rah-singledom rhetoric in the world isn’t going to help a single mother who is paying more taxes then her married coworker, or a disabled person who can’t use their close friend’s health insurance because the two of them aren’t having regular government-sanctioned sex.

Maybe I need to take breath, back up, and give some definitions: By socio-cultural singlism, I mean relationship status discrimination (RSD) that is informal. An example is not being offered a plus-one to a wedding, if you’re not married or dating someone seriously. Another example is the wedding shower–there is no equivalent gift-grab for people who don’t get married. By institutionalized singlism, I mean RSD that is formally codified in our federal and state laws, which largely means marital status discrimination (MSD). MSD  filters into other large commercial and financial institutions. Problematic examples include: retirement account laws, estate tax laws, income tax laws, health insurance policies, and social security policies. (See here for examples from Onely via The Atlantic and from Dr. Bella DePaulo via the nonprofit advocacy site Unmarried Equality.)

When people become involved in advocacy against RSD/MSD/singlism, they usually progress through various levels of awareness, like leveling-up to different belts in Tae Kwon Do.  I myself was in my thirties before I even recognized singlism was a thing. It happened after a particularly mind-bending breakup. At the time, I didn’t even have my white belt in singles’ advocacy and was feeling sorry for my single self. Then my soon-to-be-coblogger and master rhetoric scholar Lisa asked me,

Have you noticed that all articles about being single and happy say ‘you need to be happy with yourself before you find a partner’? Well, why can’t we just be happy with ourselves without the ultimate goal being a relationship?

My brain went boom, and Onely was born. That was over ten years ago. Nowadays it’s a lot easier to find cultural think pieces, films, and books with the message “you don’t need a partner to be complete”.  However, much of that media stops at white-belt or yellow-belt level advocacy. To say, “I love being single, because I appreciate the privilege of living alone and not needing to clean up the cat hair unless I start choking on it” is yellow-belt-level. It’s fine, and certainly we’ve made our share of such comments on Onely, but that rhetoric doesn’t really rise to a force that bruises the System’s shins. For that, we need black-belt singles’ advocacy–this means we need talk that challenges the laws and corporate policies that privilege married people over singles. This discussion becomes complex, as it’s tied to the worlds of commerce, law, and finance, which have specialized rules and vocabulary, where the average advocate may struggle to articulate the problems and offer solutions.

I can easily count on one hand the singles’ rights advocates who have written at brown-to-black-belt level about institutionalized singlism and called out the U.S. government (or others) for blatant discrimination based on marital status. (more…)

Great Single Women in History: Ume Tsuda May 8, 2020

Posted by Onely in Great Onely Activities, Honorary Onely Awards.
Tags: , ,
7 comments

 

A woman–an unmarried woman at that–was sitting in judgment of men.

–Janice P. Nimura, describing Ume Tsuda

 

***

 

I feel annoyed when people make assumptions about me because I’m not married. Onely is full of such stories. Recently, though, when reading Janice P. Nimura‘s gripping book Daughters of the Samurai (WW Norton & Co, 2015), I was reminded that despite today’s pervasive marital status discrimination, in the late 1800s in the US and Japan, singlism was much worse. This is the story of my new historical hero, Ume Tsuda.

Ume Tsuda was one of five young girls sent by the government of Japan to the U.S. to receive a Western education. The intent of both the Japanese and U.S. governments was that the girls would return as adults to Japan and help introduce possibly useful Western ideas about education and women’s role in society. Three of the girls ended up growing up in the U.S. and became fully Americanized until, as young adults, the time came for them to return to Japan and essentially pay back the Japanese government’s investment in them. The two older girls still remembered how to speak Japanese, but the youngest, Ume, no longer spoke her birth language. Even so, at eighteen she was eager to return to Japan and try to share some of her learning over there, as was expected of her. But she would soon discover a whole additional set of expectations.

All three girls felt the pressure not only to somehow impart their American education to Japan, but to do it while sensibly and honorably married. Ume’s two friends married soon after returning to Japan, for complex and almost unavoidable financial and societal reasons. Ume, however, had never wanted to marry. She thought it would interfere with her dreams of contributing to Japanese education and culture by starting a school. She was right. But staying single in late 19th century Japan was a lot, lot harder than she’d thought it would be.

Nimura writes,

Her privileged Georgetown girlhood had left her unprepared for her own future. Marriage was abhorrent; anonymous teaching, a thankless grind. . . “I want to have my school, and never marry, though I do not say I shall never do so, because it is so hard, so very hard, to get going alone.” (191)

Even Ume’s fellow American transplants, Sutematsu Yamakawa and Shige Nagai, tried to convince her to get married, as they had. But Ume saw their lives overtaken by obligations to their husband and their husbands’ social circles, as well as to children and step-children. She preferred to focus on setting up her school. About her friends’ situations, Ume wrote to a friend in America, “Such a life is killing to me. . . I get quite provoked with these horrid men, and yielding women, who surprise me so much!”

Nimura writes,

Sutematsu’s life might be full of parties and servants, but Ume claimed not to be tempted. “I am much more happy in my work, I am sure. . . I shall have all the comforts and luxuries that Sutematsu has,” she wrote with satisfaction, “Of course, temporarily, without marrying for it as she did.” (196)

Feedback from friends in both Japan and America threatened Ume’s preternatural confidence. Many thought she should marry, and they said so repeatedly.  But Ume remained convinced marriage would only distract her. Already she had to deal with her teaching career stalling because her (Japanese) mother was expecting and Ume was obligated by custom to return home to help (203).

Ume did end up establishing a successful school and had several audiences with the empress. Yet she could not shed the stigma of her single status, especially combined with her gender.

Nimura writes,

On the holiday celebrating the emperor’s birthday that November, citizens of her rank were required to pay their respects at court–a privilege that Ume had craved since her return to Japan, and to which she looked forward with nervous anticipation. But. . . Ume was the only woman of her bureaucratic rank. It would not do to have an unaccompanied woman among the men at the imperial audience. “So they asked me privately, you see, not to come, for the would not know what to do with me,” Ume told [her friend] Mrs. Lanman, covering her disappointment with a show of relief. On the appointed day, when her colleagues went to the palace, Ume had the day off–“far nicer than to bow one’s head off at court,” she insisted staunchly. (207)

At one point during her education career in Japan, Ume returned to the U.S. to get her college degree at Bryn Mawr. Here the attitude toward single women was more liberal.

“Our failures only marry,” the college’s imposing dean, Martha Carey Thomas, was heard to say. Here, at least, no one was going to question the path Ume had chosen, or try to find her a husband. (227)

Ume returned to Japan, continued teaching and planning her own school, and promoted a new scholarship fund. And yet. . . (more…)

My Heros Pity Me for the Wrong Reasons April 8, 2020

Posted by Onely in Celebrities, Uncategorized, YouTube Style.
Tags: , , , ,
6 comments

After years of advocating for unmarried people’s rights, I’m kinda frustrated. Singlism still looms strong, even in society’s most progressive echelons. No, “looms” is the wrong word. Singlism doesn’t loom, it creeps. It’s insidious, pushing its tendrils into other even more nefarious isms. Its strength comes from its subtley. We need to demystify marital status discrimination and loudly acknowledge that it’s a problem, so singlism loses its ability to hide, even and especially within the rhetoric of otherwise smart and liberal influencers. Toward that goal, but with chagrin, I am flagging denigrating singlist statements made by two of my heroes: the hilarious comedian Jim Gaffigan and the progressive senator Kamala Harris. 

In which Jim Gaffigan gets mildly singlist:

The link: https://youtu.be/LcHvDJz8fUM

The context: Gaffigan is talking to Seth Myers about having been worried about being separated from his family because he was travelling internationally when the COVID-19 crisis started in the U.S. He explains that the experience inspired him to start his YouTube show “Dinner With the Gaffigans”. At 4:30, Gaffigan says, 

I know there are some people separated from their families–or they are just by themselves. I have some friends that are by themselves. So it was something to serve as a break from the constant consumption of news. . .

The problem: It’s subtle, but it’s there. Gaffigan lumps single people (or more specifically, people who live alone) in with people who are unwillingly separated from their families. The latter is an inherently distressing condition, but the former is not necessarily distressing at all. Every day of quarantine I’m so thankful that I live my myself. I can barely handle the persistent lap-seeking of my geriatric blind cat Marble (photo above). If I had to make dinner for kids every night, or negotiate chores with a partner, I might lose my mind. Side note: Some singles advocates are irritated by the use of “just”, as in Gaffigan’s “just by themselves” or more commonly, “Just one?” as said by restaurant hosts. I personally am not really bothered by this particular rhetoric. Copious Readers, does it bother you? Should it bother me? 

In which Kamala Harris gets majorly singlist:

The link: https://youtu.be/q_-pPKPaOnY

The context: Kamala Harris is talking with Seth Myers about how now is a good time to reach out to people. At 5:15, Harris says: 

Let’s remember our single friends, and our friends and relatives and neighbors who are seniors. There’s a requirement of social isolation, but let’s make sure we’re not engaging in emotional isolation. People are literally alone right now; it’s so important that people don’t *feel* alone.

The problem: Harris lumps single people with seniors. The latter are an inarguably vulnerable population right now. Singles, by contrast, aren’t inherently physically or emotionally vulnerable (more…)

Where and With Whom Writers Live: Who Cares? March 26, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
9 comments

PIXNIO-356247-1200x578 So I’m sitting in the sauna, and I’ve just finished the gripping and lyrical book The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I don’t want it to be over, so I keep reading, through the acknowledgements and onto the back flap of the cover, where I learn that Coates lives somewhere with his wife.

And still in the sauna, I get to thinking about the factoids authors choose to put in their bio-blurbs. Often they bio-blurb the most mundane, heteronormative aspects of their lives: where they live, and whether there’s a spouse and kids living with them. Do readers care about the nuclear families of writers? Personally, I would rather hear how many bookshelves Coates lives with and what secret inspirational snacks he keeps in the back of his refrigerator. Why do so many creative, progressive writers stick to the dull script of “Author lives in Random Location with her Literarily Irrelevant Husband and two children, Moot and Point”? Regular readers of this blog already know why: matrimania, a term coined by social scientist Dr. Bella DePaulo for society’s obsession with marriage as this mystical, magical entity that trumps all else in our lives.

In search of answers, I grabbed some hard-back novels and nonfiction books off my shelves and examined the author bios. So, Copious Cooped-Up Readers, here are some random reading recommendations, along with my observations about the author bios.  I’ve excerpted the parts of the bios pertaining to the “Lives in. . with. . .” formula.  I scored them on a three-part scale: Nucleonormative (follows the location-spouse-kids formula), Fine (has hints of the formula), and Relevant and Refreshing (ignores the formula). These scores do not reflect the contents of the books, all of which I highly recommend. They merely reflect the authors’ approaches to their bios. 

I wondered if, in my not-at-all-comprehensive sample, there would be a difference between fiction and nonfiction authors. How would memoirists bio-blurb themselves? Would people who write about progressive single’s advocacy steer away from the location/spouse/kids trope in their bios? Let’s see:

A Life of Lies and Spies: Tales of a CIA Ops Polygraph Interrogator, by Alan Trabue (Memoir)

Trabue describes his professional background, all of which relevant to the book, and then he says he “lives in Virginia.” No mention of a spouse or kids. SCORE: Fine 

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice W. Flaherty (Memoir)

Flaherty describes her medical credentials then says she “lives with her three-year-old twin girls and husband in the Boston area.” SCORE: Nuclearnormative, with additional points removed for stating the ages of the twins at the moment of publication. That goes against the logic of the time-space continuum and forces extra math upon those readers who do care enough about Flaherty’s home life to wonder how old her twins actually are.

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, by Mardi Jo Link (Memoir)

Link’s bio consists solely of her professional credentials as a reporter and writer, all of which are relevant to the book. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

Bachelor Girl: The Secret History of Single Women in the Twentieth Century, by Betsy Israel (Nonfiction)

Israel lists her impressive writing credentials. Oh, and she also lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. SCORE: Fine 

The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories, by Rion Amilcar Scott (Fiction)

Scott lists his substantial writing awards. No mention of where/with whom he lives. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, by Eric Klinenberg (Nonfiction)

Klinenberg describes his professorial career and the awards his previous books have won. I have no idea, from this bio, where he lives and with whom. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing 

How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, by Bella DePaulo, PhD (Nonfiction)

DePaulo describes where her professional research and writing has appeared. SCORE: Relevant and Refreshing

The Invited, by Jennifer McMahon (Novel)

McMahon lists a couple of her previous bestselling novels, then shares that she “lives in Vermont with her partner, Drea, and their daughter, Zella”. SCORE: Somewhere between fine and nucleonormative. She narrowly avoids a flat score of nucleonormative because she has a partner, not a husband.

Now that I’ve cast judgment on some of my favorite authors, it’s time for full disclosure: In 2017, when the time came to compose my own bio for my nonfiction book And Sarah His Wife (it’s a chapbook, but it has an ISBN number so it counts dangit), I came close to following the location-nuclear-family formula, because (more…)

How Singlism Supports the Other Isms February 22, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
add a comment

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. –Dr. Martin Luther King

The world stomps on single people, not only socio-culturally, but also in law, finance, and business. The U.S. federal code alone has over 1,000 laws that privilege married people over unmarried people. In a 2013 Atlantic article, my colleague and I calculated that this institutionalised “singlism” costs the average unmarried American at least one million dollars more in their lifetime than their married peer, because of discriminatory laws governing Social Security, taxes, retirement accounts, insurance, and more. The injustice is clear. Yet as we’re buffeted by the waves of racism and sexism rolling across the U.S. in the wake of the Trump administration, my fellow singles’ advocates and I discuss whether we should focus on these weightier “Isms,” instead of on singlism. I say no–we should fight even harder against singlism. Coined by social scientist Dr. Bella DePaulo, the term means discrimination against un-partnered people. Singlism isn’t as blatantly horrific as racism and sexism; its power comes from its insidiousness. Some of the most progressive people I know have told me singlism isn’t real, or that I’m “just bitter” about coupled people’s (ostensible) happiness–similar arguments as were made in the early days of feminism, and which are still made about racism today (the awful “post-racial world” argument). Singlism fuels all the other bad Isms: not only sex/genderism and racism, but also ageism, ableism, class-ism, and heterosexism.

The most familiar instances of singlism show up in pop culture and parties: The single (cis hetero) man who lives alone “fits the profile” of a serial killer (or pedophile). Single (cis hetero) women are spinsters (despite a feminist movement to reclaim this word, it still mainly implies dull, unattractive, and outdated). Women receive the brunt of singlism; they are not only spinsters, but sluts, and potential man thieves. As a single woman, I have been called a spinster and treated as the other two stereotypes, by both men and women. Multiple times. I first learned about relationship status discrimination, and its inter-Ism tentacles, when a friend reported a conversation she’d overheard about me:

“She looks good in a swimsuit. I’m surprised she doesn’t have a boyfriend.” I felt icky hearing this comment, but I was barely in college, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate my discomfort. Now, I would say that the speaker (a man-boy) “managed in two short sentences to not only be singlist, lookist, and sexist, with a dash of heterosexism thrown in (because what if I were gay?) but he also deftly illustrated the overlaps among these Isms, anchored together by the object’s ‘relationship’ status.” Today there’s more talk in mainstream media about singlehood being a valid, even enviable, lifestyle choice. But that’s only from the socio-cultural side. Very few people call out institutionalised singlism, and even fewer talk about how to dismantle it.  So I’m going to. The following are only a few representative examples out of many, many, many.

Singlism and Institutionalised Heterosexism

The Problem:

Gay couples have to fight for the right to marry so they can get the social and legal privileges accorded married couples. While gay people should have the right to marry, why should they have to get married in order to share Social Security, estate taxes, health insurance, and so forth? In the modern economy, shouldn’t those institutions be oriented towards individuals, not couples? Tying marriage to government is just another opportunity to discriminate against non-heterosexuals.

How To Dismantle It:

Why can’t gay couples and unmarried people have all the same rights as married people?

Singlism and Institutionalised Ableism

The Problem:

In many healthcare facilities, close friends of unmarried patients can’t enter the patient’s room because they are not a spouse. Unmarried romantic couples need to pay extra lawyer fees to sort out permissive paperwork way ahead of time. A single person can use the Family and Medical Leave Act to take time off work to care for their parents or children, but close friends and relatives outside of the nuclear unit are out of luck. Unmarried people routinely pay more for health insurance, because of stereotypes that we are out street racing stoned at 2 a.m. (or similar irresponsible behaviour).

How To Dismantle It:

Let everyone choose a specific person(s) to be in their health care circle, meaning they can share insurance, hospital visits, and medical decisions. Make the paperwork free, simple, and accessible. Stop using marital status in actuary data.

Singlism and Institutionalised Racism/Sexism

The Problem:

Family-value conservatives want more people to marry, and they are supported by those 1,000+ federal laws giving benefits to married people. African-Americans, especially Black women, especially those with low incomes, are told marrying will improve their lot in life, make them more economically stable, and provide a solid base to raise children. None of this is inherently true, not even with all those federal privileges. Remaining single may be the best option for a low-income Black woman, but many never get a chance to explore that option, because of a lack of housing and childcare infrastructure to support single women, so that they don’t need to incorporate a man in their life unless they want to.

How To Dismantle It:

End joint tax filing, because sometimes the lower earner of a couple will stop working in order not to raise the joint income above a certain bracket. This person is usually the woman, and this is particularly impactful if she was low-income to begin with. (The U.S. “marriage penalty” is real, but it’s less serious than the fact that there is never a bonus in the US tax code for filing singly.) Bolster low-cost childcare, expand childcare hours, raise wages for all women, particularly women of colour (who earn much less than white women). Stop encouraging women of colour to get married, and encourage them instead to follow their hearts and minds, and give them the tools to do so.  As a white woman myself, the racism-singlism intersection isn’t my strong suit, so I hope women of colour will weigh in here.

Singlism and Institutionalised Ageism

(more…)

A Leftover Woman Speaks, With Her Voice and Her Face February 17, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
3 comments

girl-4456485_1280The New York Times posted an “Op-Doc” on YouTube focusing on Qiu Huamei, a successful lawyer and (judging from the short video at least) an engaging, intelligent, sensitive, and progressive woman with excellent taste in haircuts. Unfortunately, Qiu is ostensibly still kinda sucky, because at the advanced age of “over 27”, she is–gasp–STILL SINGLE. This makes Qiu a Leftover Woman aka Sheng Nu aka a woman who has to field daily microaggressions from people who feel threatened not only by Qiu’s unmarried status, but by her own relative indifference to finding a husband.

The Op-Doc shows Qiu talking to an amatonormative reporter about her single status. We see her gamely going on a few unfun dates. Most painful are the scenes when she returns to her small hometown south of Beijing after a five-hour bus (or train?) and motorized cart ride, to be greeted and then grilled about why she isn’t trying harder to get married. You can watch it for yourself here, but I’m going to pull out some key quotes below to illustrate the unintended (and intended) microaggressions that single people–especially women–weather every day. Note how Qiu struggles (with more success than I’d have) to compose her facial expressions, when the reporter criticizes her looks and when a promising date says he wants to be the power player in the relationship. In the most resonant clip, her sister literally screams at Qiu for not caring about marriage and kids.

Some of our Copious Readers who don’t believe in singlism (we do have trolls!) may suggest that the more egregious microaggressions are mistranslations or misconstrued translations. No. I have lived in China and Taiwan and speak Chinese well enough to understand (after, ahem, repeated viewings) that what the speakers are saying is exactly what you (as a presumed English speaker) are reading in the subtitles. Here’s a small sampling of the pokes and dings our intrepid independent heroine Qiu receives in this short video:

From the reporter: 

Sorry if I’m being too straightforward, but you’re not beautiful in the traditional sense. . . You might think you look young, but you’re fooling yourself.

From the male chauvinist date: 

As a woman, you don’t have to give advice, just tell me what you need. . . I don’t want my wife to be stronger than me.

From her sister (yelling):

It’s tiring to start a family, but who doesn’t want to have one? Who has a comfortable life after marriage?

Allow me to don my psychic psychotherapist cap. The sister obviously hates the life she built for herself after caving to heteronormative and amatonormative social pressures, and she may have unvoicable mixed feelings about the small male human scooting around in front of her lap and face, who is intermittently blocking the blast of venom she’s trying to unleash on her less conventional sister.

Ok, I’m removing my psychic psychotherapist cap now. Here is where we at Onely acknowledge that the sister is just one of millions of women who are pressured into (more…)

%d bloggers like this: