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How Singlism Supports the Other Isms February 22, 2020

Posted by Onely in Uncategorized.
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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women are spinsters (despite a feminist movement to reclaim this word, it still mainly implies dull, unattractive, and outdated).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

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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…)

Cat People: Challenging and Embracing the Stereotypes February 1, 2020

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Welcome to the latest installment in The Happy Bachelor’s and Onely’s joint series, “Any Excuse to Write About Cats.” In this episode, Craig (of Happy Bachelor) and Christina (of Onely) discuss the similarities and differences between the much-maligned Crazy Cat Lady and the elusive Crazy Cat Man.

IMG_3339Christina: “Give him three boops and five kisses” Craig told me once, in response to a picture of one of my flowy-furred cats. Not many of my cis-hetero-male friends would be comfortable texting those words to me, but Craig is not your average cis-hetero male. At least not where his pet is concerned. In the last three years since he adopted his cat Chester, he’s been embracing and redefining the Crazy Cat Lady (CCL) stereotype, converting it into a lifestyle for 21st-Century men who aren’t afraid to boop and kiss and brag on their feline children. Henceforth, I shall refer to Chester as Craig’s “son” because that is how Craig identifies their relationship.

Christina continues: I am pleased to be a CCL. I’m not pleased by the word “lady”, which sound creepy and sexist, but I will use it in this essay because it’s the standard. In my heart, I’m a Crazy Cat Woman. But using the word “Crazy” can be uncomfortable too, because it has an ableist tinge. Also, my love of cats is not crazy–according to science. Cats have big, forward-facing eyes and small mouths from which they emit sounds much like human babies. For the dummies who say childfree people are selfish, they should look at all the Cat People like me who are showering love on our furry babies with forward-facing eyes. If you can commit to cleaning even one litter box just once per day, you aren’t selfish. If you love cats, you aren’t crazy, you just have an appreciation for moving, breathing works of art.

Craig: I am proud to call myself a CCM. There isn’t really a CCM stereotype just yet because traditionally, men have been assumed to have dogs and women have been assumed to have cats. Fortunately, that stereotype is changing, and more and more men are “coming out” about their love for cats. I provide my Facebook feed with regular anecdotes starring “my son Chester,” as well as photos of him looking cute and funny, and they get a great deal of attention, because, well, let’s face it, how many men are that open about their ailurophilia? I’m breaking down the pet patriarchy! If others consider me feminine because of my love of my cat, well, that’s their problem.

Christina: Because Craig brings up his son Chester’s popularity on social media, I want to mention an existential Facebook crisis I’ve been having regarding my cat posts. I’ve noticed that if I post a picture of (for example) Alvin sunning himself in his laundry basket, it gets a couple dozen likes. If I post an article about marital status discrimination  (MSD), however, the only people who ever like it are Craig and my co-blogger Lisa, and perhaps one other random friend overcome by a fit of progressiveness (or spastic finger). I resent that my Facebook friends don’t seem to care about discrimination against unmarried people, and I feel like a bad Cat Lady for wanting the ratio of Likes to shift away from Theo and toward the MSD articles. Maybe the key to getting people to read about singlism is to stick cat pictures randomly throughout the text.

Craig: I’m a bit of a goofball. When I’m alone with Chester (and sometimes, when my close friends are over), I talk in a high-pitched voice and do things like clap his paws together while yelling “Yaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!”, tap his paws against my nose and go “Boop! Boop! Boop!,” and squish his cheeks together so his face look mushed. It’s cute as hell. And I’ve taken to posting this on Facebook, which gets a lot of likes, and on the Community of Single People Facebook page, the page on which Christina and I met, I’m known for my frequent posting of Chester doing cute and funny things, so much that I occasionally receive a tag anytime a cat is mentioned, especially a male cat owner. My theory is that I may be more open about my CCM role than most other CCMs.

Christina: Regarding the image of the CCL in society and pop culture: I make no effort to hide the cat hair on my clothes. I’ve gone on dates with white hairs all over my black slacks because I didn’t want to go up two flights of stairs to retrieve my tape roller. (more…)

Get Married, Make a Million Dollars (At Least) January 20, 2020

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money-1501252666apFIn a 2013 online article for The Atlantic, Lisa and I looked at some of the benefits that married people receive from the U.S. federal government and calculated how much more a single person would likely pay over their lifetime, compared to their married peer, based only on these marriage privileges. Answer? The single person pays AT LEAST A MILLION DOLLARS MORE. AT LEAST. Witness marital status discrimination (MSD) at work.

To our chagrin, the Atlantic editors (who were otherwise great to work with) made a mistake in the pull-quote at the top of the article, which reads: Over a lifetime, unmarried women can pay as much as a million dollars more than their married counterparts for healthcare, taxes, and more.

I want to use the power of my Onely venue (and our whole 800 Copious Readers) to correct this pull quote, with the important changes in ALL CAPS. So here’s the correction, a mere seven years later after the article’s publication, because I’m nothing if not speedy:

Over a lifetime, unmarried people WILL pay AT LEAST A million dollars more than their married counterparts for healthcare, taxes, and more.

Back in the dark ages of 2012, Lisa and I Skyped for hours and ground our fingers to bloody stumps calculating our theoretical comparison between a single person and married person making the same income over their lifetimes.

Our resulting article can be found here:

https://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/01/the-high-price-of-being-single-in-america/267043/

Remember that I and Lisa only looked at some marriage benefits, and we only looked at federal privileges for marriage, not state privileges. If we’d had the time (and cognitive power, and any remaining fingertips) to factor in these additional privileges, our final figure would likely have bumped up from “more than a million dollars” to “WAAAAY more than a million dollars”.

To see some examples of institutionalized discrimination that Lisa and I didn’t get a chance to tear apart mathematically, have a look at this good overview of the main legal and financial privileges of marriage, as inscribed into U.S. law:

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/marriage-rights-benefits-30190.html

Our goal with the Atlantic article was to show a concrete example of why singlism is a valid ISM that needs to be dismantled. After the article came out, we got some hate, but we also got a lot of cheerleading. However, in the seven years since its publication, no one else (that we know of) has attempted to crunch similar numbers. Copious Readers, do you know of any other projects like ours? Is anyone out there willing to run their own calculations? We’d love to see another singles advocate replicate our work using different hypothetical incomes.

We’d even love to see a heteronormahole try to do the math, in an attempt to disprove our theory that MSD costs unmarried people millions of dollars over their lifetimes. We bet they couldn’t do it.

–Christina

Photo credit: Public Domain Pictures

The Problem of Andrew Yang August 16, 2019

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It is with a heavy heart that I must ask our Copious Readers to not support Andrew Yang in his quest for the US Democratic presidential nomination.

I used to like him, but recently Yang has embraced outdated and poorly researched notions about the institution of marriage, and as a result his policies discriminate against single people (me). To my dismay, he proudly plans to offer free marriage counseling, because according to his web site:

Children raised in two-parent households have better outcomes across almost every dimension. Studies also show that being in a happy marriage contributes to longevity and life satisfaction.

Both those sentences are wrong. For information about hurtful stereotypes of children raised by single parents, please see the links in this earlier Onely post. For information about pro-singles study results and the faulty science behind pro-marriage studies, see Dr. Bella DePaulo’s book Marriage vs. Single Life.

But it seems Yang hasn’t done his research, because he continues:

Because of the huge societal good that comes from keeping married couples who want to stay together in their relationships, marriage counseling for interested couples should be free or heavily subsidized by the government.

I do not want my tax dollars to fund marriage counseling, unless I, as a single person, also get free counseling–to help me manage the stress of dealing with ignorant faux-progressives like Yang.

For me personally, living independently (more…)

No Father? No Problem August 7, 2019

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Ok, I admit the title of this post is a little clickbaity. Sorry. But now that I’ve got you here, let me say what I mean in a more nuanced way:

No father? No problem!

Oops! Let me try again:

Shut up!

That wasn’t directed at you, Copious Reader. That was directed at right-wing conservative yo-yos who keep equating school shooters with “fatherless” boys. Now, before I unpack the sexism, singlism, and homophobia in this trope, let me just preempt the haters by saying:

I don’t hate fathers. Some of my best friends are fathers.

But just because a kid doesn’t have a father doesn’t mean they’re gonna climb a bell tower and take aim. There’s reams of research supporting my claim. For just one example, listen to Dr. Susan Harkness:

. . . while children that are growing up in lone mother families are widely perceived to perform poorly, research, undertaken as part of the ESRC’s Secondary Data Analysis Initiative, shows that lone motherhood is rarely the cause of these children’s poor emotional or cognitive outcomes. Indeed, when compared with children living in otherwise similar families, children living in lone mother almost always do as well as those living with biological parents. Source

Or check out this book by social scientist Dr. Bella Depaulo: Single parents and their children – the good news no one ever tells you.

I’m not saying it’s easy being a single parent/mother, but a lot of the difficulty stems not from a lack of a partner parent, (more…)

The Wrong End Of The Ring: Please Like Me! November 12, 2018

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–Martin Luther King Jr.

Copious Readers,

If you “like” or comment on my NUHA article about marital status discrimination here, I get points in a social justice blogging contest. Please help me spread the word about singlism! I wrote about how it overlaps with, and amplifies, so many other “isms,” such as racism, sexism, ageism, and ablism. Thanks so much! (more…)

The Dangers of Living Alone: Doorknob Edition September 27, 2018

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Gold_doorknob_cropWelcome to the latest installment in our series “The Dangers of Living Alone”.  Although living alone is a privilege, it also brings serious risks–as described in this earlier post, where Christina encountered terror in the toilet. That same bathroom terrorized Christina again just recently, as described below. We hope you can learn from her mistakes.

I never imagined I would hear myself thinking those words, but there they were, loud in my head:

I may have to kick down this door. I may have to kick down this door. I may have to kick down this door.

Copious Readers, if you live by yourself in a house with embedded door latches, here is a list of things you shouldn’t do, in the order in which you shouldn’t do them:

1. Do not say, “My guest bathroom doorknob is ugly. It needs replacing.” No it doesn’t. It is fine. Just leave it.

2. Do not unscrew said doorknob, then remove the handles and bolting mechanism, and then leave the bolt aka spring latch inside the door because you can’t figure out how to remove that part.

3. Do not go to Lowe’s for advice, then return home with your mission unaccomplished because there were working no automated carts available and your legs are too weak to walk all the way to the Doorknob Department. (The weak legs will become important later.)

4. Do not decide that even though the latch doesn’t retract anymore and could theoretically get stuck in the strike plate, rendering the door inoperable, it’s ok, because you will just remember not to close the door the whole way.

5. Do not drink a liter of coconut water, because in your manic sprint to the bathroom you will forget Operation Embedded Latch and slam the door behind you on the way to the toilet.

If you follow these instructions, you won’t find yourself zipping up your jeans and then slowly starting to claw at the empty ring in the locked door where the doorknob used to be. I had several thoughts when I realized I was trapped in the bathroom, all of which essentially amounted to,

I’m gonna die!

“Where’s my phone?” Not in the bathroom.  (more…)

Coming Home to An Empty (Of Humans) House June 27, 2018

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IMG_4874Copious Readers, do you have the privilege of living alone? If so, what’s the very first thing you do when you Come Home To Your Empty House?

Some years ago, my long-distance boyfriend broke up with me because he was “tired of coming home to an empty house.”  Technically, coming from him that phrase meant, “I have a local woman scoped out to ease my loneliness, but if she doesn’t work out, I’ll come crawling back to you.” But whether you’re looking for an excuse to dump someone or not, “coming home to an empty house” is almost always portrayed as a negative experience. Why is that, when so many people across the world live in too-cramped quarters? The rich/western world’s disdain for “coming home to an empty house” is rooted in privilege. It’s also rooted in our obsession with couples and the nuclear family.

So. Let’s expand how we think about “empty.” Maybe I don’t feel an emptiness when I walk in the foyer because I have plants that need watering. Maybe I have messages waiting for me on my answering machine (for the purposes of this metaphor, travel with me for a moment back to the days of landlines). Maybe I have a friendly ghost. Maybe I’m sick of real people and look forward to sitting down with my Amazon Prime friends of One Mississippi. But mostly, maybe I love coming home to an “empty” house because. . . and here we get to the real reason I’m writing this post:

CATS!

As soon as my door swings inward I start to yodel in that way that all cat people do when they are out of human hearing (and sometimes, when they aren’t). I always start out with, “Hi guize!” This is a gender-neutral form of “guys”, which is necessary because I have two man cats and one woman cat. Then my vocabulary and sentence structure just go downhill from there:

How’s my special treasure trovey muppets? Are you purrs? Hewwo Theo, hewwo Murpity. Yes, kisses! Kiiiiiissssses!! I love you so so much. You are my most special moggie buppets yes indeed. You are like angels in my life forever! Where’s your brother? Where’s Big Al? Is he sleeps? I missed you alls so much. You are so very very specialest to me!

The other day  in the midst of these linguistic acrobatics I realized that I have never, ever greeted any one of my significant other with this much effusiveness. According to Disney (more…)

Please respond: Survey On Single Life June 13, 2016

Posted by Onely in Everyday Happenings, Take action, Your Responses Requested!.
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Hi Copious Readers,

Some dedicated writers-slash-singles-advocates have asked me to share this link and ask you to fill out the survey you’ll find there. These researchers are exploring how single people are perceived and treated by society. The result will be a book for lay people–by which I mean, not an academic book.

The survey is simple, digital, and multiple-choice.

Please share it forward if you can!

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/singlesquestions

Thanks,

Christina

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