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Singlism? Feminism? What gives? (Part One) December 12, 2009

Posted by Onely in Academic Alert!, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, quirkyalone, Your Responses Requested!.
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A few days ago, Christina examined the surprisingly singlist and sexist publicity blurbs for two seemingly pro-single books. She notes that the blurbs “[remind] us of how tightly anti-feminism is woven into anti-singlehood rhetoric.” And it’s true: Onely is grounded, at its heart, in feminist values and beliefs specifically because of this connection.

As we explain on our “About Onely” page, we see the fight against singlism as a feminist project in the sense that we question the oppressive perspective that normalizes a particular (sexual-social) practice — coupling — at the expense of those who remain single. We believe that the same sexist (and heteronormative) perspective that fails to value multiple gender and sexual identities also fails to recognize those of us who prefer living alone to coupling.

But another thing strikes me as equally interesting about this linkage: I wonder if it’s a mere coincidence that Rosie the Riveter’s message above could apply as much to women as it could to singles. We’ve discussed the question before (at least implicitly), but I’ll bring it up again: Why do single women seem to be more present and more vocal (on the blogosphere and elsewhere) than single men? Is it because single women have more of an investment in fighting singlism because they face a double oppression? Or do single men encounter more of a problem because, as one of several male commenters on our QuirkyAlone post about the issue put it, the issue tends to be framed as a woman’s problem, therefore preventing many single women from viewing single men more optimistically, and (worse) potentially making single men invisible altogether:

[M]any women can’t see us &, they assume we’re like all the other non-QA men (which offends us) and approach us with that mind set – ‘putting us in the same bucket’ as [a previous commenter] put it.

I’d suspect that the problem (like most) can’t be reduced to an either/or situation, but that it is more complicated than that: On the one hand, single women DO face uniquely gendered stereotypes about what it means, culturally, to be read as female and single; on the other hand, if single women assume that single men are inherently less progressive or face fewer obstacles (or whatever) than they do, then that has the potential to shut them out of the conversation, making it seem gender-exclusive.

But doing this — making singlism out to be a “female” problem – is actually anti-feminist because 1) it allows us to perpetuate singlist, sexist (and likely heterosexist) stereotypes of single men, and 2) it also positions the issue as a “descriptive” problem instead of a “human” one (by which I mean that we begin talking about the problem as though it’s an individual/private one instead of a social/structural one, linked to and perpetuated by other oppressive ways of thinking and being in the world).

I’ve got a Part 2 of this post up my sleeve, but for now, please check out the astute comments on our QuirkyAlone post and commence discussion below: Singlism? Feminism? What gives?

— Lisa


1. specialkphd - December 12, 2009

YOu need to check out my current crazes. I just wrote about a magazine called BITCH. LOVE it! Why? I just read a little snippet about how this organization is going into Planned Parenthood and entrapping workers to not report false reports of statuatory rape. It talks about how this impacts our prolife/prochoice tug of war. Isn’t the very act of writing publically a FEMINIST act? Oh! Please, please please consider doing a guest post on this for me!

(also…haven’t received the book yet, but NEED one! I want to hold a book discussion about it!)

Onely - December 13, 2009

Thanks SKPHD–I love that magazine too. Sorry you haven’t gotten your book–Sasha is the book-distributor (we don’t really have anything to do with that), so definitely let her know you have a book club in the works and want the book for that.

2. Alan - December 12, 2009

I suspect single women are more present in the single cause than single men because they experience greater discrimination.

I’ve heard people tell me it’s “way cooler” to be a bachelor than a spinster. I seem to recall that women also get more pressure to have children than men (which most people connect with marriage).

Thus, women feel more pressure to change their single state than men, and thus are more motivated to fight for singles’ rights.

3. Simone Grant - December 12, 2009

Just to add a point to what Alan wrote, a woman who is single at 40 is considered by most people to be an old maid. Whereas a 40 year old single man is still in the prime of his dating life.

I believe women are probably more motivated to fight for single’s rights because our experiences of being single are just so very different than mens’.

4. Matt - December 12, 2009

I’ll agree that there probably is a more flattering image (although still unflattering) of single men than single women. However, I also think part of the answer to the question is simply that the ‘singles movement’ is, frankly, a small sample size. It’s hard to really judge any patterns of membership in what I perceive as (unfortunately) such a small movement.

Here’s an alternative theory, based on my own experience as a single man. A single man is more afraid to admit that he enjoys and is proud of being single, because there’s a fear that stating this publicly will pretty much permanently end any prospects of a dating life. A single woman in the same position might have a better chance of still having a dating life, even if she makes it known she enjoys being single. Just a theory…

That’s just my perspective… I’m rarely vocal about my enjoyment and support of ‘singlehood’ because, frankly, my experience has taught me that it’s something others usually won’t consider acceptable (particularly women.)

Onely - December 13, 2009

Hmmm this is interesting! I think this fear might tie in to the expectation/stereotype (or reality?) that most women eventually want a man to commit/marry, and when they find out that the man enjoys being single, they assume he won’t ever take the relationship to the “next level”.

This is why I don’t like Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies” song, because it perpetuates the idea that all single women want a ring, and in fact *should* have one in order to validate a relationship.

Now, if a woman does want a man who will commit to a relationship, then she needs to find out from him whether he enjoys being single because:

1) he’s not pathetic, or
2) because it’s a lifestyle he actively chose and never intends to change, or
3) whether he enjoys certain aspects of being single (such as living alone) but would be open to a committed relationship that doesn’t compromise those aspects (two separate houses).

The problem is, people don’t usually stop to ask these questions of a happily single man–they just assume he’s the free-swinging bachelor type with a little bit of misogyny thrown in. And that’s why it’s hard for single men to even start the dialog about why they like being single.


Singlutionary - January 1, 2010

I think that just as many men feel the internal and external pressures to couple. Being the only single guy out of a group of friends sucks just as much as being the only single female. And I’ve often heard men complain, just as women do, that once their friends couple, they never see them again.

I also think that there is a “player” stereotype that goes along with happily single men and a “chaste” stereotype that goes along with happily single women. I’d hate to get stuck in either one of those categories but yes, a woman is still datable if she is assumed chaste but a man is less dateable if he is assumed to be a player.

5. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - December 13, 2009

Great post! Everything you said about the feminization of the singles movement is so true. As for why this has happened, I’d have to agree with you that multiple factors have contributed.

Yes, single women have traditionally been subject to somewhat more negative stereotyping than men, probably because the male role has historically been seen as the default and the female role as existing to support the male. So it makes more sense that women would identify more strongly with pro-single rhetoric.

Furthermore, men seem less likely than women to define themselves by their relationships (or lack thereof), perhaps due to the aforementioned default status of males or perhaps because they are biologically or culturally predisposed to be less interested in committed relationships. Whatever the reason behind it, since they are not as easily defined by relationships, they also seem less interested in what it means to be without one. So just as they tend not to seek out reading material about relationships, they also tend not to seek out reading material about foregoing relationships.

On the other hand, as the comments above indicate, masculine identity is historically bound up in sex. If a man isn’t interested in a relationship, it may lead to the assumption that he’s not interested in sex (whether or not that’s true), and that may call his masculinity into question. So men may be less apt to be vocal supporters of the pro-single movement because of the perceived stigma of celibacy (again, whether or not they’re actually celibate).

Matt - December 14, 2009

Interesting… I almost sometimes think people look at it from the opposite viewpoint… that single guys are those who are too horny to ‘settle down’ and endure marriage-induced celibacy.

Anyhow, as I pointed out, my motivation for not being vocal about the pro-single movement is more related to others perceiving such statements as unsavory and incomprehensible. In a society obsessed with the moral righteousness of monogamy and marriage, surely only a cynical, hateful Cretan would speak out against on behalf of single’s rights. Single men are often seen as immoral, unsavory, and incomplete… just think about politicians… how far would a single man running for President get? (not to say it would be any easier for a single woman…)

Maybe the history of feminism actually makes women feel more empowered to take up such a cause… I don’t know that we men, as a gender, have any history of activism on behalf of sex/relationship-based issues.

6. Onely - December 13, 2009


Lisa started this post after seeing a draft post I’d started, which said: “Feminism – Singlism?” She asked me if she could take over the topic because she’d been thinking a lot about it and had some ideas. I said SURE, wondering what deep ideas she could possibly have about the theme.

Because when I wrote “Feminism-Singlism?” this is what I was actually thinking about: FeminISM is a positive ISM and SinglISM is a negative ISM, but I’ve noticed people thinking that the ISM of Singlism denotes pro-single. This is probably because of the term Feminism. Which is puzzling because there are so many more negative ISMs out there–racism, agism, sexism–that can be used as models for the ISM in Singlism.

Which begs the additional question, why is FeminISM one of the few ISMs to denote something good and proactive? Did the term used to refer to the movement in a derogatory way? This is what I was thinking of, but obviously Lisa took the topic and ran with it on a much deeper, less semantic level (that’s what getting a PhD will do to you. . . geez. . . )

= )

Rachel - December 14, 2009

Wow! This is really interesting! I hadn’t even noticed the peculiar feminISM! It’s true, it doesn’t make much sense when we look at other “ism”s…

7. Singlism? Feminism? What Gives? (Part Two) « Onely: Single and Happy - December 15, 2009

[…] sexuality, michel foucault, sexuality and feminism, singles' sexuality, we're queer trackback In my last post, I wanted to highlight how the pro-singles movement, in targeting and attracting women as its main […]

8. Steve - December 16, 2009

I’ll offer some anecdotal evidence from my own circle of friends, which is heavily male, heavily single, and heavily nerdy. At least in my crowd, single men aren’t likely to see their singleness as part of a trend or social theory, aren’t likely to seek out a related community, and don’t perceive their singleness as a conscious choice that fits their personality and/or lifestyle. They just assume they are single because women find them unattractive. Maybe they think of themselves as too ugly, too nerdy, too shy, or too socially incompetent. (And it goes without saying that they also lack the self-confidence that’s often necessary to pursue women.) But whatever the root of their self-perception, it’s something they experience as negative or a fault, and — being introverted and male — they prefer not to reveal the vulnerabilities they’re so self-conscious about.

I think in general, women are just more likely to seek out a like-minded community where they can find support and share experiences.

Onely - December 17, 2009

I think there are *also* lots of women who assume they are single because men (or women) find them unattractive. But you’re right, women do tend to seek out supportive communities more readily, so maybe that offsets the insecurity.

Onely - December 17, 2009

That said, I want to note that I believe that some of those women are probably saying, “Oh look at me, I’m single because I’m so unappealing,” because it’s actually *easier* (and perceived as less wierd!) in our couple-crazed culture than saying “Hey, I don’t mind being single.” CC

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