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Singlism? Feminism? What Gives? (Part Two) December 15, 2009

Posted by Onely in Academic Alert!, Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, Your Responses Requested!.
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In my last post, I wanted to highlight how the pro-singles movement, in targeting and attracting women as its main audience and voice(s), risks inadvertently framing itself as gender-exclusive. This potential problem, in turn, runs against our feminist goals of countering dominant and oppressive ways of thinking and being. It should be clear, from this and other posts, that we hope to solicit more male voices into our conversations and advocacy work. While both Christina’s perspective and my own will necessarily be limited by our positions as women, we are also committed to our feminist perspectives, which motivate us to read against the (heteronormative) grain and to hopefully recognize and articulate the limitations of our positions.

But I’ve been noticing another limitation that seems to have fueled some of the debate — and misunderstandings — about why men seem less prevalent in the pro-singles blogosphere: In many of our conversations about gender (at least here at Onely and in our cross-posts at Quirkyalone), it seems to me that when we talk about the relationships between men and women (or lack thereof), we are assuming that these “men” and “women” we speak of are heterosexual. And if we assume that, then we aren’t doing much to forward our feminist goals, either.

Making this assumption is easy to do, especially when one (such as myself) identifies as heterosexual. Take, for example, this post, which I wrote several months ago, in which I attacked research in evolutionary biology that sought to explain gender evolution through an obviously singlist lens. While I interpreted the research to be most problematic for its assumption that human evolution occurs through and because of coupling — therefore making single people and practices invisible — I barely say a word about the research’s equally problematic assumption that men and women evolve out of a heterosexual orientation toward each other. In my post, I asked a series of questions, culminating in what I assumed to be most significant:

What about all the single females who desire sex, but no commitment? What about the single men who value strong interpersonal relationships but see sex not as a necessity but maybe just a “bonus”?

The fact that I juxtaposed these final two questions next to each other suggests that I am assuming — just like the researchers I sought to critique — that men and women relate to one another in heterosexual ways. I wanted to reverse the gender stereotypes being promoted in the poor research, but I managed to maintain the heternormative assumptions behind the research.

…… Oooops!

In a similar way, the debate about the (in)visibility of men that we’ve seen going on here at Onely and over at Quirkyalone tends to revolve around assumptions that when we speak about “men” or “women,” we’re talking about heterosexuals. There are a few theories that keep popping up about the differences between men’s and women’s willingness or ability to advocate for singles’ rights. Men face unique challenges in that:

1. Those who are happily single are assumed to either be “avoiding” marriage (the heterosexual ideal) or dating around (the hetero-masculine ideal).

2. Men are judged more harshly by women for being open about their enjoyment of being single (I’m assuming here that part of the problem with this is that being open reduces the chances for finding a woman who will be “okay” with dating if it is not headed toward marriage or permanent coupling).

3. And finally: Being open about being happily single means that one’s masculinity – and heterosexuality – will be questioned.

I don’t want to dispute any of these theories. Instead, I want to highlight how grounded they are in thinking about singleness and coupling as a heterosexual endeavor. And these habits of thinking stem from marriage’s history as a heteronormative institution, combined with a long history of simultaneously hiding or punishing all other forms of sexuality. At the same time, it’s clear from the theories above that these (heteronormative) habits of thinking have also caused most of the problems single men and women confront today — so it’s in our best interests to fight not only stereotypes about gender, but also about sexuality.

Copious readers, it seems to me that if we aren’t careful about our heterosexual biases, we risk getting caught up in the same heteronormative rhetoric that is already used against us. Your thoughts?

— Lisa


1. Lauri - December 15, 2009

A couple comments. I think this is a good call, but at the same time I think some of the discussion about singles that we have here and elsewhere really might pertain only to heterosexual singles, mainly because most of the ideals involving marriage that we face are based in the traditional sense of heterosexual marriage. I find it very interesting that there’s not much in singles blogosphere-that I’m aware of- that is written from the perspective of gay singles, but perhaps that’s because the CULTURAL pressures on hetero singles to couple up are long-standing and established. Gay marriage as a legal institution is fairly new and not widespread so perhaps the cultural problems of heterosexual singles don’t apply yet (of course the legal issues apply across the board, and the issue of gay marriage may have helped to increase awareness is this respect). That’s just a guess on my part, but I would be extremely interested in hearing the take of gay singles. I always just think of this Onion article )I posted here before I think): http://www.theonion.com/content/news/gay_couple_feels_pressured_to

I also just wanted to comment on the theories about single men (#1)- I think marriage is a “hetero-masculine” ideal. I believe that many men view marriage as a sign of manhood, “manning up”, facing a challenge, taking responsibility, etc. In many ways I think marriage is more a gender issue for men than it is for women. The pay discrepancies between married men and single men sort of reflects that in my mind.

Onely - December 15, 2009

I guess one thing we need to know (ok, one thing *I* would *like* to know) is–in the gay community, are men afraid to say they’re happy being single because they think if they broadcast that fact, no one will date them? We had a heterosexual reader voice this concern (about the heterosexual dating community) over at Quirkyalone.

Onely - December 15, 2009

That onion article was great–especially because it actually wasn’t as over-the-top as some Onion articles. It could have actually been true, almost.


2. Onely - December 15, 2009

Great post, Lisa!

(Am I allowed to say that if I am a co-blogger? I think so)

3. mdm - December 17, 2009


rachel brought this post to my attention, with many thanks to her and you, here is my response:

as a gay single male, i do see marriage as both heteronormative and heterosexist. the subject is far too complex for me to bring any insights, but i’d like to speak for myself. i see it problematic to apply feministic ideas to the personal and social aspects of single gay males even though some of the battles are common for both the fronts. i think straight or gay males do not find it very difficult to manage their lives being single because they don’t face the same problems as the single straight or gay females would. it makes a HUGE difference being a male in this world – life is LOT simplified.

say, there is no denying that i might be facing prejudices, tolerating stereotyping and handling stigmatizing, but in all honesty, i do get away without any major discrimination, because in a sexist world, merely being a male comes with implicit and tangible privileges, and i happen to simply take it for granted.

couple of examples: first, coming from east indian culture, i probably had less family pressure to get married being a gay male, compared to a gay female. for me, it was/is being a six-year long struggle to get my family convinced to not to be forced in to marriage (first, it was heterosexual and now, it is same-sex) but it wouldn’t be the same for a gay female; second, there is no burden of being “objectified” and consequences of getting “pregnant” – there doesn’t seem to be any emotional and biological cost to sex while being a (gay) male.

i have not experienced any economic, political oppression – it has been only social, cultural and psychological so far and so, i am not victimized by patriarchy, misogyny and sexism like a single gay female would have been.

these views are personal and coming from limited social experiences. while views and experiences might differ, a basic life for gay single males in western societies doesn’t seem to be all that difficult and challenging.

Matt - December 18, 2009

Do you really think in contemporary Western society there are that many “implicit and tangible privileges” to being male? I don’t see it in my day-to-day experience here in the Midwest U.S. Most of the females I know have lives and opportunities relatively similar to mine. All of my various supervisors and bosses are women (which I’m fine with) who make exponentially more money that I do, as well.

Alan - December 18, 2009

I think that the additional stresses one faces being female in this society are subtle but present. And can be shown to have an impact on live.

Which is a topic we discussed in one of our more offbeat classes in nursing school…

Onely - December 19, 2009

Matt, in answer to your question: Yes. Just because you don’t “see” something in your individual, everyday life doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. First, your position as a male may make it more difficult to recognize other people’s experiences of oppression (you have no idea what challenges your female bosses may have encountered as they worked toward the positions they now hold). Second, it’s pretty well documented that women still make about 78 cents per every dollar men make in the U.S. And that’s just one fact out of many. We’re talking about institutional/structural privileges, not individual/personal ones.

— L

Matt - December 19, 2009

Yes, you’re right, it would appear there are still disadvantages and extra hurdles for women in our society, although as a male they can hard to see (probably because we’re always absorbed in getting over our own hurdles.) I think to some degree what I was trying to point out was that it may be less that way here than in the East Indian culture that mdm is coming from, where forced marriage and such sound like they are common.

Onely - December 19, 2009

Thanks, mdm, for your input. I think the differentiation you’re making between different kinds of oppression is important; however, I wonder how you can say that you haven’t experienced any political oppression, when at least in the U.S., all gay people are politically oppressed because they are excluded from legal privileges (marital most clearly among them) afforded to heterosexuals. Although you may not feel “personally” affected by this oppression, these privileges are legal — and therefore political. I guess it’s just difficult for me to believe that you don’t see yourself somehow (at least implicitly) affected by this as well?

— L

mdm - December 21, 2009

L; hope i didn’t paint a rosy picture! i live in canada and so most of the discrimination for gay people in the US don’t apply to me, but i acknowledge what you say.

Onely - December 23, 2009

OH! Well that makes all the difference 🙂 Thanks for clarifying!!

4. Rachel - December 17, 2009

One of the reasons I reached out to Mukesh was because as a single gay male he would have first hand experience! As women, we have sometimes too much of the caretaker bred into us: Instead of fighting our own fight, we’re worried about how we might be offending/excluding others. While it’s important to work through our own discriminating assumptions, I think if single men feel like they’re being left out, they need to speak up! We cannot do that for them (of course, we have to ensure that we are not preventing them and I see these posts in that vein). It is really easy to start a blog, so if there are no single male bloggers, maybe it’s not because we’re shutting them out but because they have other interests…

(Disclaimer: I am not agree with my own statement a 100% but I thought I’d be a bit provocative…)

Onely - December 19, 2009

Good point, Rachel — I wrote this post mostly b/c I noticed that we were sort of *always* talking about being single as though it was a heterosexual experience. So, I’d say your parenthetical statement in the first paragraph is right what I was aiming for 🙂

— L

5. Matt - December 18, 2009

Frankly, as a single man, I don’t feel like I’m being ‘left out’ here, really, because I personally don’t see the situation as that much different between onely men and women… while life may be a lot different for single men and women who are striving to become unsingle, among those who feel ‘right’ being single, I think there are more similarities than differences.

That said, it would be great if there were a strong single male voice or blogger or whatever, and I would do something like that if I weren’t so busy with a million other things (that directly involve paying the rent now and in the future.) Maybe we’re just lazy =)

Matt - December 18, 2009

Sorry, I kind of ignored the original point of the post! I basically agree with Lauri that societal expectations of and within the gay community make “coupling-pressure” (if you will) less extreme. For whatever reason, our society seems fairly normal for gays and lesbians to be single… therefore, I expect they’re more likely to take up the cause of defending their sexual preference rather than being single vs. being couples.

Onely - December 19, 2009

Interesting points, Matt — I guess that if we keep the history/fact of marriage at the forefront of our conversations about singles/singlism, then we must also recognize/acknowledge that the heterosexual experience of singles is likely a different one than homosexuals, who are confronting heteronormativity too, but from a different angle: while heterosexual singles are fighting against automatic inclusion in marriage but striving for equal rights/privileges, (some) homosexuals are fighting for inclusion in the marital institution… Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that marriage is ultimately a heteronormative/heterosexist institution, and so being included doesn’t actually solve the underlying problem of its heteronormativity.

— L

6. Keysha - December 30, 2009

Good dialogue! We shared this on Singlewomenrule.com today!

Onely - December 31, 2009

Thanks Keysha! Lisa is in Paaaaris right now on vacation celebrating finishing her PhD exams, but I’ll let her know!

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