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

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

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 (they might even have less exposure than people living in groups), but Harris’ statement makes it sound as if single dwellers are about to break down any minute. When I look at myself and my friends, though, it’s the people living with partners and children who are overwhelmed and exhausted, and in some cases worried about their marriages. I’m not saying I’m not stressed, and I’m not saying it’s better to quarantine alone; I’m saying there are too many variables to label one lifestyle as more conducive to well-being. But Harris’ wording essentially labels single-quarantining as “less than”.  

I reserve a special paragraph break for Harris’ sentence, “Let’s remember our single friends.” I was cringing before the hiss faded from the final S. I felt patronized, pitied, and devalued. The sting was worse coming from a woman who otherwise is fair-minded and progressive and who would never consciously denigrate my living arrangements. I’m used to blatant amatonormativity from T’rump and his Ratpublican cohorts, but Harris’ statement reminded me how very far we have yet to go before singlism is regularly recognized and decried, even among people who pride themselves on respecting all lifestyles.  

Gaffigan could have said, “I know some people are separated from their families” and left it at that. Harris could have said, “Let’s remember our vulnerable friends.” I would have appreciated that, as a potentially vulnerable person myself–vulnerable because of health issues, not because of my marital status. I do appreciate when my friends and family reach out to check on me. I just don’t want their concern linked to my singleness, because that linkage is illogical and irksome. 


P.S. Jim Gaffigan is using his YouTube channel to raise money to buy food trucks for hospital workers in NYC. If you donate $2 and comment on the superchat on his channel, he might read your comment on the show and make fun of you (though probably not about your marital status, don’t worry). I wanted to put the link here, but embarrassingly I can’t find the superchat. If anyone else is smarter than I am about this, please put the link in the comments. Thanks, Copious Readers. 

P.P.S. Photo of Marble by: Christina Diane Campbell


1. Craig Wynne - April 11, 2020

Very informative. I also think Gaffigan and Harris, like a lot of folks, have been conditioned into believing that alone = bad. As happy singletons, it’s our duty to educate the public.

Onely - May 19, 2020

The mention of duty is interesting. Then we get into discussion of emotional labor and how much of that cognitive work we should take on. If you look at the more egregious Ism of Racism, we see PoC struggle with this emotional labor phenomenon also. They are living the discrimination–now they have to educate the ignorant about it, too? It can be a load. I guess this is why sometimes the single community folks feel like standing up to singlism, and sometimes we prefer to let it slide and roll our eyes about it later in private. One of us should flesh this out more in a post. . .

2. Familial Status - April 12, 2020

For anyone interested in the topic of #singlism, please visit FamilialStatus.org. This website illustrates singlism in the U.S. military. The most significant aspects are:
1) Service members who don’t have dependents receive over $7,000 less annual income. (And that’s not even a worst case scenario. That is based on a 20-year average adjusted for inflation.); and
2) Military housing policies discriminate and give preference based on familial status, which has already been illegal for over 30 years.

Onely - May 19, 2020

Thank you so much for bringing our attention to Family Status.org. I posted it in the Facebook group “Community of Single People” and have added it to Onely’s blogroll (under “We like these blogs too”). Thank you for contributing to the discussion about MSD/FSD in the armed forces. I need to learn more about it. I’d imagine LOTS of people do. = )

3. Brooke R. - April 14, 2020

Your current experience doesn’t reflect mine. I am miserable. I’m done with the quarantine. I’m single, with 2 cats, and I’m miserable. I’m really glad you are happy, but not all of us are. And it’s not because I haven’t learned how to be single and alone – I’m actually quite good at it, and, frankly, I need alone time to charge up.. but this is too much. And I’m sick of hearing people with children and families complain, and I don’t get space to complain, without sounding pathetic. Yeah, I’m done with quarantine and social distancing.

Onely - May 19, 2020

I absolutely agree that not all of us normally-fine-with-singleness singles are in love with quarantining. It can definitely become too much of a good thing. I myself don’t love it all the time. I snap at my blind cat when she wanders underfoot, then feel like a terrible person for half the day. On balance, though, I feel kind of obnoxiously smug that I only have my three semi-geriatric cats to worry about, not kids who won’t brush their teeth or sit still for their Zoom classes or write their report on bats or whatever. I ended up childfree my circumstance, but now I try to pass it off as a prescient choice. = )

4. Kamala Harris’ Singles Comments: Problematic or Progressive? | Onely.Org - November 30, 2020

[…] in a cringingly patronizing tone, “Let’s remember our single friends.” I wrote in an earlier post about why that was a problem. I may have been a tad snide. Since then, a couple things have made […]

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