All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. I have read (or tried to read) a few non-fiction books on women that just did not work for me - Bachelor Girl and Spinster being two of them. Traister sounded much more up my alley, and so I put her book on my radar.
I mostly read this book after the election this month. I thought it would be difficult and painful to do, but it was more like a balm. Throughout history, people have had to fight, tooth and nail, for their rights. And then they have to keep fighting to keep those rights. It's exhausting. It takes SO LONG to move forward even an inch, and then BAM! someone else comes into office and everything moves backwards again so quickly.
It's strange, admittedly, to describe knowing this as a "balm," but it kind of is. Every time a group fights for recognition and respect and rights, there is another group that feels threatened and fights tooth and nail against it. Often, the group that is threatened wins. Sadly, fear is a huge motivator.
Thus, when you look at civil rights movements throughout history, there is always this back and forth motion. This seems to be particularly true for women's rights, though it might just seem that way to me because I have read more about the women's movements than other ones. I suppose I have accepted that we are now in what appears to be a global backward motion on many civil rights. When I say that I have "accepted" this, I don't mean that I won't fight for those rights. What I mean is that I realize there are highs and lows, and I feel like this is our low. It's our time to fight so that we move even further when we get to the next high. Perhaps knowing that we are at the low and looking at history makes me realize that there are still highs to come.
Back to the book.
I listened to All the Single Ladies on audiobook, so I don't have a lot of quotes to share. That said, there were many quotes in this book, not only from history but from very modern times, about how dangerous and selfish and horrible single women are. This risk of women not reproducing to continue the species (or a very specific portion of the species) seems to threaten people at all levels and at all times and for all reasons.
What I really enjoyed about Traister's approach is that she looked at single women from many perspectives. She talks about how life for women in cities is different than life in suburban and rural areas, about female friendship, about women living on their own. She talks about why women choose to stay single (for work, money, independence, choice), not only rich women but also poor women. She talks about how people assume single women live hugely promiscuous lives when the reality is usually quite different, single moms, and the families that women create for themselves when they are not married.
Right at the start, Traister admits that she has an urban, educated, white slant to her book. That said, she does make some effort to meet and talk to people who have had different experiences. She also cites a lot of evidence about people from many walks of life.
I have been single my whole life, and I have many single female friends, and this book really resonated with me. Contrary to what many people think, I do not spend my nights desperately wishing there was a man in my life (though admittedly, there are some times, usually during engagement parties and weddings and showers, when I do). I also don't go out with dozens of guys a year. I'm not a shrew who is unkind to people (though I admit that I can be quite unkind to people I dislike strongly), and I'm not an anti-social, awkward person who stays at home every night with her books and wine (though I do enjoy evenings by myself just as much as I enjoy spending time with other people). I would be happy to find a guy that I really love and get married, but if I do not meet one, I am pretty sure I will be happy and fulfilled in my life. Except, of course, for everyone always wondering why I am single and what's wrong with me and when I'll finally stop being so picky.
Rebecca Traister understands all of this, and I felt so validated by this book. I think many people would. I love how Traister sets up historical "norms" as completely outside the norm. For example, so many people look back on women getting married young and then having children as being the basis of so much economic growth and prosperity. But even through history, many women have had to work outside the home to make ends meet. And people make it seem as though women are being selfish and thinking only of themselves and putting the world at great risk. But really, they're just making reasonable decisions for themselves, and people who complain about what they're doing should just get over themselves.
This book is not exhaustive by any means, but I don't think Traister is trying to be exhaustive. She shares anecdotes about herself and from her friends, she tells us about the choices women have made through history and now, and what some of the numbers behind the trends mean. I think this book would be a fantastic companion to Gail Collins' books about women in America and the long, winding path that the women's movement has taken. Those books (referenced below) give a bit more breadth to the history whereas Traister's book has a personal and more "everyday woman" feel.
I've been reading a ton of non-fiction lately! Sorry for all the heavy subject reviews. Though really, this book is not heavy by any means - it's a very informative read, and I am glad to add it to my list of books that are refreshing and kind to women who make choices in life that not everyone understands.
Want to dig deeper on this subject? Here are a few links:
Shorter reads -
"On Spinsters," by Briallen Hopper, which is a review of a different book but makes fantastic points
"We Just Can't Handle Diversity," by
Lisa Burrell, about how we all have biases and should acknowledge them
instead of pretending we are totally objective about stuff
Long reads -
America's Women and When Everything Changed, by Gail Collins; I love these books about the history of women's rights and empowerment in America
Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine; also absolutely amazing
Have a listen -
The Lady Vanishes episode of the Revisionist History podcast
"We Should All be Feminists" TEDx video by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
You make me think that it would be a good idea for me to read this book. I'm always looking for books that will make me less likely to become an old curmudgeon, and this one might help me understand my daughter's choices better.ReplyDelete
Hahaha, yes! Your daughter is going to be fine, even if she is single :-DDelete
I had not heard of this book but I want to read it immediately! I have never wanted to get married but no one really respected my decision and just thought I hadn't met the right guy. I love finding women who feel the same way or women that don't want children and get subjected to same treatment.ReplyDelete
I think this book is made for you :-)Delete
I like how you frame what's happening now as a low where we fight to reach an even better high as far as rights.ReplyDelete
I relate to what you say about your own life - that there are times of wanting to find someone and times where you feel content, there are times of socializing and times of solitude.
Yes, I think taking the long view helps me a little bit. That said, I'm still pretty depressed about the state of the world, so not sure if it helps a LOT.Delete
Oo, I love that you've got additional reading links at the bottom of the post. You fancy bastard, you! I hope you will never apologize for reading nonfiction -- lately it feels like everything I pick up at the library and everything on my TBR list has been nonfiction. I still love reading fiction, but I also do want my reading to reflect how much I want to fight and keep fighting in these shitty, terrifying times.ReplyDelete
Also, you are the best. <3
Yes! I was trying to figure out how to help people learn more about a topic without necessarily having to commit to a book on the subject. Plus, I like having different perspectives on things. I feel like maybe this method helps, but I'm not sure if anyone clicks through on the links.Delete
No need for apologies! I like that you're reading stuff that's so different from what I typically read--it helps me think outside of myself.ReplyDelete
I've added this to my TBR.
Hooray! Right back to you, it's nice to get out of the comfort zone once in a while.Delete
I think I would have liked this book when I was single. Cos relatives was sure all when you are gonna find a man? Omg, I do not want to go through 10 idiots, crappy relationships that end in heartache or certain diseases. I just wanted to find one that I clicked with, not just go into something for the sake of itReplyDelete
You can read the book when you are NOT single, too! It has a ton of stuff that would be interesting to people of all stripes.Delete
Yay! Just cheering you on, keep fightin'. Loved your advice to people who complain -- should just get over themselves.ReplyDelete
I too loved how she looked at singleness from so many angles, both the positives and negatives, and how it differs from place to place and woman to woman. She doesn't cover everything, but she does really well.ReplyDelete