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