Last time, Singletude ran a review of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella DePaulo. In the book, DePaulo coins the term singlism to refer to discrimination against singles. Sometimes singlism is blatant and has visible consequences that are keenly felt by those who are unmarried, as with the singles tax penalty, singles travel supplements, or the lower wages paid to singles even when other differences are factored in. Other times, singlism is an attitude, an expectation, white noise in a culture of couples. Just the other day, I saw two examples of the latter form of singlism in the media.
The first was part of this quiz, called "Are You Aging Yourself?" by Gabrielle Linzer at AOL Health. The test informally assesses how your lifestyle might contribute to early aging, honing in on sleep patterns, eating habits, exercise routines, and the like. But then there's this gem of a question:
At the end of the day, you are greeted by:
A. Your loving (occasionally annoying) family
B. You're not home too much
C. A silent, empty house
Guess which choice is right, students. If you circled A., give yourself a gold star. AOL gives you a green check mark next to the "right" answer and red x's next to the "wrong" ones. In explanation, "the benefits of keeping connected" are touted, and a psychologist is quoted warning of the health risks of isolation and loneliness. In summary, "if you aren't graced with a family or someone special," AOL reminds you to hang out with your friends and keep busy with social activities.
Well, okay, but if your life's a social whirlwind, wouldn't it be safe to say that you're probably not home too much? Seems like that was the so-called incorrect answer B. Moreover, just because you live alone (and notice that the only options given are living alone or living with family since no one lives with friends or roommates apparently) doesn't mean you're automatically lonely or isolated. Plenty of singles like living alone and the peace and quiet that come with it. And living alone hardly means they don't have voicemail in their inboxes and options of who to see on a Saturday night. To top it all off, AOL points you in the direction of friends and social organizations only if you aren't "graced" with the real blessings in life--a significant other and kids. Guess I'm one of the unlucky unloved!
And how about this article by MarketWatch reporter Ruth Mantell, which made the Internet rounds last Thursday? The first sentence says it all:
Women have become increasingly vulnerable to job losses during downturns, putting families at greater financial risk during these troubled times, according to a Tuesday report from the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee.
The article goes on to bemoan how difficult it is for families when the second income earner loses her job, leaving no padding for her primary wage earner husband. Excuse me, but shouldn't these families be thankful they have a primary wage earner? The fact is that half of households in this country are headed by singles, which means that half the population doesn't have a fallback to begin with. If a single woman loses her job, she doesn't have any cushion other than her butt when it hits the street. Obviously, the same goes for single men.
Oh, but that's right. I forgot. Singles don't count. Their lives aren't important to the media or the government. Your needs are of no concern unless you're part of a family, which means a husband and a wife, preferably with children.
You see how insidious this stuff is, folks? One article here or there, maybe it doesn't mean a lot. But when you start to compound them, with all their digs, dismissals, and diminishments, they take their toll on how singles are perceived...by others and by themselves. After awhile, you almost don't notice it anymore. Of course couples with kids are healthier than singles, right? Of course families with children are worthy of more economic protection. It becomes taboo to even question the validity of these premises. If you do, you must be selfish or a child hater.
So where is the "positive" in this blog post? It's in who we are. It's in the quality of our lives and our value as productive members of society even when it's not acknowledged by the media. It's in our ability to be shrewd consumers of news who know bias when we see it and don't buy into the popular image of the singleton. The first step to combating singlism is awareness, and that's a positive thing.
You know what? I'm going to challenge everyone who reads this post to write a letter to the editor denouncing singlism the next time you see an example of it in a newspaper, magazine, or other publication. Then come back here and tell me about it, and I'll run an announcement about your letter as soon as it's published. I, too, will accept the challenge and write my own letter to the editor.
It's easy for a single voice to get lost in a crowd of families, but if we raise our voices together, they'll be 89 million strong. Think about it.
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