I’ve just ordered a book called All The Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister and I am really excited about reading it.
“In a provocative, groundbreaking work, Rebecca Traister traces the history of unmarried and late-married women in America who, through social, political, and economic means, have radically shaped our nation.”
As an unmarried 27 year old woman, and as someone with a strong interest in feminism and what it means to be a woman today, this is something I have thought about a lot.
I’m not against marriage, and I wouldn’t rule it out for myself. But I simply have a hard time imagining it being part of my life. Don’t get me wrong, two people celebrating their commitment to one another is brilliant, and I do love a good wedding. But, for me, having a formal agreement doesn’t appeal.
I think this is because the formality of marriage involves something beyond you and your partner; beyond your family and friends. Whether it is “the state” or religion, however we conceptualise it there is some kind of institutional involvement in marriage. And, naturally, certain attitudes and values are attached to this institutional involvement.
As the great feminist phrase goes “the personal is the political”; often personal experiences tell a broader story about society. In terms of marriage, two people declaring their love for each other is a highly personal event and experience. However, it can’t easily be detached from the broader societal structures that influence those experiences.
Traister writes about the rise of the “unmarried woman” in American society (however, this phenomenon could easily be extended to most of the Western world). She tracks the experiences and achievements of women who have not married or who have married later on in their lives. My experience as an unmarried woman and my views around the necessity and value of marriage are indeed personal to me, but they also fit the wider picture that Traister is writing about. Women have, over recent decades, been granted many more freedoms; for example in respect of birth control and job opportunities. My personal experience is, in many ways, a reflection of that freedom.
As the perception of womanhood grows and develops within a society, institutions and common practices like marriage are likely to grow and develop also. The rise of the unmarried women may therefore be a reflection on some women’s aversion to the aspects of marriage that can be seen to reflect restrictions on their freedom; for example, the connotations of becoming someone’s ‘wife’, changing your name, being ‘given away’ etc. It could be an acknowledgement that whilst stability and commitment are wonderful, this is more often now considered as coming after an individual journey and exploration of self; something that women have previously not had easy access to. This rise could also perhaps be an indicator that institutions like marriage need to be ‘rebranded’ and this is already happening with many couples rejecting certain traditional elements of the wedding ceremony. Where same-sex marriage is established, this has expanded the amount of people who have access to the institution of marriage which has also therefore developed what it has come to mean.
For me, I think that the rise of the unmarried women is a mixture of all these things, and probably other things as well. It is a personal viewpoint, but I find it interesting and helpful to think about how it relates to societal and cultural developments. Traister speaks to a number of women and frames these women, and women like them, as part of the creation of these developments. And I guess this is part of what interests me the most about reading the book, how we as individuals can be part of creating change; how our personal stories can become political change.
I have previously conceptualised my own viewpoint in terms of how it has been influenced by broader societal development but maybe a more exciting conceptualisation is how I as an individual can influence change, how my life choices can be a part of encouraging a more progressive society. Not one that does away with marriage, but one that embraces diversity in life choices, whatever they may be.