All the Single Ladies by Rebecca TraisterAll the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister
Published by Simon & Schuster on March 1st 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
Source: Personal copy
Find on Amazon
A nuanced investigation into the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women in America. In a provocative, groundbreaking work, National Magazine Award finalist Rebecca Traister, “the most brilliant voice on feminism in the country” (Anne Lamott), traces the history of unmarried and late-married women in America who, through social, political, and economic means, have radically shaped our nation.
After running into a reading slump earlier this month, I was delighted when Rebecca Traister’s recent, much buzzed-about, nonfiction work was released; it definitely pulled me out of the doldrums. For those of you who may think, “well, I’m not single, and I don’t want to be single, so I’m not sure how interesting this will be,” let me assure you that you can lay those worries to rest; this is a remarkably accessible account of women’s history in our nation.
In 1985, a study conducted by male researchers from Harvard and Yale concluded that a never-married, university-educated forty-year-old woman had only a 2.6 percent chance of ever marrying. It spurred Newsweek to publish its infamous cover story “The Marriage Crunch,” in which it made the famously inaccurate claim that single women at age forty were more likely to be killed by terrorists than to marry.
As a former student of history, I often recall an undergraduate course I took called “History of Technology;” the course was taught by the chair of the history department, a woman, and we spent some time discussing the way in which advances in technology were presented and marketed to women after World War II. Traister utilizes marketing campaigns, magazine articles, books, and interviews (both past and present) to examine the options (and lack of) that have shaped the lives of women throughout history, especially as they affect relationships and community.
Advertisers sold women and men on an old, cult-of-domesticity-era ideal: that the highest female calling was the maintenance of a domestic sanctuary for men […]. In order to care for the home, the women would rely on new products, like vacuum cleaners and washing machines, sales of which would in turn line the pockets of the husbands who ran the companies and worked in the factories that produced these goods.
While Traister does share her own story, it takes a back seat to those of women of varying ages, races, demographic backgrounds and experiences who discuss their thoughts on the changes in culture, attitude and options available to women; an incredible journey, to say the least.
Published in 1829, The Young Lady’s Book asserted that ‘Whatever situation of life a woman is placed, from her cradle to the grave, a spirit of obedience and submission, pliability of temper, and humility of mind, are required from her.’
A recent New York Times review suggested that “the material can threaten to be overwhelming at times,” but I did not experience the book in this way; instead, I often found myself reflecting on my own experiences and making connections with the women Traister interviews and the stories she presents. Even though, at the time I read this one, I was struggling to find anything capable of holding my attention, I looked forward to picking this one up each day and found myself highlighting numerous passages and then wanting to chat about them with another woman.
Marriage, in the varied ways in which it has been legally constructed over centuries, has been extremely useful in containing women and limiting their power. That usefulness has meant that social, political, medical, and cultural forces have often worked to make life outside marriage difficult.
For those of you who enjoy the format, I think this would make an excellent audio book selection; no matter how you choose to partake, I would highly recommend this one to any of my female reading friends and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out so that we can discuss further!