Single women and precarity
December 22, 2016 1:20 PM   Subscribe

"Overcoming single women’s vulnerabilities will require organization, transformation, and re-imagining traditional forms of care. ... If we want to create a society of mutual care and respect, rather than one that rewards the rapacious and self-oriented, we must stop acting like dependence is a degraded state, or like real independence is even possible."
posted by Lycaste (26 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I see women making do with limited options and difficult circumstances And this is different than any other time in history how? The entire article induced rage - the majority of women I know, married, single, parent, childless, straight, gay, purple, plaid what have you- are the caretakers of health in their families, whatever that family consists of. The implication that marriage is the bastion of health care success has never watched a woman who is puking herself take care of all the other pukers in the house. Overcoming single women’s vulnerabilities will require organization, transformation, and re-imagining traditional forms of care
To whom will I appeal to as I age with this claptrap? Aww, I'm getting older, and I didn't get married. Take care of me please society that has rejected my choices at every turn?
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 1:34 PM on December 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


In other words, independence costs money, and it comes on the backs of caregivers and service workers who don’t have that money.

Damn straight.

Great article.
posted by Melismata at 1:36 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Lucky monkey maybe you missed the 353,464,466 articles about how hard coupled women have it. This one is about single women.
posted by winna at 1:39 PM on December 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


I got that- and since I am one of them, I know exactly how difficult it is. My problem with it is she thinks someone gives a sh&*&*(. Or can be made to give a sh*(*)*(.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 1:46 PM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


In other words, independence costs money, and it comes on the backs of caregivers and service workers who don’t have that money.

Damn straight.
That's really not true for me, for what it's worth. I don't pay anyone to launder my clothes, cook my food or take me from place to place. (And I don't think that being dependent on public transit, which I have been in the past, is a mark of privilege or something that people should feel bad about.) I actually would say that the married people I know are much, much more likely than the single women to employ household help.

I have, absolutely, considered that I would be fucked if I got seriously ill. I think that may be an issue for coupled women eventually, too, though, since there's a good chance that any given woman is going to outlive her partner.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:48 PM on December 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


If we want to create a society of mutual care and respect, rather than one that rewards the rapacious and self-oriented

It makes me very sad that current events indicate that it's apparently an even bigger if than some of us expected.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:51 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Traister's book has been praised for promoting a kind of revolutionary politics on the basis of single women's power. Yet her goals are sometimes quite conservative. Singlehood is presented as merely an interlude before marriage. One of the great successes of the single women "movement," according to Traister, is that eventual marriage is more satisfying and less likely to end in divorce. No radical societal reorganization is required if the assumption is that entry into a nuclear family will in time bring these women the stability and security they need.

This has given me life, and a renewed appreciation for having been able to flee the soporific ouroboros that is liberal feminism. So many partnered people look at single people like we're the physical manifestation of a gap year: a breezy state of flux, not terminal but (hopefully) blessedly temporary, child's play, innately and inescapably un-serious. Oh, you might think you're having fun now, but just wait until you find The One! They'll sneak up on you when you least expect it and then you'll know Real Happiness!

But what about women who have no interest in the relationship escalator? What if I have never EVER wanted to get married, not for a minute in my whole life? What if most of the women I know who are married to or even partnered with men are at least some degree of flat-out miserable and I have zero interest in following suit? What if I find the idea of signing a contract that makes me officially responsible for the care and feeding of a grown man, in addition to my own lowly self, abhorrent? What about women who are politically opposed to the institution? What if we don't live in a place or earn an income that makes it possible for us to pay people to do our chores for us? Are we out of luck unless or until we decide to shack up, because collective action is way harder and more complicated than simply acting out of unvarnished self-interest?

That widowers and divorcés often remarry while widows and divorcées are more likely to stay single, and that women are significantly more likely to be killed by a male partner or ex than by anyone else, are facts that have been observed anecdotally and statistically for generations. So why and how on earth are women still expecting other women to seek shelter under the mantle of "wife"?
posted by amnesia and magnets at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2016 [77 favorites]


PREACH Amnesia!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:43 PM on December 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


In other words, independence costs money, and it comes on the backs of caregivers and service workers who don’t have that money.

I have been single my entire adult life. I do all the cooking, cleaning, fixing, volunteering and taking care of myself when I am sick. I do quite a bit of it for other people as well.

This is such a bullshit conclusion I want to reach through the internet and smack her. It's shaming someone who worked for it by implying they are somehow taking advantage of someone else they are PAYING to help them. Not calling a friend to help them, not guilting a spouse, or having "privilege" in any other way. Basically, it's shaming independence WHEN YOU ARE NOT ASKING ANYONE FOR ANYTHING YOU HAVEN'T EARNED.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 2:44 PM on December 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


I don't think she's arguing that all the single ladies should put a ring on it, for what it's worth. I think she's saying that Traister's rosy view hides some real vulnerabilities for the majority of single women, and we need to address that with social action. And that makes sense to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:46 PM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, being independent does cost money. I have to pay the entire mortgage myself, in my now-gentrified home town. I have to pay someone to fix my car. And telling me that I should just decide to get good at fixing cars myself is like telling someone they should just get good at engineering or playing the violin.
posted by Melismata at 2:55 PM on December 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


And telling me that I should just decide to get good at fixing cars myself is like telling someone they should just get good at engineering or playing the violin.

It may be unrealistic and burdensome but it's at least as realistic as the idea that some guy I might want to marry would somehow just decide to do any of those things, either. why would he be different? why would he know anything I don't?

and more broadly, re: paying your own bills being a special obligation of the independent woman, the article does at least specify independence from men as its subject, in the beginning, although it goes on to be weird about the way it talks about "independence" tout court the rest of the way through, as if the only person who might ever care about or help out a woman is a man, and specifically a man she pays for this care by sleeping with him. but you do not in fact have to live independently just because you are unmarried, in spite of the fact that I do because I like it that way. Women with housemates get help with the mortgage; women with handy friends get help with repairs; women with pushy, managing friends get brought soup when they're sick and nagged to go to the doctor. She says something about losing your support network when you keep moving from city to city for jobs and adventures, but how many married women have husbands who will trail along behind them as the lower-ranked supporting spouse? How many of those will stay devoted for more than one or two cross-country moves?

and of course, I was not aware that there was this outbreak of husbands across the land who spend all their free time doing womens' laundry for them and cooking all their wives' meals as a matter of course and doing a full half of all childcare, or even more, without complaint. if I'd known a husband was a sort of uncomplaining devoted domestic servant with multiple competencies in multiple fields, with special knowledge I don't have and can't ever acquire, maybe I'd worry more about finding one. marriage apparently is pretty fantastic. who knew.

from the article: "When the goal is autonomy, one need have little interest in social change. "

this is a total non sequitur. also not true; this is a nice piece of semi-liberal sanctimony but when the goal is autonomy, one absolutely requires social change, if one is a woman, and women know it. most of what is worst about the status quo and the right wing is its devotion to destroying or preventing women's autonomy, through oppressive laws and destruction of public services. last I saw any statistics, single women were more politically progressive and active than married ones. maybe this has changed but I would be shocked to hear it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:46 PM on December 22, 2016 [26 favorites]


but I think I must have radically deformed expectations of adult life as a consequence of being brought up from a young age by a widow with a lot of devoted friends but no partner in the actual life of her household. being responsible for your own income, childcare, and home maintenance is not something I have ever understood as abnormal or burdensome. & in fact strict divisions of domestic labor -- seen in the homes of friends whose mothers didn't ever plow the driveway or take a chainsaw to the undergrowth -- were scary and alienating.

it was always clear to me that it was extremely difficult, but the price you paid for having absolute command over your own life and physical circumstances -- adulthood, more or less. My mother would absolutely have preferred to have kept an alive husband, and did not mean for me to take this lesson from her example, but she said to me once how it struck her that none of the other widows of her acquaintance wanted to get remarried, once they'd recovered a bit from grief and gotten used to full ownership of their own homes and lives.

this is to an extent generational, I'm sure; thirty years later maybe it's not so usual for women to experience even a tragic loss of a spouse as a release into freedom. but I don't know. Glorification of the single life isn't new in the last decade or two; it just used to be an open secret among old women.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


I agree with her analysis, but not her proposed solutions.
posted by corb at 4:49 PM on December 22, 2016


This spinster is very grateful for the luck that brought her a devoted sister to get through the precarious times. She keeps telling me she's saving me a kidney. And I've got as much life insurance as I can manage with her as the beneficiary.

Just lately, I've been remembering when we were little and we'd fight, Mom would say, "You'd better make up, because someday you'll both be the only thing either one of you has left."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:34 PM on December 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Metafilter:the soporific ouroboros
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


also in any piece like this I really need more numbers and figures breaking down the distinction between heterosexual women and everybody else, because it is extremely important to be explicit about whether women get social and financial protection and stability from being married or from being married to a man. The review has a passing nod to queer theory but it doesn't have much to say about wealth being concentrated in male hands and how this conditions the requirement that you marry a man to get in on the action. The problem of depending on a network of other single women is that any of them could stop being single at any time and (apparently) abandon all friendly obligations and ties simultaneously - she notes this and it's true. but is it only true of straight women? enquiring minds want to know.

If we want to create a society of mutual care and respect, rather than one that rewards the rapacious and self-oriented, we must stop acting like dependence is a degraded state, or like real independence is even possible.

I think we must stop talking as though accepting and praising the necessity of dependence is a radical new social justice value when in fact enforced -- legally enforced -- dependence was required of women, both married and unmarried, for a lot of centuries, nearly everywhere. The myth of self-determination and rugged individualism has been a primal American fantasy for a long time, coexisting with this enforced female dependence but therefore almost always discussed as a male fantasy. and just like everything else, really harsh and cogent criticism of it coincides with a time when women are seen to be putting their undeserving hands on it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:32 PM on December 22, 2016 [13 favorites]


she said to me once how it struck her that none of the other widows of her acquaintance wanted to get remarried, once they'd recovered a bit from grief and gotten used to full ownership of their own homes and lives.

I've noticed this too. As well as divorcées remaining single. I'm somewhat in that group though never married; broke up with my only serious boyfriend twelve years ago. Had a couple in the years following, then just let it drop. Last crush I had was done in when he off-handedly mentioned that he still didn't know how to cook (he was 37). That was three years ago.

The myth of self-determination and rugged individualism has been a primal American fantasy for a long time, coexisting with this enforced female dependence but therefore almost always discussed as a male fantasy. and just like everything else, really harsh and cogent criticism of it coincides with a time when women are seen to be putting their undeserving hands on it.

That's a really good point. I had noticed how men (straight white men) were accorded praise and awe for things that women get ignored for or simply can't do – like trekking across South America/Mongolia/Australia/etc. solo (good lord if I see yet another breathless story about a straight white man's courageous solo trek somewhere my eyes may roll out of my head) – but hadn't yet clued in to the "oh noes women think they can do it too?! but what about their dependence!" aspect. As if we've ever been able to depend on others. Did you know that in France, as recently as a decade ago, wives were not beneficiaries of husbands? Only children were. Meaning that when a husband died, the house went not to the surviving wife, but to their children. There were so many cases of kids selling houses under their own mothers' noses that it finally got the law changed. Can you even imagine being in that position? We get sold this mythological story that a mother is loved and respected for her hard work, but damn, you give everything you have and then you're left homeless because your kids don't bother to consider your own well-being? Your husband didn't bother to add a clause in his will (which was entirely possible and a known thing) letting you keep the house until your death?

Then yeah, there's that statistic about the leading causes of death for women being cancer, heart disease, suicide, and murder by their husband/partner. I've had death threats – one not too serious, two definitely serious and repeated – from all three men I've dated. Why are we supposed to put up with this shit? Why is that a risk women are supposed to deal with in exchange for... what? A Russian roulette chance at being cared for in old age? The one woman I know whose husband planned for her to be taken care of after he passed away was my paternal grandmother. Guess what her kids did after her husband died. They tried to get her declared mentally unfit so that they could access her bank accounts. I was the only one in the family – she had four children and eight grandchildren – who testified that she was sound of mind (as did her doctor, who her kids had tried to change for another).

Policies do need to change, but the ones already in place also need to be enforced. We can't let people keep getting away with robbery, murder, rape, and abuse without calling them by their proper names and attributing proper consequences. It's really quite simple: when people have the resources to take care of themselves, whether that's money to pay a medical retirement home or to afford a roof over their head and food, they tend to take care of themselves.
posted by fraula at 5:36 AM on December 23, 2016 [15 favorites]


I guess I don't see the whole "getting good at fixing cars by myself" principle as a barrier. Isn't that everyone's choice? Women aren't the only ones who pay for an oil change or an engine rebuild. The cost/benefit analysis of doing things yourself vs. paying someone is, like, the basis of capitalism. One could just as envision a single man saying, "What am I supposed to do, just learn how to cook for myself?" Well....yeah. Same with fixing cars, or doing anything else you want to do rather than pay someone to do it.

I'm very capable of learning. In the last few years, I went back to college and finished my degree. In more immediate, practical terms, I also learned how to replace my car's headlights bulbs, replace the gear on my blender, zest an orange, remove and clean the flame sensor in my water heater, install a second hard drive in my particular model of laptop, and remove the drain cover from my particular style of bathtub drain. YouTube is absolutely amazing for "how to" videos--no matter how ridiculously specific, someone has uploaded a video on how to do it.

Likewise, people get good at engineering and playing the violin every day. One girl uploaded a YouTube with clips of teaching herself how to play the violin over the course of a couple years. In the beginning, she sounded like she was murdering cats, and by the end of the video, she played a very nice song.

I don't think any of us escapes the math problem where our need is greater than our capability. Maybe it's a "new" idea that women might spend their whole lives considering that calculus by remaining single, but as someone pointed out, it's nothing that a bazillion widows and divorcees haven't had to do when their male partner exited the stage. (or, for that matter, men who lost their wives through death or divorce, and have to figure out how to manage a home because their wives did all that.) You learn to do some things yourself, and pay someone for others.

As a single woman, yes, I have to pay the mortgage by myself. But, by the same token, the house and everything in it is entirely mine. I will never spend a day facing a scenario where my spouse decides to clean out the bank accounts and change the locks, daring me to find a lawyer to fight for my share of my own assets. Yes, I have to make all the decisions myself, and hope I can think of everything, but there has never been easier access to all the resources I might need than there is now. Yes, I need to put diligent work into building a social network that will give a shit if I fall down the stairs or whatever, but then, so does everyone (there are certainly tons of examples of isolated couples who spent so much time focusing on their own family, that they have no friends or links to an external community).

I guess I don't see my challenges as any different than those which have always existed. It is just as easy to lose your bonds with others through death or divorce as by not getting married, there certainly are no guarantees. And in terms of developing a skills set to help you be more self-sufficient, learning how to do a lot of these things is not *difficult*, necessarily. It can seem *intimidating*, but it essentially boils down to taking your time, making sure you have the right tools, and carefully following instructions.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:42 AM on December 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


I have no idea how to change my own oil. Do they not have Jiffy Lube where you live?

(An interesting thing is that I think she would probably not shame men or women for paying someone to change their oil, in the way that she does shame women for hiring people to cook or do their laundry for them. After all, the natural order of things is that women do those tasks for free.)

I guess that, as I see it, there are economics benefits to being partnered that aren't specific to women. There are additional benefits for straight women, because being partnered with men can give them access to some of the material benefits of male privilege. (I'm not sure that works the same for all women, though: various men have really unequal access to those rewards.) But I think that having a partner provides a measure of economic security, and I think there are economies of scale. If you have two potential incomes, then the loss of one of them is less devastating. It's still really devastating, but it provides a safety net that in the US doesn't exist otherwise. Once the ACA goes away, I will be in a situation where I will lose my insurance if I lose my job. If I had a spouse with a job, there would be another chance for me to stay insured. We would have had a hard time getting by permanently on my mom's salary when I was a kid, but it provided a cushion for the times when my father was between jobs.

And there's also the issue of economies of scale. To some extent, you can get those by having roommates, but I don't really want to have roommates at this stage of my life. And it's just true that it's cheaper to maintain one two-person household than it is to maintain two one-person households. There's also the possibility of sharing household labor, although we all know that there typically isn't anything like an equal division of that labor in straight partnerships.

I don't know. I'm happily single, and I'm not in the market for a partner right now. I just think there's something to the idea that there are drawbacks and vulnerabilities that come with being single, and we need to address them. I don't think it's a coincidence that single women are the most progressive voting block in the US. I think we have reasons to be especially aware that people are vulnerable to forces outside their control.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:32 AM on December 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


1. do not go to Jiffy Lube- they have shady practices as far as what they will try to force on you/how they replace your fluids. Find a local mechanic and make them your pal.

2. I backpacked solo across europe and se asia when I was in my 30's. So grateful I did. I was lucky, I met lots of nice people along the way. Some not so nice, but I knew how to walk away. And throw a left hook. It changed my life in amazing ways. You could do it too.

3. There are drawbacks and vulnerabilities to any situation you find yourself in . The Federal government- especially THIS incoming one- does not care about your wellbeing. They have written it large. Plan accordingly. They want to ransack SS and have people not retire till they are 70. They are now hunting down any programs that help women in the same way they were hunting climate change.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 9:12 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could do it too.
A whole lot of women literally can't. They can't quit their jobs because they don't have a lot of savings, need health insurance, have student loans to pay, can't be sure that they could easily get another job when they get back, etc. They can't take an extended vacation because they don't get very many vacation days. They have responsibilities at home, like kids or aging parents. It's awesome that you had that opportunity, but it goes back to the point about Traister taking for granted that her subjects have a certain amount of class privilege.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:47 AM on December 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


You don't always have to quit your job. A lot of companies offer sabbatical now if you have worked for them for x amount of years. Again, highly situational.

But I have known plenty of people who have done this who made almost nothing and either found a gig in that country or figured some other way. YMMV. There is a lot that US culture forces on people as "need" that isn't necessary.

But I also had worked for 7 years straight at that stage, no vacations, very little fun and I was living on my own. As I mentioned, I did it when I was younger and had less responsibilities. But i hear what you are saying.

And this thread is about women who are single by choice. My point is this- if you get to have all the blowback from society and family about how you are doing it wrong- you should also get to have some of the upsides being single affords.

And Traister is playing to her audience. If they could do demographics on sales my bet is it would be like a polar bear in what's left of the north pole up in there.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 10:29 AM on December 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


"What goes unmentioned is that the laundry workers, cooks, transit employees, and so on—many of them young, unmarried women—increasingly are unable to live within the cities where they are employed. These service workers are being priced out in part by single women moving into what was once cheaper housing. In other words, independence costs money, and it comes on the backs of caregivers and service workers who don’t have that money."

Is this phenomenon really any more the fault of single women than single men? Are single women less likely to live with family or roommates than single men? If the phenomenon isn't gendered why gender the blame by only mentioning the role played by single women? It's as if the author is imagining the men living (abandoned) in "family homes" that they are entitled to occupy while the single women strike out on their own to appropriate housing previously available to people less wealthy than themselves.

I'm just really uncomfortable with the way that paragraph was phrased: as if my having the temerity to live alone has a greater effect on gentrification than my boyfriend's identical choice.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:53 AM on December 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


Secret Sparrow, yes, that grated for me too. And it is the same reason I'm bothered by her blaming single women for supposedly using domestic services more without blaming men for the same - because I guess women are supposed to do those things for their families, so if they are not serving families AND hiring others to do them for themselves - well, that's doubly selfish.

I feel like this critique of liberal, white feminism is one that is often done very well by black feminists, and/or working class women. But then it's often seized-upon by those who just want to undermine feminism - because they are anti-feminist, or because they just like to be contrarian - and their arguments just fall apart under the lightest scrutiny. Because really, this argument only works if you believe that domestic work is women's responsibility and not men's.
posted by lunasol at 10:39 PM on December 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also, women can certainly trek across continents. Not every woman, for sure, but there's nothing specific to being female that prevents it.
posted by lunasol at 10:42 PM on December 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


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