All the Single Ladies
Simon & Schuster
IN THE 2012 US presidential elections, unmarried women made up a remarkable 23% of the electorate and about a third of all young voters in the country. Almost a quarter of the votes were cast by women without husbands—up three points from just four years earlier. They, in fact, helped put Barack Obama back in power.
This connection between single females and electoral engagement is no longer a secret. Single women are now shaping the American electorate in a big way, writes Rebecca Traister in her book All the Single Ladies. There were 3.9 million more single adult women in 2014 than in 2010 in the US. No wonder then that much attention was paid to single female votes during the 2012 US elections.
However, All the Single Ladies is not just about the single woman as a powerful vote bank, but rather a force to be reckoned with. The book is a balanced narrative of how unmarried women in America brought about social change in the past and helped provide other women access to fundamental rights such as the right to vote, and right to property and secondary education, things we took for granted in the 21st century. In the book, Traister examines the current generation of unmarried independent women in the US, their trials and tribulations, and the changes they are bringing about in society.
Today, unmarried American women are looking to the government to support their ambitions, choices and independence in ways that American men have done for generations. Traditionally, policies have held up marriage as the only model. But now, the unmarried independent woman requires a new set of policies such as stronger equal pay protection, a better healthcare system that allows her to have babies on her own or when she is older, support for alternate family structures and so on.
While researching for the book, Traister interviewed close to 100 women from different social strata and professions, and discovered that by opting not to get married, these women provoked social change. The social crusades of the 19th century—which later led to major amendments in the constitution such as the right to hold own property and right to vote for women—were made possible by the changing nature of female engagement with the world and new ideas about identity and independence, writes Traister. By the 19th century, single women entered policy debates and made room for themselves in the world. Rapid urbanisation further helped the cause. Never married women made up 41.7% of New York City’s female population in 2010, up from 38.7% in 2006. This correlation between cities and the comparatively higher number of single women is a worldwide phenomenon or, as Traister puts it, “Cities have long provided safer harbour for, and in turn been shaped by, single women.”
Traister also tackles questions on female sexuality and relationships in the age of Tinder. She explores how the idea of marriage is changing over time and why many women are marrying late. Contemporary women are also re-defining how and when they become mothers, exploring the idea of single motherhood like never before. But again, the problem is not with women remaining single, marrying late or having children on their own. The problem is lack of support.
As Traister puts it, the unmarried, independent woman is a new citizen category and needs a whole new economic and social system. She writes that it is time to greet this ‘epoch of single women’, a term she borrows from activist Susan B Anthony, who, in 1877, prophesied that the journey towards gender equality would necessary include a period in which women would stop marrying.