All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, by Rebecca Traister
This is a book of non-fiction. And a good one at that.
Traister, through an analysis of research studies, vital records and interviews with women around the United States, wrote a book that examines the costs and benefits of singlehood.
Throughout history, it has been notoriously difficult to be a single woman. With laws and patriarchal rules that prohibited women from owning property, limited inheriting, forced women into arranged marriages, made it difficult for women to get custody of children in a divorce, required women to quit their jobs if they married, prohibited voting and any amount of other nonsense, it was tough for a woman to choose to not marry. Only relatively recently have women been able to make a different choice.
Traister explores several issues surrounding women’s marital status – both the pros and the cons:
- the social stigma of being unmarried
- the pain that women face if they are unable to find a suitable partner with whom to have children
- the “mommy penalty,” which affects women’s careers and salaries after they have children
- the impact of loneliness
- government programs that are designed to encourage women to marry, instead of fixing the underlying problems of why they aren’t
- the fact that women are perceived to be more loyal to their careers if they remain unmarried
- that fact that women’s socio-economic status is closely tied to marriage
- the rich friendships that single women can develop when they are not devoting time to a spouse
She tells the stories of some of the incredible unmarried women in history, who used their free time to advance women’s causes, such as suffrage, contraception and equal rights, as well as those to rose in the ranks to positions of power. She tells the stories of a few incredible women who decided to ultimately get married too.
Traister doesn’t advocate for singlehood or married life, and instead simply advocates for women to have the choice, free from the hassle of absurd public policies that limit that choice. While at times the book is a bit repetitive, and it is a slow read due to its focus on research and historical facts, it was an interesting deep dive into the institution of marriage for women and what leads some to follow a different path.
As a single woman, one who has a terrible experience with marriage, and who did not get the opportunity to choose to have children, this book resonated with me. At times, being single has been a source of deep despair for me. However, being single has also given me some incredible flexibility, to buy a home, advance my career, travel and plan for an early retirement, all on my own. It is a double-edged sword, and one for which I am now incredibly grateful.