Why Conservatives Are Terrified of Single Women
The title of Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies, is, she admits, a bit of a misnomer: It’s not just about single women, but rather “what happens when one model” — young, heterosexual marriage — “is no longer the only model” determining women’s lives, as had been the case for many generations, she says. With the average American woman getting married later in life than ever, and many eschewing the institution altogether, combined with the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, shifting attitudes about divorce, and many other factors, “what gets exposed is not just one alternate version of life for women, but an infinite variety of directions in which women may go, depending on their circumstances, tastes, pleasures, ambitions, goals, desires and the people they meet along the way.”
This shift has significant ramifications for all Americans, and for the policies that govern us, including many being hotly debated in this presidential election. Traister recently spoke to Rolling Stone about conservative fear of unmarried women, why Bernie Sanders can’t entirely take credit for the recent national interest in socialism, how the way we talk about candidates who aren’t white men has shifted since 2008 — and how Donald Trump is “like the cartoon version of hatred for those other kinds of identities.”
Why do conservatives always freak out about single women, and especially single mothers?
It’s a ton of things. I don’t think it’s always a case of Dr. Evil sitting there like, “I would like to force women to become child-bearing machines under the control of men.” I think a lot of it is like, “Golly gee, I feel nostalgic for the way things used to be, which I learned about from a Norman Rockwell painting of white people.”
They want to “make America great again,” you might say.
Exactly. In some cases — like Rick Santorum cases — I think it’s a keenly felt nostalgia for mom and pop, a version of America that we’ve been told is America at its most normal and healthy. (It’s interesting that that version was mostly normal and healthy for white men, not for women or people of color, and that it’s often white men who are beset by this level of nostalgia.)
So what makes them angry? Historically, marriage has been a very useful institution when it comes to containing the power of women. That’s not to say that there weren’t many happily married people throughout history. There were. But the fact that marital rape laws weren’t repealed in large numbers until the 1970s, the fact that the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which permitted married women to get their own credit card, wasn’t until 1974, the fact that so many women still change their names, all these vestiges of attitudes that are still with us about what happens when a woman marries a man — that a woman’s identity is subsumed by the identity of the man — that should tell you something.
And when marriage is no longer the only norm, and you have women living more independently, first of all, some number of them are competing with men: for jobs, for college admissions, for political power.
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