Book Review: All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

all the single ladiesSociety has always looked at single women with a mixture of pity, apprehension, fascination and at times a wee bit of jealousy as if they might be threatened by ladies who don’t sport Mrs. before their names and whose left hands are sans a wedding ring.

Believe me, I’ve had plenty of men and women (mostly women) who look at me with a wee bit of side-eye and I’ve felt the sting of their judgments. So I was pretty happy to find Rebecca Traister’s book All the Single Ladies where she examines the various experiences of single women and how they are woven into the history of American society, both in the modern age and days long ago.

Today there are more single women than married women, much of this is due to women having more options than older generations when it comes to education, careers, sex and children. Women are holding off on getting married until they are older and have gotten an education and have established some semblance of a career or some type of work history. And despite much pearl clutching, most single women do end up married and having children, often before they are in their thirties.

All the Single Ladies is a combination of statistics, anecdotes, historical facts and a variety of personal stories from a wide variety of single ladies, some by chance, some by choice and some by circumstance.

Each chapter of All the Single Ladies covers a wide range of topics regarding lasses who haven’t found their Mr. or Ms. Rights (but perhaps have found a quite a few Mr. or Ms. Right Nows.) Singles ladies are dissected from the past, the present and in the future realm. Singles ladies of all stripes are considered amongst Ms. Traister’s well-written prose. This includes never married, divorced and some widowed ladies. She examines single ladies and their pursuits to achieve both educational and career success. She tells stories of women and their friendships with each other and how they evolve as they get older and arrive at different benchmarks in their lives, both professional and personal. Traister covers women as single mothers and those whose lives aren’t always so rosy and glamorous. She examines single ladies impact on American society, much of it very positive, and how society often views single ladies, sadly, much of it not so positive. And yes, Traister covers, or should I say uncovers, single ladies and their sex lives. And believe me, single ladies have been doing the horizontal sweaty long before the sexual revolution and pretty much having a grand old time, too!

If I do have any problem with All the Single Ladies, it is this. Traister does a little too much of what I call, “Me and My Friends Journalism,” meaning a majority of the women she interviews are very much like herself—college educated, middle class and of the professional caste. Nothing wrong with any of this, I’ve been all three at various times of my life. Furthermore, a majority of her subjects live on either the left or right coast (probably mostly the right—mostly New York City). I would have liked to have read more stories from women of color, non-college educated women, recent immigrants, women wearing collars both blue and pink, and places in the USA that the mainstream media ignores. Hey Ms. Traister, did you know my ‘hood, Milwaukee, was just named one of the best food towns in the country?

Milwaukee isn’t all about cheese. Well, actually Milwaukee is a lot about cheese. We even have artisanal cheese.

But I digress…

Still, I think Ms. Traister (who recently found a husband to “put a ring on it”), offers a very well-researched, thoughtful, witty, and empathetic tome on one of the most misunderstood demographics around—single ladies, not all of them, but definitely a notable bunch.

 

 

 

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Retro Review: Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown

sex and the single girlNot so long ago, if a gal wasn’t married by the time she was in her early twenties she considered a pitiful, washed-up spinster. Helen Gurley Brown thought this was a load of hogwash, and told young women to embrace single hood and have the time of their lives. And she wrote all about it in her ground-breaking, and back in the early sixties, quite scandalous book Sex and the Single Girl.

There is a chance you aren’t familiar with Helen Gurley Brown. However, you are probably aware of the magazine she ran for several decades—Cosmopolitan. She was highly responsible for making Cosmopolitan the huge success it is to this day. And she did it by convincing readers there is more to life than getting a wedding ring on your finger and changing poopy diapers.

I’m not the biggest Cosmopolitan fan. On my coffee table are magazines like Bust, Martha Stewart Living, and The Nation. But I always appreciated how Ms. Gurley Brown (who didn’t marry til later in life and never had children of her own) told readers that men are wonderful, but not all that life to offers. Women should have fulfilling lives that include careers, entertaining, hobbies, and a fun social life.

Now in 2015 this advice is hardly earth-shattering, but in the pre-feminist days, when the Pill was in its infancy (yes, pun intended) and women thought college was a way to get an MRS degree, Gurley Brown’s outrageous talk was truly revolutionary.

I picked up Sex and the Single Girl at my local library not knowing what to expect. Would it be salacious and dirty or would it offer some smart and useful advice? Well, Sex and the Single Girl was probably considered pretty darn salacious and dirty when it was published in 1962. But today it offers pretty darn good advice that wouldn’t look out of place in any current lady mag or any self-help book endorsed by Oprah.

Now, don’t get me wrong. In Sex and the Single Girl, Ms. Gurley Brown still thinks it’s very important the ladies get a man. Marriage is a good goal for any girl. She even has no qualms about girls dating married men or having affairs with one’s male co-workers. Needless to say, I’m not exactly thrilled with this advice. And I’m not exactly thrilled with how she views other women as competition and adversaries, not as a much needed support system. I know I couldn’t make it without my girlfriends.

On men, Ms. Gurley Brown discusses several types, the dreamboat (aka Mr. Right or maybe Mr. Right Now), the eligibles but who needs them type of men (guys who are dull, creepy or just completely hopeless), and the Don Juan, who today we’d call a Man Whore (guys who are exciting, but will tear your heart to shreds). Other types of men Ms. Gurley Brown discusses are the homosexuals, the divorcees, the younger men and the married men. Ms. Gurley Brown is a bit offensive when she refers to homosexual men as basically “girls” and I didn’t like how she encouraged readers to date married men. Plus, nothing wrong with guys who are divorced or younger than you. You can find Mr. Right in these demographics.

Beyond that, I actually liked a lot of what Ms. Gurley Brown advises in Sex and the Single Girl. She told women that having a job is a good thing and to embrace financial independence. She told women to get passionate about work for everything from the sense of accomplishment it could give you to the access of the men you could meet.

She told women to be financially savvy, discover what works for you fashion-wise, decorate your apartment to suit your taste and budget, learn how to entertain (and the book includes recipes), and to travel the world. She also told women to embrace fitness and good eating habits, even extolling the virtues of health food stores. You don’t have to wait until Mrs. is in front of your name. Do these things now!

And guess what ladies? Ms. Gurley Brown also told women you don’t need Mrs. in front of your name to embrace your sexuality and have an enriching erotic love life. Now this is hardly controversial today, but in the early sixties is was quite shocking. I’m sure some uptight pearl clutchers claimed, “Why should a man buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” To which I’m sure Ms. Gurley Brown thought, “Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage?”

Certain aspects of Sex and the Single Girl are quite out-dated (and some of it offensive), and at times I found Ms. Gurley Brown’s writing style to verge on total purple prose (however, I do want to insert “pippy-poo” into my every day vernancular). However, like with any self-help book, Sex and the Single Girl is one to take with a grain of salt (and a bit of tequila). A lot of Ms. Gurley Brown’s advice is spot-on, which makes Sex and the Single Girl a fun and vital read even in 2015.