My everyday singlism diary (with apologies to Laura Bates)
Everyone knows about the everyday sexism project, yes? Started by feminist Laura Bates, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon: women (and men) can log in to the site and register their daily encounters with sexism in all its insidious and subtle (and less subtle) forms (http://everydaysexism.com/). It’s spawned a book, as well.
As regular punters to this blogsite know, I’m a long-term single: not by choice, but now mostly happy – more than happy – with that state. Singlism is a term to my knowledge coined by the wonderful Dr Bella DePaulo for discrimination against, and blindness to, the state of singledom in society (see f’rinstance her article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bella-depaulo/do-you-married-person-tak_b_6514796.html).
The trouble with the term single is that there are so many permutations in its definition. For governments and collectors of statistics, it too often means simply unmarried: an antiquated view that fails to recognise marriage’s decline as an institution, anyway in the west, in favour of so many other household and relationship variations: couples who live apart; single parents, i.e. living with children, not a partner; the widowed; the separated; unmarried couples and groups who live together, whether in a sexual relationship or not; I could go on…. So many overlapping groups to be marginalised by governments, organisations, the media and – well, just us!
In tribute to Laura Bates, I decided to keep a singlism diary for a couple of weeks. And here are some of my encounters:
13 April: I listen to a debate between two women on BBC Radio 4 about whether her marriage to Bill privileges Hillary Clinton in her campaign for Presidential nomination. Is she sailing in on her husband’s coat-tails? Will that help? Hearteningly, they argue over whether reliance on one’s marriage, its use as a tool for success, is a good message to send, particularly to young women and girls?
From 13 to 24 April: I lie back and enjoy BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy. In the very first episode, setting the scene of an upmarket Chelsea bookshop, the author describes the older clientele of wealthy women who love to buy fiction there by such novelists as Anita Brookner about the difficult lives of cultured spinsters, [I paraphrase] ‘even though these female purchasers are married or widowed, and far from that state themselves’. I enjoy this perceptive irony immensely.
14 April: I receive an email, ‘Dear Miss Paula Coston’, clearly using a template. Why this societal persistence with badging women, any women, with our marital status in a way that men are not? (I write about this elsewhere: https://boywoman.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/the-female-titles-honorifics-mrs-miss-ms-paula-coston-reclaims-the-best-but-might-surprise-you-with-her-choice/).
14 April: With the UK national elections looming (7 May), David Cameron, head of the Conservative Party and current Prime Minister (for those of you abroad who may not know), launches the Conservative manifesto. A piece about it on Sky News bears the strapline ‘DC offers families [my italics] a “good life”‘. The document is stuffed with references to ‘(hard)-working families’. When this emphasis is picked up by satirists and commentators in the media, it interests me to note that the bias they mock is ‘working’ and ‘hard-working’: what about the unemployed?, they merely jest, overlooking the singles slight entirely.
15 April: Ed Milliband launches Labour’s, the UK major opposition party’s, manifesto. Encouragingly, of its several major themes or parts, one is ‘A better future for women’; but sadly, after stating the first aim as tackling women’s low pay, the rest concern more parental (my italics) support with childcare; ensuring that support for families (my italics) reflects modern life, e.g. possibly transferring unpaid leave to grandparents; and more help for families (my italics) ‘to spend more time with a new baby’.
Over the days: I scan the manifesto of each party as it comes out for references to single people. After all, let’s look at the facts. In 2013 in the UK there were 26.4 million households, of which 29% consisted of only one person; out of a current population of some 60 million there were nearly 1.9 million lone parents with dependent children (now of course, the figures for both are higher)(Office for National Statistics: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/family-demography/families-and-households/2013/stb-families.html). Similarly in the US, Women’s Voices Women Vote (WVWV) has identified that single, separated, divorced and widowed women – 53 million unmarried, one out of every two women being unmarried in America – are one of the fastest-growing demographic groups in the country (http://www.voterparticipation.org.womens-voices-women-vote/).
BTW, too, in the UK, the US and many other developed countries, more women than men live in lone-occupied households; women live longer than men, thus proving a greater health and social care burden on the state than men; and more women than men get burdened with the care of elderly parents and other relatives, often with little or no special financial or NHS/social care support, or support and understanding from their employers. None the less, this problem of an ageing, lone-living population in the end transcends the gender divide: the growing health and social care burden will fall on the state, and thus on us all (see the Ageing without Children website: http://awoc.org/).
17 April: There’s a trailer on BBC Radio 4 for a new late-night satire show, the Vote Now! Show, based on, and featuring the same team who create, the popular Radio 4 Now! Show. The trailer states that research apparently shows that mums and dads, parents with children, vote more than singles do – hence all the calculated references by our campaigning politicians to ‘hard-working families‘. (The joke in the trailer goes that parents only vote more because even a trip out to a polling station at night makes a nice break from the kids). But that gets me wondering: is that really true? And – certainly according to WVWV – in 2010, unmarried American women (we can agree, can’t we, not the only women who are ‘single’?) made up 25.2% of the voting-eligible population but only 23.6% of the electorate (39% of unmarried women weren’t even registered to vote). It seems logical that women in the broader definition of single would make up an even more telling percentage of the non-voting population than this. And yet, the most this UK election’s manifestos of the main parties do that might just possibly help the ageing single population is to promise to ‘integrate the UK health service and social care’, or ‘health and social care budgets’, whatever that vague promise might mean.
Still, given the figures about singles, perhaps especially single women, not voting, I’m worried that we’re not helping: that in elections and the way governments cater for us, we may be bringing some of this neglect onto ourselves.
13 to 24 April: I eat, of course, during this period. So I start looking at how singles’ food needs are catered for, in supermarkets in particular. It’s almost a truism that most ready meals and ready packaged foods are sized (and priced accordingly) for at least two people, if not more. On top of that, there’s the prevalence of ‘buy one, get one free’ and ‘three for the price of two’ type offers, all aimed at larger households than the lone dweller. I research uncooked meatballs: 10 or 12 in every pack; sausages: 8 or 10. You can go to the butcher’s/meat counter, of course, and – for a loaded price – buy just the quantity you want; or you can take a large pack home, split it and freeze the rest, and eat the same darn thing for days over a period, if that’s your bag.
But let’s be fair: more supermarkets and online suppliers are offering meals for one, particularly frozen (personally, not an option that I’d ever like to take up). A quick survey:
– Marks and Spencer: no online meals for 1.
– Aldi: 3 frozen ready meals for 1, out of a much vaster selection aimed at more diners than that.
– Wiltshire Farm Foods: 22 frozen ‘mini meals’, as they call them.
– Sainsbury’s: 204 meals that they badge as for 1, but these include many burgers, pies and hot dogs etc: arguably not healthy balanced meals, with a range of wholesome ingredients – alongside those Innocent ‘pots’ which, although delicious and healthy, are priced exorbitantly, IMHO.
– Waitrose: 6 online frozen meals that they label ‘mini’.
– Tesco: cheats, and badges nothing as a meal for 1, the only indicator being a lesser weight than a meal for 2, printed on the packaging.
– Iceland: 29 frozen meals for 1.
What’s going on here though is even more interesting than an apparent growth in the meals-for-1 market. Study the type of meals generally offered, and you’re bound to see what I mean. Spaghetti Bolognese, sausage and mash, chicken stew with dumplings, chicken dinner, beef lasagne, toad in the hole: largely, the menu’s traditional, if not conservative and positively old-fashioned. The people who make and market this stuff seem to me to see a sad, lonely elderly, decrepit person with an unadventurous appetite and little or no life experience, sitting there in a haze of longing for the past. As proclaimed proudly and unashamedly above, single people are a far more diverse, lively, busy, experienced and discerning group than that. Oh hell.
23 April: I hear George Osborne, our Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, on Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘People are working very hard to support their families‘ (my italics); ‘Yesterday the Prime Minister announced free child care for working families‘ – having learnt nothing from satirical commentary over the last couple of weeks, still banging on the same family drum.
24 April: An estate agent rings me at work: ‘Is that Mrs Coston (my italics)?’ Still the assumed, and unnecessary, and wrong, honorific.
I suppose that some signs of recognition of singlism are positive in media and culture. But…. Despite the dearth of political policies for singles, after two weeks of keeping this diary, I do know one thing: we singles had better get out and vote in droves, in the UK, the US, everywhere, if we can ever hope to change attitudes to us, or, indeed, anything.