All the Single Ladies
By Rebecca Trainster
From the title, you might mistakenly assume Rebecca Traister’s “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation” is a self-help tome or maybe a biography of Beyoncé, but it’s actually a well-written and engaging history of the women’s liberation movement in the United States.
Traister’s shorter journalistic pieces have appeared in the New York Observer, New York Magazine and on Salon.com among others, and she is an award-winning non-fiction writer. “All the Single Ladies” is a well-researched analysis of the women’s movement and how it has shifted from the 19th century until now. She examines the history, detailing the stories of abolitionists, female authors, suffragettes and royalty. Single women, long an uncomfortable threat to the status quo, were portrayed as unhappy, promiscuous, and otherwise lacking- Traister aims to highlight how, culturally, these women are now beginning to be seen as powerful in their own right.
Traister writes both analytically and personally, interspersing history and personal anecdotes. She herself only married at 35 years old, and lived independently in New York until then. She interviews academics and bloggers, social scientists and teachers, married women and single women, and these women discuss their relationships, breakups, female friendships and financial situations. The result is a book that is analytical and informative, yet still maintains an accessible voice. Most importantly, she addresses that not every woman has the same experience; issues of race, location, class, and sexual orientation are all factors in how a person experiences their own singleness.
Chapter Four (brilliantly titled: Dangerous as Lucifer Matches: The Friendships of Women) was especially poignant for me. In popular culture, women can often be shown viciously pitted against each other. This chapter, celebrating female friendships, could have been an entire book on its own – tracing best friendship between women from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”’s Mary and Rhoda. Not all women require a romantic partner to be their closest friend, some maintain close relationships with other women, and this chapter does a great job of exploring why.
I ended up buying a copy of this book for my (married) best friend. It’s intelligent without being overly academic, relatable without being slipshod, and it reminds readers that single and coupled life can both offer a myriad of options.