Women gather around a dinner table to have a free-ranging, uncensored discussion about life, including sex and partnering and marriage. The organizer is a Susan Walsh, a Wharton MBA who stays home to raise her two kids. Sometimes the women are high school students, other times college students.
It sounds intriguing, doesn't it? I like the idea of conversations across generations, especially in comfortable informal settings. The description I just gave you came from Kate Bolick's wildly popular story in the Atlantic magazine, "All the single ladies." Susan Walsh started the Hooking Up Smart blog to continue the conversations with the high school students who graduated and went off to college.
I don't read that blog, but I do have a Google Alert for my name, and so I got a heads-up when I was mentioned in a post there a few days ago. It was a day when I was inundated with other emails and appointments and such, so I just skimmed the post at the time. I noticed this last line:
"The Single by Choice movement is political, not personal."
That sounded right, and good, to me. Personal happiness and fulfillment matter a lot but so does fairness. All of the ways that single people are shortchanged in federal, state, and local laws, in the marketplace, the workplace, in medicine, and in everyday life add up to a political imperative. (Check out this great segment on CBS This Morning.) We should not be second class citizens simply because we are not married. That goes for all people who are not married, whether they want to be single or not.
That original Hooking Up Smart post was the first in a two-part series, so I just went back to read the first part carefully and then move on to the second.
Wow, was I ever wrong about what Susan Walsh and her ideas are all about.
Readers of this blog know the research showing that single people maintain stronger ties to friends, neighbors and family than people who get married. In sociology, the term "greedy marriage" is sometimes used to refer to the ways in which married couples devote their attention primarily to each other. "Greedy institutions" is a concept with a long history in sociology; only recently has the notion been applied to marriage.
Walsh sees evidence of an agenda in that literature, and says this about women who are single by choice:
"There will be a great deal more shaming of married people in the next 20 years, as women engage in whatever cognitive dissonance (or hamsterwheeling) is necessary to find an escape from singlism and more importantly, a nagging sense of personal disappointment."
Yes, fellow women who like their single lives - Susan Walsh is proclaiming that she knows our real feelings and motivations better than we do. See, we are not really happy, we are just rodents "hamsterwheeling" in a futile attempt to escape our "nagging sense of personal disappointment."
I'm collecting preliminary data on people who are and are not single at heart (survey is here) because there is so little systematic information on the topic. Walsh, though, needs no evidence. She is already certain that "never-married women in their 30s and 40s...account for nearly all of those who identify with the movement."
So she's speaking for women who choose single life. She has also appointed herself as the spokesperson for younger women, announcing that:
"...the up and coming generation of women views these celebrations of singleness as a cautionary tale, and they're anxious to make sure they won't be calling themselves onelies or quirkyalones if they can help it."
In case you had any doubts, she describes herself as a true believer in "marriage as the bedrock of civilization." (The closing chapter of Singled Out is just one of the places where you can find a critique of that mindless assumption.)
All that was in Part 1 of Walsh's set of blog posts. Part 2 includes a few more reactionary salvos that might even make Rick Santorum smile. Apparently women who choose to live single are "cat ladies" or "have nots" or "females past their fertility expiration date."
Recently, Dominique Browning wrote an essay for the New York Times that included this quote: "Most single women I know really love their lives." Of course, Walsh disagrees and disapproves. By now, that's not news. What I find telling is how Walsh referred to Browning, who is an author, editor, blogger, and a columnist for the Environmental Defense Fund. Walsh does not acknowledge any of those achievements. Instead, she calls her "Cat lady Dominique Browning."
Here is Walsh's concluding prediction about, and advice for, the next generation of women:
"I believe that the vast majority of women will continue to want to marry, and some will be disappointed. Rather than listen to the embittered women who want them to opt out entirely, they should embrace a long-term strategy for marriage and family by seeking out good men early and taking themselves off the market once they've found one."
Sure, why not end with a parting slur? Apparently, women who think they are living their single lives fully, joyfully, and unapologetically are actually embittered. Susan Walsh says so. I fear that she also says so to the women who gather around at her home and probably look up to her.
I'm tempted to say that Walsh's attitudes toward single women are about as enlightened as the worldview that sees aspirin as a cheap and effective form of birth control. (Santorum's billionaire Super-PAC funder said that women should put the aspirin between their knees.) But that wouldn't be fair.