It should be hard to make more than 100 million Americans disappear, but pundits, marketers, politicians, churches, workplaces, college courses, and people you talk to in your everyday life seem to have made an art of it. All talk, all the time, seems to be about romantic couples or families. This form of singlism, the ignoring and marginalizing of people who are single, happens all the time.
It has always amazed me when people out to make money ignore or mock or misconstrue single people and people with no kids. In doing so, they are undermining their very purpose as businesspeople.
Slowly, this is changing. In Singled Out, I made fun of the travel company that offers us "Sandals," for couples, and "Beaches," for families. Now, industries are beginning to notice that there are nearly as many single adults as married ones, and that nearly half of all women of childbearing age have no children.
In tomorrow's print edition of the New York Times (available online now), Stephanie Rosenbloom considers what is probably "the first promotion from a major American hotel brand directed at women without children."
Stop for a moment to consider that it took until 2014 for a major hotel brand to recognize women without children. (The men still have to wait.)
If you were a marketer, how would you frame that sort of promotion? If you are single with no kids, how would you want to be courted (if at all)? The matter of naming and framing is at the center of Rosenbloom's article.
Westin, the hotel in question, is partnering with Melanie Notkin, whose latest book is titled Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness. What's your reaction to being called "other"?
Wisely, Rosenbloom asked Robin Lakoff about that. She's the scholar who has been offering her powerful voice and important insights about language and gender for years (see, for example, Language and Women's Place and Talking Power: The Politics of Language). (And, true confessions, the Times writer talked to me, too.) Lakoff had a whole lot to say about the matter. She discussed the history of scholarship on the notion of "other," what it says about those who are so labeled, and how our "irony deficiency anemia" can make it dangerous to try to use "otherhood" in a non-literal way.
Suppose that you have no kids and motherhood is a fraught issue for you. The word "otherhood," Lakoff noted, "looks so much like 'motherhood' that it would set off a whole lot of alarm bells…No matter what it says on the website or what you believe…It goes to your brain. It goes right to the place where you have been agonizing."
"Other," childless, unmarried – there are all sorts of ways of naming and framing people that are not exactly affirming. So how should we think about solo travelers and what they have in common?
Spoiler alert: I'm going to reveal Rosenbloom's heartening ending. Go ahead and read the whole thing first if you like.
The final paragraph of Zeroing In on the Female Traveler comes from the book, Women Travelers: A Century of Trailblazing Adventures 1850-1950, by Alexandra Lapierre and Christel Mouchard.
“What do they all share — across space and time — all these women with their very different personalities?” she wrote. “One special talent, at the very least: to recognize their own instincts, to nurture their own desires. And not let anyone — nor any thing, any idea, any fear — lead them astray or starve their souls.”
[Notes. (1) I think Stephanie Rosenbloom is the most enlightened writer about single life in the big-time media today. That makes it especially gratifying that she writes for the New York Times. I've discussed some of her other articles about singles in "Paris is for solos" and "You're on notice, travel industry!" (2) Other posts where I've discussed people who write insightfully about singles include "The deep rewards of a deeply single life" and "Best story I've ever read about singlism in the workplace." (3) I've added another topical collection to my personal blog. This one, "The real reasons for living single," is about all those why-are-you-single lists, plus more powerful answers to the question of why some of us love living single. The complete set of collections of links to particular topics is here. (4) The collection about adults with no kids is here. (5) The complete first draft of my new book is due in a few weeks, so I apologize in advance if you email me and I'm slow to answer. I won't be ignoring my blogging, though. Next up is a great guest post by a co-editor of an anthology of writings on asexuality on the power of asexuality to transform all of us, not just asexuals.]