New Roles for Women

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

By Rebecca Traister

If you’re not aware of it, though if you’re not you haven’t been paying attention, there are more single women than married women, and young single women remain single much longer than in previous decades, and they have more career opportunities available than just the narrow one traditionally chosen for them, marriage. How this has come about, the implications for women and society as a whole, and how America must change to help women flourish for not only their benefit but for that of the entire country, is the focus of her book.

Traister covers lots of ground quickly, sprinkling in generous quotes from famous historical figures (the likes of Susan B. Anthony) and contemporary woman (such as Gloria Steinem and Anita Hill) to illustrate her points and enliven the text. She digs back into the roots of the country, with the most time spent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to show that women living single isn’t an entirely new phenomena; that, in fact, women had been making progress in asserting their independence right up through World War II, until, in the nineteen-fifties, society made a concerted effort to shove women back on the narrow path of marriage.

However, as when anybody or group get to experience the wider bounties of life (remember, not to be too glib, “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree) after World War I), the restrictions of one acceptable lifestyle didn’t hold for very long, and the modern women’s movement changed society, along with a variety of other developments, among them education, an improvement in earnings, urban life, the pill, greater reproductive freedom, and the like, all of which Traister addresses.

Naturally, this push for freedom didn’t come without resistance, a resistance still very much alive and a tenet of the more conservative wing of a particular political party. Traister tackles these bromides, like the idea of balancing work and family, family as the bedrock of a stable and prosperous society, as well as other made on behave of choosing marriage over independence.

She finishes with a brief bullet point appendix outlining some policies and attitudes that need to change to foster and accommodate more opportunity for women. Succinctly, these boil down to America getting more in line with the other developed countries of the world.

Yes, the book can feel a bit polemical at times, also a bit like a women’s studies survey text, neither of which is bad because you can’t progress without effectively arguing your position and most people probably have little idea of women’s history. Of course, the reality of readership is that those who might benefit most from the book will either ignore it or dismiss it out of hand. Hopefully, you aren’t among them and you’ll give Traister a thoughtful hearing. w/c


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