Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single

Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single

Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single

Women on Their Own: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Being Single

Excerpt

The essays in this volume sustain a recently developed counternarrative of “singleness.” This narrative is intent on correcting negative images of unmarried women without male partners. Three themes draw the writers of these pages into conversation with each other: choice, power, and diversity. The authors demonstrate that some women, at least some of the time and in some circumstances, choose singleness. And they show that some single women, at least some of the time and in some circumstances, exercise great power and authority over themselves and their surroundings. The essays acknowledge as well a remarkable diversity of situations and identities among a population who by choice or by chance were unmarried: women who chose never to marry; widows and divorcees who, having had the experience of marriage, chose not to repeat it; women who took vows of celibacy; women who lived with men but elected not to marry them; women who preferred female partners they could not marry; and women who through force of circumstance—war, economic crisis, physical disability, a husband's desertion or death—found themselves, often without their choosing, widowed or on their own.

As an initial step toward rendering this diverse, otherwise unwieldy group into a manageable category for analysis, contemporary scholars and population studies focus on singleness as a civil status—that is, the condition of not being married. It is worth emphasizing the not at the outset: singleness for women, in a wide variety of societies, past and present, has been a negative—something missing, incomplete, or damaged, something without, even something pitied. There have always been women on their own, and societies have conjured up various ways to deal with them and evaluate their supposed shortcomings. Today, ironically, even as both men and women more widely embrace singleness as a viable alternative to marriage, mainstream attitudes still regard the choice as second best. Specialists generally attribute the stigma of singleness to a “pervasive ideology of marriage and family” stubbornly residing in both popular consciousness and social science literature. In the words of one sociologist, the emerging field of “singleness studies” attempts to open a “dialog about assumptions, theories, and . . .

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