Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Media View of Single Women Laced with Contradictions

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Single women are often depicted as both superwomen, doing it all on their own, and as pathetic and unsuccessful for not having a man, says Samhita Mukhopadhyay in "Outdated: Why Dating is Ruining Your Love Life." An excerpt from her new book.

Samhita Mukhopadhyay(WOMENSENEWS)--Single gals are the talk of the town. Beyonce's track "Single Ladies" was the 2009 anthem for single gals who have said enough is enough with the runaround. If you like me then you should "put a ring" on "it"--or I am moving on.

"Single Ladies" is hardly a feminist anthem. It equates committed relationships to marriage, asserts that marriage assumes ownership and feeds into the idea that you need to be either "single and lovin' it" or "married."

But hey, it's popular culture, so if we ignore what's problematic about the lyrics momentarily, we can thank Beyonce for giving voice to the idea that single ladies have options and men be warned: If you don't make a move, you will lose your lady.

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It's true, not all single ladies (or gay men--let's be real, we know who loves this song the most) want to get married, but we can all relate to dumping someone who didn't want to commit to be single only to later find out the person you dumped is jealous of your newfound freedom. And although the song concludes with a desire for the dumped to become Prince Charming and come around (again, it's popular culture), the point stands: Choosing single life over an unfulfilling relationship is not an easy choice to make. And in my opinion, this is all the more reason to celebrate it.

Fodder for Fantasy

The very notion of the "single woman" is fodder for fantastical storytelling. The single woman is one of the most reviled yet beloved mythical characters. She is always painted with superhuman characteristics and piled with expectations she would never be able to live up to in real life. At her most idealized, she is a superwoman, doing it all on her own, balancing her career, sex life, education, employment, friendship and sometimes even motherhood, all while looking super hot and being unbelievably happy.

But when she is not the stereotypical bubblegum popular culture notion of the "single gal about town," she is at her most reviled and feared: on welfare, representative of the failure of femininity, a threat to masculinity, a threat to the family, a spinster, a cat lady, bitter, alone, jealous, never been kissed, and I could go on.

The portrayal of the "single lady" is ripe with contradiction, both in terms of how much people overemphasize how empowering it is to be single and how much our culture uses single women as examples of failed femininity and spinsterhood.

Single women interrupt the ethos of heteronormativity with a frustrating persistence because, as a whole, single women are succeeding at a faster rate than many other groups. Outside of simply creating a lot of ego hurt for modern conceptions of masculinity, the side effect of the supposed rise of the single woman is woman-hate, backlash and overstated declarations that women "have it all."

Whether we're talking about stories about divorcees who are sucking their ex-husbands dry (how can we forget Alec Baldwin's "man"ifesto that gave new language to the real victims of alimony payments--men), black welfare moms who are feeding off an overburdened system ("16 and Pregnant" did not help our cause here), or single mothers with too many children (think "Octomom"), the images in the media of single women (and especially single moms) are appalling.

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I think there is one important element of the portrayal of single women missing from your description. They are rarely portrayed as being happy on their own. More often then not, even the most seemingly contented female is really looking for love, the one, her soul mate. While I do agree that, at the end of the day this is something a lot of women relate to, I just wish more single women were portrayed as being content with themselves as a single person.