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all the single ladies

September 15, 2012

Imma tell ya girls, I’m a single woman who lives alone. I eat on a 3-4 day cycle: a batch of ground turkey cooked up with Mexican seasonings, black beans, and spinach becomes, on successive evenings, the filling for crunchy corn tacos, nachos, and finally a simple “fiesta bowl” without any added carbohydrate. Then I whip up a new batch and Im back to tacos. I feel perfectly confident in calling this a “well-balanced diet.”

So I’m glad that while Republicans compete to see who has the most children and grandchildren and whose wives are doing better at “the more important job” than being president of being a mom, the Democrats are amplifying voices like Sandra Fluke‘s and celebrating the role women play as participants in the larger economy, not just in their households. Ann Romney refuses to talk about birth control because “this election is going to be about the economy and jobs,” but we single ladies know that the economy, jobs, family planning, and raising children are not separable issues.

It goes like this: If I don’t have a job, I can’t afford to raise a child. But if I can’t afford birth control, it’s hard to avoid getting pregnant. And if I can’t afford an abortion, which is way more expensive than birth control, I’m forced to have a child. But if I don’t have a job, I can’t afford to raise a child. Q.E.D.: Birth control is an economic issue.  (Notice how the question of whether I even want a child has almost no bearing here.)

Whether Democratic or Republican, women have to talk about these things. I’m glad there’s someone as together as Sandra Fluke who can withstand the accusations of slut and prostitute to do it so publicly. That any women are left who have not internalized all the shaming, accusing, and belittling that happens to women who dare to speak out is pretty amazing.

Granted, the line between talking about the personal as the political and just talking about yourself is a thin one. Jessica Stites, online editor at In These Times,  recently referred on Facebook to this tendency as “feminarcissism.” It’s such a perfect description of what some of us do. So many of the women whose voices grace the op-eds pages of the major papers use the premise of providing useful analysis of social conventions as an excuse to talk about their own individual, essentially irrelevant in-the-scheme-of-things lives. The refusal on the part of most of these “feminarcissists” to acknowledge their own privilege–to admit that we suffer from these particular psychological pains in some ways by virtue of our liberty not to have to suffer too many economic ones–is indeed infuriating and not helpful to the advancement of women.

And yet everyday we come up against the code of silence that exists even between women whereby we’re not supposed to talk about our real insecurities and fears. We’re not supposed to talk about shame or ambivalence. Most women are not supposed to say they’re okay not having children, but if you’re a successful single feminist woman you’re also not supposed to say you’re bummed that you don’t have a husband and a child. We’re not supposed to talk about ourselves, and as a result we don’t, as Audre Lorde said take care of ourselves.

And so we have to make a commitment to talk–all of the time–about our vision of the world, our lived experiences of the world, the things that we as women can certify to as unequal, unfair, and oppressive in our culture. It is up to us to make heard the point of view that is elided, overlooked, and erased from the official record. Ann Romney may think there’s no need to talk about birth control, but she’s wrong. Not only is there a need to talk about it, but her opinion on the subject does actually matter. One wonders if she knows that.

That said, I’m not gonna read Naomi Woolf‘s new book, nor Caitlin Moran‘s either. As for Woolf, she’s never going to convince me women are all the same by virtue of our vaginas; and I wish Moran would acknowledge that a person believing that she deserves equal rights does not a feminist make. Believing that all women do does. But I am gonna continue to ask women to tell their own stories. Ironically, when we acknowledge the privileges of our birth, race, class, religion, and heteronormative desires, our personal experiences actually have more of a relationship to the things other women have experienced because then at least they exist in the same world. I’ll bet Romney, for one, has a lot more to say about being a woman than she lets on, and if she could do it while acknowledging how invaluable her many maids and nannies have been, she’d have a better chance of relating to women who are maids and nannies. It’s very hard to help your husband win votes from people that you’ve gone out of your way to erase.

After all, the only way to make sure we are living life consciously both spiritually and critically–that is to say, with an in-the-moment awareness not just of the miracle of life around us but also of the historical, scientific, social, and religious expectations of our times–is to talk about our lives, to think about our lives, to look at our lives as if they matter. Reality is in fact largely circumstantial and can’t be assumed to be the same for everyone.

Ann Romney and her daughters-in-law can afford birth control; maybe that’s why she thinks we don’t have to talk about. I can’t afford it, at least not without the ACA’s contraception provision. But I can’t afford a child either. What’s a single lady to do?


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