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“Throughout America’s history, the start of adult life for women — whatever else it might have been destined to include — had been typically marked by marriage,” Rebecca Traister writes in her new book, “All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.” “Since the late 19th century, the median age of first marriage for women had fluctuated between 20 and 22. This had been the shape, pattern and definition of female life.”

The fact, then, that the median age for a woman’s first marriage has risen to 27 is a momentous turn of events.

American women who eventually marry are now left with nearly a decade of single adulthood to forge their own paths professionally, romantically and socially. And this current period feels markedly different from prior moments when decisions to abstain from or delay marriage were intentional actions of feminist protest. Singlehood is no longer as restrictive for women as it once was. Women can work, they can borrow money, they can vote, buy houses, start businesses, travel the world and have children without ever formally attaching themselves to a man.

Traister, for her part, assures readers that deciding to wed or not to wed isn’t the central premise of the book; she is more interested in the relatively new phenomenon of women having a choice in the matter at all. “The revolution is in the expansion of options,” she writes.

 

 

 

 

 

When women have access to education and their own jobs, when marriage is no guarantee of romantic stability and divorce is more expensive and emotionally destabilising than most other break-ups, and when nearly every one of the myriad legal benefits that stems from marriage can be neatly accomplished by another contract, it’s difficult to see how the state’s sanction of a relationship provides any benefit.

It was for these reasons and many more that heterosexual women young and old, rich and poor, white and those of colour didn’t just fail to marry or make bad choices not to marry, but looked at their lives and the institution and said no thanks, that’s not for me.

(Women) looked at their lives and the institution and said no thanks, that’s not for me.

It’s easy to notice that marriage doesn’t always work, given how high the divorce rate is in the US; but it’s harder to get past the conditioning that the problem is with those couples rather than the institution itself. And that’s where Traister’s book provides an important service: none of the women in it are pathologised. Their stories are not woven into a familiar tapestry of feminine failure. Traister instead uses them to show how an institution long viewed as centrally important to all (white, heterosexual, reasonably well-off) American women’s lives and supposed happiness hasn’t ever lived up to its reputation.

 

Traister, an acclaimed journalist, writer at large for New York Magazine and author of 2010's "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women," is both deliberate and conversant in her language of inclusion. "All the Single Ladies" aims to trace the history and current landscape of expanding options for single women in America — a narrative that is ultimately about liberation, a manifest and revolutionary freedom. "This makes it all the more important to acknowledge that while the victories of independent life are often emblematized by the country's most privileged women," Traister writes, "the war was fought by many Americans who have always had far fewer options to live free: women of color, poor and working-class women." Amen.

"All the Single Ladies" aims to trace the history and current landscape of expanding options for single women in America.

It's the personal narratives drawn from more than 100 interviews she conducted with all manner of women that make the book not just an informative read but also an entirely engaging one.

 

 

 

 

 

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