An aging childless single woman meets a young queer childless single woman on a tourist van. Sounds like a joke. The joke's on traditional society.
Here in Chiang Mai I am preparing to leave in a few hours for Chiang Rai. After a busy, happy, engaged week in Thailand so far and having secured a brand new and wonderful friend yesterday during an otherwise waste of a tourist day, I am celebrating the end of the first quarter of month in Thailand. I woke up at my customary 3 am grateful and glowing. In a few moments I have to finish packing, then head to the bus station for a much quieter week two.
As I often do first thing, I read a bit. Today a title caught my eye over on Medium. The piece was written by Bella DePaulo, a woman four years younger, who writes about "singlism," which has affected me and millions of others who chose not to marry and/or to have children. Here is her piece:
DePaulo speaks about a casual, caustic comment she heard while shopping. It stunned her enough so that she was speechless until she wrote about it:
At the supermarket, the person scanning my groceries was talking to the person bagging my groceries about another employee. She said that the other employee was stressing out about her job, but she had nothing to be stressed about: “She has no husband, no kids. She has nothing! I have a husband and two kids.” Then she looked at me as if she expected me to agree with her.
At the risk of nearly copying and pasting the whole thing, here is the rest of what resonated with me:
I don’t mind her belief that single women are generally less stressed out than married women. Research suggests, for example, that single women who are not dating are less stressed than those who are. But the thought that a single person is never justified in feeling stressed out on the job, just because she is single and has no kids? No. That’s not okay. That’s the form of prejudice I call singlism.
Much worse, though, was the claim that, unlike the married woman with her husband and two kids, the single woman “has nothing.” That is a claim that dismisses as worthless every other person in your life other than a spouse or kids, and every other experience or pursuit that gives your life meaning. It is stunningly bigoted. (author bolded)
DePaulo's piece struck me because as an adventure traveler who has first, been single all but for a couple of years and those years were troubled (and of course childless), I have not only been subjected to this in my own country but all over the world.
She asked for comments; here are mine (I am sharing this with her as she may well be writing another book on the topic):
As someone graced with a slight gift of attractiveness most of my life, I have been a target of male assault since I was ten. I was well aware that as a girl child I wasn't wanted in my family. At the tender age of three, THREE, I recall very vividly standing in front of the bathtub on our farm and thinking two things: I desperately wanted my own house, and I never ever ever ever EVER wanted to be a mommy.
I was three.
No amount of societal convincing would sway me from either of those. My peripatetic nature would take me out of the house and on my own at sixteen. No child pregnancy would dog my life.
What did dog my life were incessant comments about being pretty and why wasn't I married?
In those days, back in the early 1950s, women still had hope chests. I hoped my chest could get bigger (it didn't, but a surgeon took care of that much later), but as for hoping to get married and squirrelling away linens for later,
PHSAW. Or put more directly, Go SPIT.
Which is precisely my reaction to this idiot pastor:
Oy I am so BEREFT in my twilight years.
Yesterday I spent the entire day with a small group of folks doing a purely touristy thing, so useless I won't even review it. What wasn't useless was the friendship I struck up with a Black woman from Sierra Leone. Sabatu's (name changed for privacy) mother married and moved to England. There she was able to secure private school for her kids. Sabatu went on to study at two of the top universities in England in Law. She is just 25, stunningly lovely, very funny, and bisexual.
She doesn't want kids either. We spent the day talking, ranging over every imaginable taboo topic from religion to sexuality to female genital mutiliation (a fate her mother saved her from, happily for all involved). It was one of those wonderful, rollicking, fascinating days when you immerse yourself full-bore into any and all topics fearlessly, because your conversational partner isn't afraid to speak her mind, and you aren't either. While it takes a bit to establish safety, once done, the ground rules are "anything goes."
Sabatu likes men and women. Because of that, and the fact that her preferences touch on the entire smorgasbord of partners, having children would not only be problematic but it would also crimp her lifestyle. Like me she likes being alone. And also like me, children would promptly put an end to the peripatetic nature of her world, which gives her great joy.
Casual observers of me in my younger years and Sabatu now would often include "where's your husband" and "why aren't you married" and "when do you plan to have kids?" All highly invasive questions, and predicated on the notion that of COURSE it's just a matter of time before we settle down and some man "makes an honest woman out of us."
A phrase, kindly, that I find uniquely insulting, for it assumes that all women are loose and problematic until paired. And that such pairing finally makes us valuable members of society. Until then we are dishonest.
Screw you, say we both, and mostly likely, Bella.
Marriage doesn't make anyone honest, and it doesn't always improve our state. If anything, research argues otherwise.
Back to DePaulo's supermarket jaunt. In my own jaunts all over the world, from tribal villages to cities on every continent so far, women naturally assume that I have kids and often demand to see photos. I show them photos of myself with animals, which causes them no small amount of confusion.
Women in developing countries don't perceive options available to them unless they have access to education. Once educated, as Sabatu most certainly is, the world unfolds in front of us like the most extraordinary of flowers, and we are eager to drink its nectar.
Sabatu shared with me that she knew her preferences young, but had to wait before telling her mother. Her tribal tradition in Sierra Leone demands that girls between the tender ages of seven and nine undergo FGM, which deprives them for life of any kind of sexual gratification, and is about as misogynistic an act as can be perpetrated on a woman. It's assumed that if you remove all the girl parts but for those which produce progeny, the wife won't wander.
DO. NOT. GET. ME. STARTED.
Sababatu's mother refused the grandmother's insistence that she get the procedure done, far off into the West African forest, where a tiny, confused girl understands nothing at all until the first terrible cut and the first terrible scream.
You will understand why I am on her side in this. And on the side of any woman who decouples from a society which would mutilate her body for a man's purposes, and any society which would arbitrarily impose marriage for much the same reason.
Given that there are still 17 states in America which have refused to make FGM illegal, and that it is still actively practiced world-wide and that includes the USA, you will understand why body autonomy and the right to self-determine are ever more important for young women like Sabatu.
For women my age, we lived through Roe v. Wade, got hopeful. We just saw such hopes dashed by a troubling, evil, uneducated and dangerous evangelical community which, to my active mind, would be only too happy to include FGM if it would but control these uppity single women.
Sabatu's status as a young, Black, queer woman is even more threatening. Worse, she's rididulously smart, very well-educated in the finest institutions Great Britain has to offer, and as such a threat to ignorance everywhere. Her choice to remain single is, in part, based on that education, and the fact that she chose to listen to her own inner voice.
Education offers us options. While some women feel that deep, driving maternal instinct, in too many cultures the simple fact of having a uterus forces women into childbearing and marriage, both of which can devastate an otherwise happy and productive life.
Just because we have a uterus doesn't mean it should be utilized. For my part, mine gave me nothing but pain and trouble. I had mine removed in 1999, and good riddance. I'd had my tubes tied at 29, a decision my father disliked because he wanted grandkids.
Not my problem.
If more women were able to use their brains vs. their uteruses the world would not be in the shape it's in.
But that's just me.
And before you bark at me that it’s not a binary choice, of course it’s not. However in developing countries without education and awareness, there is little choice at all unless one is infertile, and then she risks being shunned as useless. Hell, then all the women get old and are murdered for being witches. Great being female, right?
It is everyone else's problem; at least those who arbitrarily impose their values on single folks, and those of us living richly, happily and vividly without spouse or kids.
Being single has allowed me to live a most extraordinary life. That has worked stunningly well for many people the world over. For my part it's not hard to trade off the occasional good day with a partner for days, weeks, months and years doing what I most love: flying around the world, skydiving, riding horses, rafting, kayaking, climbing huge mountains, exploring deep caves, I could go on. And meeting people like Sabatu, which is like finding a perfect gem.
My ex, and this is just one reason he is an ex, said to me once when I wrote him that I had a belly disorder in Borneo,
"You don't need to be doing that any more."
I don't know who the hell he thought he was talking to, but it sure couldn't have been me. You could hear the nail being pounded in the coffin of that connection all the way in Borneo. Even the the orangutans looked up in curiosity.
Such comments from my ex, as well as the thoughtless, idiot condemnation by the (in my opinion, uneducated) woman at DePaulo's market, are thinly-veiled wishes for a freedom we have, that we live, and which comes at a cost.
We can and do experience loneliness. But for my part it's worth it.
DePaulo describes such comments, which are another kind of micro-aggression committed by thoughtless, prejudiced people (add color, ableism and ageism in my and Sabatu's cases, have fun now) as light as a feather. But a ton of feathers, she says, can still crush.
Unless you and I blow 'em off.
We are not an enlightened species. There are, as I found with Sabatu, enlightened people. We tend to find one other. My very close friendship with Melissa, who is gay, and also childless, has long set me up to better understand and also befriend people like her, and to have a far greater appreciation for the increasing fluidity of gender and sexual preferences which mark and inform younger generations.
None of that threatens me. What threatens more, and the world and all the animals I love, is too damned many children in the first place. To say nothing of extreme, radical religious folks so eager to impose their woman-hate on the world.
Anyone with half a brain (and that's less and less of us these days, irrespective of possession of degrees) might want to celebrate the single, the childless. Those who choose not to procreate are reducing the impact on an overburdened earth, and in many cases, using their education and freedom to make it a better place.
The way I see it, the whole world is my family. I am neither lonely nor am I truly alone, unless I choose to see myself that way. That is a choice.
Just as being single for life, and childless, is a sacred choice.
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