All the single ladies!

UPDATED BELOW

Yes, I know:  what a predictable headline.  But, it was irresistable!  Today’s blog post is a letter to all of the single college ladies, especially those of the heterosexualist persuasion.  Thanks to reader Indyanna and Tenured Radical for alerting me to this, and asking me to weigh in!

Dear undergraduate women,

You may have heard all of the buzz about the “new math” on college campuses where women undergraduates outnumber the men.  I’m here to tell you that this is a manufactured “problem.”  I went to a women’s college, where undergraduate men were outnumbered by 100%.  Even if you include the co-ed college with which we had a cooperative relationship, the numbers were approximately 70 to 75 percent women to 30 or 25 percent men.  And yet, this “imbalance” rarely came up as a topic of conversation.  There were women who always had boyfriends.  There were a lot of women who had girlfriends.  (Some had both boyfriends and girlfriends.)  And yet, most people–male and female alike, bi and gay as well as straight–were unattached:  interested in romance, but more interested in the other things that we did in college.  Some of those things were intellectual–but only some were.  Other things were artistic and creative, others were journalistic or political, and of course, a lot were just plain silly.  (For example:  menthol cigarettes, diet Dr. Pepper mixed with rum, streaking on the green or skinny dipping in the tiny fountain in the cloisters, and reading Walt Whitman and Radclyffe Hall, just to name a few examples.)

To tell the truth, I was one of those who always had a boyfriend–and how I wish I had spent more time on just about anything else in college.  The men in question weren’t the problem–they were perfectly nice, for the most part, and we had a lot of fun.  Dear readers, it was I who was to blame, because it was my lack of imagination and yes, an absence of courage, that led me down the dull path of early heterosexuality.  I didn’t believe it when I was eighteen, but I had the rest of my life in which to be a practicing heterosexualist.  Please understand:  I’m not advocating abstinence until marriage here.  I’m advocating imagination, creativity, intellectual challenge, and the occasional semi-drunken streak across campus with your friends, of whatever gender or sexual orientation.  Pairing off in college like you’re boarding Noah’s Ark is for the most part a waste of time.  Most people don’t marry or form a lasting partnership with their college boyfriends or girlfriends.  That’s not to say that these relationships are useless–merely to suggest that they’re just a small part of what life in college should be.

Now let’s take a critical look at the linked article, and wonder why people twice and thrice eighteen thought it important enough to print in the New York Times.  What is the effect of portraying college life as a catfight among straight women?  In whose interest is it to describe the relationship among straight college women as essentially competitive and perhaps to blame for bad behavior on the part of college men?  Why, I wonder, in all of those centuries in which higher education was largely, if not exclusively, reserved for young men, was the heterosexual meat and/or marriage market never described as a major social problem in the New York Times?  Heterosexuality has historically worked largely, if not exclusively, through men’s laws and men’s money in men’s interests in spite of the fact that women were a minority on college campuses, if they were there at all.  So, do not panic.  (Also, please ask yourself:  how is it that men dominated heterosexuality on campus when they were in the majority, and now they allegedly do on campuses in which they are a minority?  This “new math” doesn’t appear to work, or to explain very much at all now, does it’?)

This story–in which academically and/or professionally successful women are warned WARNING!  WARNING!  DANGER, PENNY ROBINSON! warned! that their success will doom them to a life devoid of a man’s love, bereft of babies, and shorn of the traditional accoutrements of bourgeois heterosexual success–is just one of many articles like these you’ll be reading for the rest of your lives.  (Remember:  as E.J. Graff has shown, the New York Times has specialized in these stories for decades.  This is the paper that believes that some day, any day now, all of us b!tchez will finally decide that we’re going to go home quietly to bake casseroles and pick up the dry cleaning for our much more successful husbands, and like it.)  In whose interests do these narratives operate?  Are they in your best interests, or not?

I say these narratives are not in your best interests.  They’re designed to knock you off your game, or even to get you to question whether you’re in the right game in the first place.  So if you’re lucky enough to go to college, make the most of it.  There really is life after age 22 or 23, like it or not, and it’s mostly great.  Out of three freshman year roommates, I’m still in touch with two, and consider them some of my lifetime all-time BFFs, as the kids like to say nowadays.  Out of two (and a half?  Not sure about that one.) boyfriends, I’m in touch with exactly none.  (And that’s OK by me–really, it is.  So that should tell you something about my misspent youth, as well as prove that I’m not on FaceBook.)

Your pal,

Historiann

Dear readers–what’s your advice for “all the single ladies?”

UPDATE, 2/10/10:  Cattyinqueens wrote in today with a link to a Gawker story in which the young women quoted in the article complain that their quotes were taken out of context.  More disturbingly, they’re being attacked and blamed for the article, not the New York Times or the reporter who wrote the story: 

“Kennard and Lynch seemed most upset, however, at how the story has been received—both on and off campus. “People are telling me I’ve labeled my entire generation as slutty in seven words, that I’m an embarrassment to the school,” says Kennard. “I had to change my name on Facebook because people were harassing me from all over the country.”

“Professors have approached me about it and said, you should watch what you say,” says Lynch.

“The worst thing about it is I’m in the journalism school here, and I’m making the school look horrible—apparently it’s my fault because I’m a journalist and I should have known this was going to happen,” says Kennard. “My response is when I interview people and record people I wouldn’t do this.”

Sing it with me, boys and girls:  cherchez la femme!  How would we explain the ills of the world to ourselves without women to blame?  Like I said above, you young women need to get used to hearing this, so that you can block it out.  Patriarchy is the insidious elevator music in the soundtrack of your lives.

81 thoughts on “All the single ladies!

  1. Coming to the party late, but one of the recent Beloit college surveys (you know, that thing that tells us what is before our first-year-students’ time?) said that the national level of college students reached gender parity in 1981. As in, “the freshpeeps you will see this fall have never known a time when there wasn’t gender parity at the BA level.”

    So if this isn’t old news, I don’t know what is!

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  2. Wow, Catty–thanks so much. I’ll have to post an update. This part really struck me–how the article is being read as a poor reflection on the women quoted, not on the bull$hit artistry of the New York Times (from the Gawker story linked above):

    Kennard and Lynch seemed most upset, however, at how the story has been received—both on and off campus. “People are telling me I’ve labeled my entire generation as slutty in seven words, that I’m an embarrassment to the school,” says Kennard. “I had to change my name on Facebook because people were harassing me from all over the country.”

    “Professors have approached me about it and said, you should watch what you say,” says Lynch.

    “The worst thing about it is I’m in the journalism school here, and I’m making the school look horrible—apparently it’s my fault because I’m a journalist and I should have known this was going to happen,” says Kennard. “My response is when I interview people and record people I wouldn’t do this.”

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  3. I think this raises a somewhat complicated question as to where the responsibility lies. The reporter’s e-mailed explication (in the Gawker post) of the evolution of the story from interview notes to print doesn’t seem implausible. And I didn’t in fact, in reading the article, think Kennard was presented as having spoken about herself, as opposed to offering a disapproving view of what she saw as campus practice. It isn’t clear what the “this” is that she says she “wouldn’t do” as a student journalist. Context is pretty much non-existent in long-report/short-form feature story genres. I once gave a telephone interview, and was quoted, accurately enough but in a situation where context would have been impossible. It was a wire-service story, so hundreds of different headline writers had great fun above amounted to about two column inches of print. I got my first-ever and thankfully only nomination for a “Golden Fleece Award” (google Proxmire, Sen. William). Thirty years later, thanks to internet aggregator data-bases, I’m still picking funny headlines from papers in towns I never heard of out of my hide, but the boss wasn’t so amused. Facebooker-on-Facebooker verbal violence is a nasty thing, but it doesn’t of itself necessarily reflect backward to the question of journalistic integrity or even best-practice.

    None of this is to refute or subvert the larger question about whether or not the _Times_ (or the media in general) has a larger and more baleful agenda in the way it reports on gender issues, a phenomenon that has been the subject of many good posts and threads here.

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  4. A friend of mine was recently quoted in a big story in a national magazine about his book, and he cringes at how his “conversational” language looks in print, and the shortcuts and lack of nuance that are clear to him but may not appear to be to readers. So, I get the reporter’s point of view. For me, though, the more troubling (and more important) part of the story is how these young women have been targeted for slut-shaming and blamed for ruining the reputation of UNC! As if. (Seems to me that a lot of all-male fraternities bear a lot more responsibility for that.)

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  5. If the article was talking about the opposite situation: women start out the majority, but get accepted to college in lower numbers, drop out in higher numbers, play too much Xbox, etc, etc, etc.

    What would the conclusion be?

    Omigod! Women just don’t have what it takes!

    …However, since luckily we’re talking about men, the conclusion is that they need help to achieve their rightful place.

    Patriarchy is the elevator music of the mind. Indeed.

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  6. True enough.

    The UNC may not have much of a reputation anymore with the Times. Hence today’s Sports Section sidebar: “On Wednesday night, however, when the vintage rivals meet in Chapel Hill, the No. 8 [Duke] Blue Devils versus the *unranked* [UNC] Tar Heels does not even present as the best game of the night. That would be No. 15 New Mexico visiting No. 23 U.N.L.V.” [emphasis supplied]. Ouch. I guess it’s over for us East Coast hegemons…

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  7. quixote: exactly! Great points. And they, and not the men, would be responsible for their own slutty behavior. Somehow, that’s never the fault of the menz, but the menz sexual promiscuity is all because the wimmenz permit it. (Or they don’t put out enough/with the right guys/or something else.)

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  8. The reason the men -a minority of the men- get to act like a**holes is simple:

    The women are all chasing the same guys. Depending on how the original article is read, half (of that 40 percent 20 percent dateable )of the men on campus to as little as 1/5 of the men on campus are considered socially and physically attractive enough to date. These men have harems.

    And meanwhile, some lonely shy geek who wouldn’t treat these young ladies like dirt is totally overlooked. But I’m sure you all here are all ready to blame him for all the bitterness those ladies will experience as they find themselves used and tossed over and over and over again.

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  9. Clarence, why would you be “sure” what people here would say, or “are ready” to say, instead of just proposing a point and seeing where it leads? Paul Goodman made a comparable point to yours (with less implied invective) in _Growing Up Absurd_ in the late 1950s; about young women in a bar throwing themselves at narcissistic Beatniks and being abused and despised therefor while (in Goodman’s view) perfectly good and honorable but more conventional men sat drinking in groups a few feet away. I don’t know where the analysis went with that, but by not being rhetorically “sure” in advance what the reaction would be, Goodman at least gave his point a chance not to be picked up and swept out of the conversation–as with antibodies operating on intruders in an immune system. I think that’s where the “mansplaining” threads hereabouts have been trending, anyway.

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  10. Indyanna:

    I’d love to be proven wrong, and I appreciate the reasonableness and patience of your comment.

    However the “tone” I’ve seen from most of this thread does not lead me to believe this will be the case. How DARE ANYONE suggest that maybe the young ladies involved are at least partly to blame for their own fate? Widen their pool of potential dates OR do as some h ere have suggested and focus more on academics -either of these things or a combination of both would largely solve this problem.

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  11. Clarence, I think you misunderstand the purpose of this blog, and of this blog post. This is not a “what about the poor menz!” blog. This is a feminist blog.

    The point of the post, since you seem to have missed it in the first place, was to question why college women are being represented in this way in premier media outlets like the NYT. We can’t possibly assess the individuals quoted in the story–and in fact, I don’t really care what their actual behavior is. But, you apparently do, and you have some strong opinions about the poor, overlooked menz. My advice is to start your own blog–don’t clutter mine up with irrelevant points and insult the commenters here. We’re a community of people who don’t take kindly to stray dogs pissing in the corners of our salon.

    (You might want to check out the rules for commenting here.)

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  12. I understand your blog policy and I understand your need for a safe space.

    My points are true, according to the young ladies themselves. They have , it must be said, perhaps deficient screening criteria for those in whom they choose to date.

    I must say however that when relatively modest dissent (if criticising a dating behaviour might be called a “dissent” against feminism.) is frowned upon or if any dissension from the approved male-bashing (those poor women! They just have to let the men they are attracted to abuse them due to patriarchy and stuff)is expressed it makes you feel you’ve been all mentally assaulted by misognynistic evil and all then this isn’t the blog for me. I take my leave. I wish the women on that campus well and better success dating better men in the future.

    Now go ahead and ban me since this relatively modest dissent is just too much for your (I’m sure) “enlightened” sensibilities.

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  13. Clarence,

    Historiann can explain, defend, and enforce her own rules on her own blog without any help from me. I’ll just say that I don’t think a less aggressive, or presumptive, expression of the points you seemingly wanted to make would *necessarily* have been perceived as a “what about teh menz” stance. The best advice when first entering a living room, a salon, or space of any kind, it seems to me, is to acknowledge positively the parties you find there, not to make evaluative or predictive judgments about the points you think you heard while coming down the hall or up the steps.

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  14. Clarence–buh-bye! “Male bashing” is not what’s happening here–not even Clarence bashing! You choose to ignore the fact that the quoted women have complained about their representation in the story and decide without any facts that your “points are true.” Clearly, we can’t help you.

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  15. I must say however that when relatively modest dissent (if criticising a dating behaviour might be called a “dissent” against feminism.) is frowned upon or if any dissension from the approved male-bashing (those poor women! They just have to let the men they are attracted to abuse them due to patriarchy and stuff)is expressed it makes you feel you’ve been all mentally assaulted by misognynistic evil and all then this isn’t the blog for me.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!

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  16. Wow–I am naive. I check my blogroll in the early morning, go off to give a lecture, then return after getting coffee. Who knew that things could escalate from “what about the doodz” mansplaining to a rude commenter withdrawing his wisdom from this community while I explaining about the “godless” Constitution to my undergrads? I thought I was familiar with the fragility of male egos before, but I must say that this proceeded at a warp-speed I could not have imagined. Wow. I feel almost obliged to note that the person so concerned about the plight about the poor nice menz who get ignored by the ladies is also the one so quick to withdraw his company when commenters here “attack” his dissent. But that might be a cheap shot.

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  17. Clarence, the post was about the article discussing why undergraduate women have trouble getting laid, not why YOU have trouble getting laid, though those reasons should be apparent by now. Yeah, I know, unnecessary roughness called on the defense, late hit after the play was called dead, 15 yard penalty and repeat the down.

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  18. John S., if you want another crash course in the fragility of male egos, look no further than the John Mayer brouhaha that exploded yesterday. Yikes. I’d tell you to read the entire interview but that’s about 10 minutes spent wading through insecurity breeding deep misogyny, racism, and homophobia that you just won’t get back. This bs is all around, friends. Tread carefully.

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  19. Even worse, he’s sorry he thought he could use the n-word in an attempt to make some intellectual comments about “being black”. Predictably enough, though, the focus has been on his racist remarks, not on the latent misogyny and homophobia running through the whole thing. So he doesn’t have to apologize for how he thinks about women.

    Prof Susurro has two great posts about this at her blog, Like a Whisper.

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  20. Fratguy: with a name like Fratguy I was prejudiced from the start . . . but by the end of the first sentence I was laughing out loud.

    Bullseye.

    The second sentence was pretty funny too…although I’m not at all sure about the “unnecessary” part.

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  21. And meanwhile, some lonely shy geek who wouldn’t treat these young ladies like dirt is totally overlooked.

    *snicker* Clarence is repeating a common fantasy spread by some men who identify as “lonely shy geek”s, but the thing us, the men who do thus self-identify do in fact treat women like dirt. Clarence even nicely outlined the logic of how they go about it — women who are not doing what the Clarences want deserve to be treated like dirt, in his view. So if a particular woman stops “overlooking” a particular Clarence and dates him, his not treating her like dirt only lasts as long as she continues to do what he decides she is supposed to. Once she deviates from that, the treating like dirt starts.

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  22. Pingback: Standards, stress, and sneetches: how can poor kids win? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  23. Pingback: Best. Response. Ever. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  24. Pingback: All the single ladies, part ZOMGeleventy!!111!!! | Historiann

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