International Women's Day: Why do we still treat single women as second-class citizens?

We aren’t tragic spinsters, desperately freezing our eggs and gazing wistfully out of the windows of our cold, stark bedsits, humming ‘someday my Prince will come’

Natasha Devon
Friday 08 March 2013 08:00 GMT
(Universal Pictures)

If Shakespeare were alive today, I’d hunt him down and poke him in the eye.

As it is, he is ‘dwelling with vilest worms’, blissfully unaware of the hours of torturous frustration one of his most notorious iambic pentameters has caused me:

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

Even the most theatre-eschewing luddite will miraculously whop this quote out in conversation if I dare so much as hint that I might be ….wait for it….single and happy. People are unable to digest the notion that any woman in her thirties would navigate life without a co-Captain through choice.

The Hollywood notion of happy ending = ensnaring of love interest is all-pervading. We never, ever accuse couples of ‘protesting too much’ when they wax lyrical about their domestic or conjugal bliss. We simply ram our fingers down our throats and vomit into the nearest receptacle in protest against the harsh light their bragging throws our own perceived inadequacies.

Recently, I learned that I fall within a demographic of 46% of female graduates aged 26-40 in the UK who have chosen to remain single and childless. CHOSEN. We aren’t tragic spinsters, desperately freezing our eggs and gazing wistfully out of the windows of our cold, stark bedsits, humming ‘someday my Prince will come’. We are intelligent, independent women who have decided that, for us, right now life is better not in a relationship.

It’s 2013, an entire decade-and-a-bit since Bridget Jones’ ‘shocking’ size 12 bee-hind first burst onto our screens and into our collective consciousness. We have space travel, Facebook, desk hoovers, breakfast biscuits, decent at-home hair dye, Google Earth and we’ve almost invented a car that can drive itself. So why do we STILL treat single women as second-class citizens? Why must I endure endless drinks parties in which I’m questioned relentlessly about my “weird” non-desire for offspring, or reassured in condescending tones that I ‘shouldn’t worry’ because ‘the right one will come along when I least expect it’? Why do we live in a world in which the media actively pitied Jennifer Aniston when she was between partners - a woman who is rich beyond most people’s wildest imaginations, successful, popular, talented and beautiful?

Is it that romantic convention is so deeply entrenched in all of us that we simply cannot fathom why anyone wouldn’t follow the date-boyfriend-marriage-babies-grandbabies-retirement-death life-route? Do we secretly believe that there is something wrong with single women – something which renders them fundamentally unlovable? Or is it, as I suspect, in fact a fear of single women?

I have a theory and it’s one I’m fairly sure Germaine Greer would be proud of: A female who is capable of supporting herself is still a terrifying prospect for most and for that reason we are, as a culture, still inherently misogynist, however much Beyoncé might sing songs which infer the contrary.

I am frequently told that I am ‘too pretty’ to be single, or that I will ‘get snapped up soon’, as though I am wandering along a metaphorical love-motorway with a sign around my neck reading “I might appear to have it all but really I’m just desperate for someone to take out my bins and catch my spiders. Please donate generously”.

Let’s examine what was REALLY happening in that iconic ‘All by Myself’ scene in Bridget Jones. (You know, the one that has become synonymous with the notion of a pathetic singleton). She is, in her own words, “totally sh*tfaced, listening to sad FM”. She’s wearing what appear to be ludicrously comfy pyjamas, without a scrap of makeup, smoking in the house. Objectively, one has to admit that sounds like a pretty fun evening. She has no one to judge her and no one to impress.

That is the reality of single life. We do what we want, when we feel like it.

Single people are answerable to no one (excluding the Grim Reaper and the Tax Man). We make our own rules. If we want to spend an entire Saturday reading frothy chick-lit, or the complete works of Lord Byron, or the Financial Times whilst sucking the chocolate off Kit Kat Chunkies and pinging the wafer at the cat, we can.

I can devote my weekend to stomping around East London in my Kurt Gieger ankle boots (which I can afford because all my disposable income is for my own, private pleasure), just people watching and exploring never-before-ventured side-roads, listening to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars louder-than-medically-advisable on my iPod.

If I’m in a bad mood, I don’t have to say “I’m so sorry, I’m in a bad mood” before being forced to have a Dawson’s Creek style ‘heart-to-heart’ concerning the possible genesis of my bad mood, resulting in me chucking his collectors-edition miniature replica Aston Martin DB5 at the wall in violent disgust when he suggests it might be PMT (even though it definitely is PMT). I just take to my bed, redirect my anger and rant on Twitter about David Cameron’s stupid face (or, if I’m in a more intellectual grump, David Cameron’s stupid policies). A bed I will later sleep in with my head in the dip between the pillows and my body in the shape of a starfish, just like we all did when we were children and still wish we could today.

So, you can stop pitying me, now. Especially as I’m probably having more sex than you, too.

Natasha's book 'Table for One' published by Sassy Books is out later this year

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