This kind of pointed analytic synthesis is Traister’s great strength, and it characterizes the best of the book’s subsequent chapters, which address different aspects of contemporary single women’s lives, from sex and money to friendship and solitude...That said, the topical chapters are not always as compelling. Paeans to female friendship, urban living, and sexual adventurousness rest a bit too heavily on single-life-loving anecdotes from urban writers and activists (a limitation Traister acknowledges), while chapters on marriage and parenting offer little we haven’t read elsewhere.
Some of what's covered in the book is already well-trod ground — financial solvency is central to independence; marriage is still considered the end goal for many; white male conservatives still think single women are ruining everything — but the exemplary framework of cultural inclusion, the personal candor and palpable desire to lift up each and every one of us, is what makes All the Single Ladies a singularly triumphant work of women presented in beautiful formation.
The elephant in the chapel is that single women don’t necessarily stay single. Their numbers have grown largely because of marrying later, not ditching the institution. In fact, the option to wait, or totally opt out, may make marriage look better than ever. Traister (a married woman) doesn’t let that ruin her argument. Even if their singledom is transient, unmarried women 'are taking up space in a world that was not built for them'–and they’re ready to rebuild it.
A mix of interviews and historical analysis, All the Single Ladies is a well-researched, deeply informative examination of women’s bids for independence, spanning centuries. The material can threaten to be overwhelming at times, but Traister provides a thoughtful culling of history to help bridge the gap between, on the one hand, glib depictions of single womanhood largely focused on sexual escapades and, on the other, grave warnings that female independence will unravel the very fabric of the country.
Despite the frustrations and inequities it describes, Traister’s book is laced with the excitement of a nation that is finally, fully waking up—undoing the shackles of oppressive customs and ushering half the population into independence on a massive scale.
It turns out the history of unmarried women in this country is a fascinating one, which Traister recounts in compulsively readable detail, combining facts with personal stories from single ladies across racial and financial spectrums. What’s left after she joyfully dismantles conservative arguments about the death of wifely servitude is hope...
Though I found no breaking news in All the Single Ladies, it’s a well-written and unabashedly feminist analysis of the history and current situation of single women in America. When we all 'put our hands up,' as Beyoncé urges, it is clear we are a force to be reckoned with.
In a book that feels nearly comprehensive, this idea is a shimmering thread left dangling: Perhaps single women, having expanded the meaning of marriage, can chip away at expectations for friendship next. This rich portrait of our most quietly explosive social force makes it clear that the ladies still have plenty of work to do.
For the most part, Traister purveys a common-sense feminism that accepts complexity and contradiction — not least when she credits single women with the creation of more egalitarian and fulfilling marriages. Once upon a time, she suggests, '(a) potential mate could more easily get away with offering only a pay check, a penis, and a pulse' — but no longer. 'By demanding more from men and from marriage,' she writes, 'it's single women who have perhaps played as large a part as anyone in saving marriage in America.' To those of us still on the outside looking in, that seems painfully ironic.
Single Ladies pushes some much-needed common sense against conservative arguments for marriage over, you know, PUBLIC POLICY. But what's also hugely important is that Traister normalizes and puts into words the vast, varied lives of unmarried women.