D. Dowd Muska


A Feminist Ideologue’s Very, Very Bad Book

April 07, 2016

We’re living in Rebecca Traister’s world, and she’s loving it.

The author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Simon & Schuster; 339 pages; $27.00) is delighted that “in 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent.” Unwedded females are “upending everything; their growing presence has an impact on how economic, political, and sexual power is distributed between the genders.”

Marketed as a data-rich, insightful analysis of a sweeping, if little-discussed, phenomenon, Traister’s wretched book is actually warmed-over feminist whining (“many workplaces don’t have rooms where new mothers can breastfeed when they come back to work”), with a mélange of banalities that editors mistook for profundities (“it’s an error to assume all marriages are good marriages”) and a sprinkling of TMI (“for large portions of my twenties, I was having exactly no sex”).

All the Single Ladies is suffused with blunders, but perhaps its biggest is the cohort of subjects the author profiles. Traister claims to have conducted “interviews with close to one hundred women around the country.” A decent sample, right? Not exactly. The mademoiselles are overwhelmingly college-educated, “progressive,” and live in cities -- wouldn’t you know, just like Rebecca Traister! Kristina, “a lawyer and archeologist,” decided that she “hadn’t had enough sex” in her twenties, so she devoted her early thirties to “orgies, multiple partners, threesomes, women, men.” Alison, a native Vermonter who “moved to New York City to work in reproductive health activism,” goes “to bed at night with A Clinician’s Guide to Medical and Surgical Abortion.” (And “loves it.”) Frances, born in Queens, “was, for a long time, in charge of Catholics for a Free Choice.” She “began her adult life as a sexually exuberant single woman,” and “has never married and never wanted to.”

However unrepresentative, the interviewees do serve as useful tools to bolster Traister’s real purpose in penning All the Single Ladies. Sneeringly disdainful of the gender and child-rearing paradigms that served humanity fairly well over the past few millennia, the author sees the development of “increasingly diverse models for family structure” as a nearly exceptionless benefit. After all, traditional marriage “has been one of the best ways for men to assert, reproduce, and pass on their power, to retain their control.”

No one outside the offices of Salon and EMILY’s List takes such twaddle seriously. Yet readers should gird themselves for more. After World War II, the “consumerist cycle both depended on and strengthened capitalism, and thus worked to allay other postwar anxieties about nuclear attack and Communism, both of which had become linked to fears about the power of women’s sexuality run amok.” The return to domesticity “wasn’t just about nudging women off factory floors and selling them blenders; it was also about forcing marriage back down the throats of women who had spent a century purging it as the central element of their identity.” The “transactional services” offered by urban living today permit “women to function … in a way that was once impossible, with the city serving as spouse, and sometimes, true love.”

Notably absent from Traister’s paean to the end of female “dependence” on men is the impact all the “empowerment” has on children. For example, voluminous research -- now accepted by many on the left -- shows that that the offspring of single mothers exhibit frighteningly high rates of social pathologies. But anyone who accepts the realities of rampant illegitimacy, and the welfare state that helped spawn it, must be snookered by “Moynihan-era assumptions about which Americans were having babies outside of marriage” and “the racialized Reagan-era caricaturing of so-called welfare queen black mothers.”

Some gals aren’t marriage material. The same can be said for some gents. (Take it from a man who knows.) It’s good that we finally live in a culture that recognizes that matrimony isn’t for everyone. But that’s no reason to fall for Traister’s infantile and resentful nostrums. Sorry, Becky, but marriage is, on balance, good for health and wealth. And the institution, however imperfect, provides the best environment for raising children.

If you’re hiring someone to thoroughly investigate a significant trend in American demographics, picking a radical feminist from New York City makes about as much sense as choosing a snake-handling preacher man from an isolated Kentucky “holler.” Single women -- and their male counterparts -- are indeed changing the nation, in ways both salutary and injurious. But readers won’t learn much about why and how in All the Single Ladies.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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