"Single Ladies" is hardly a feminist anthem. It equates committed relationships to marriage, asserts that marriage assumes ownership and feeds into the idea that you need to be either "single and lovin' it" or "married."
But hey, it's popular culture, so if we ignore what's problematic about the lyrics momentarily, we can thank Beyonce for giving voice to the idea that single ladies have options and men be warned: If you don't make a move, you will lose your lady.
It's true, not all single ladies (or gay men--let's be real, we know who loves this song the most) want to get married, but we can all relate to dumping someone who didn't want to commit to be single only to later find out the person you dumped is jealous of your newfound freedom. And although the song concludes with a desire for the dumped to become Prince Charming and come around (again, it's popular culture), the point stands: Choosing single life over an unfulfilling relationship is not an easy choice to make. And in my opinion, this is all the more reason to celebrate it.
Fodder for Fantasy
The very notion of the "single woman" is fodder for fantastical storytelling. The single woman is one of the most reviled yet beloved mythical characters. She is always painted with superhuman characteristics and piled with expectations she would never be able to live up to in real life. At her most idealized, she is a superwoman, doing it all on her own, balancing her career, sex life, education, employment, friendship and sometimes even motherhood, all while looking super hot and being unbelievably happy.
But when she is not the stereotypical bubblegum popular culture notion of the "single gal about town," she is at her most reviled and feared: on welfare, representative of the failure of femininity, a threat to masculinity, a threat to the family, a spinster, a cat lady, bitter, alone, jealous, never been kissed, and I could go on.
The portrayal of the "single lady" is ripe with contradiction, both in terms of how much people overemphasize how empowering it is to be single and how much our culture uses single women as examples of failed femininity and spinsterhood.
Single women interrupt the ethos of heteronormativity with a frustrating persistence because, as a whole, single women are succeeding at a faster rate than many other groups. Outside of simply creating a lot of ego hurt for modern conceptions of masculinity, the side effect of the supposed rise of the single woman is woman-hate, backlash and overstated declarations that women "have it all."
Whether we're talking about stories about divorcees who are sucking their ex-husbands dry (how can we forget Alec Baldwin's "man"ifesto that gave new language to the real victims of alimony payments--men), black welfare moms who are feeding off an overburdened system ("16 and Pregnant" did not help our cause here), or single mothers with too many children (think "Octomom"), the images in the media of single women (and especially single moms) are appalling.
Unforgiving Success Examples
And if we're searching for powerful or successful examples of single women, the images are not much more forgiving: think Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Martha Stewart and Oprah (who is in a long-term relationship but never married), all of whom are considered castrating and desexualized, and/or to be lesbians, in addition to being powerful. Femininity and power, it would seem, are mutually exclusive.
Single women's stories are often stories of success, of choice, of failure, of overconsumption, of overburdening the system and of being social pariahs. The identity of single women is always wrapped up in their marital, romantic, or parental status. Single women are anything we want them to be, but whatever they are, we are obsessed with their lives because they disrupt mainstream notions of gender, relationships and family.
Lore has it that women are fine being single and making choices for themselves, but structurally there is very little support for single women, especially single mothers. And women who do it on their own bear the financial, social and emotional cost of being single in a society unwilling to truly support their lives.
We are painted as sexy, sinful, successful and pathetic--you name it, both good and bad--but ultimately we live outside the norm and are not ultimately considered a success.
Read more at womensenews.org