Live from LA! with Rebecca Traister
Published March 11, 2016.
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend. [Cheering]
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere and in Los Angeles, California.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman, and on tonight's agenda we're chatting about our favorite supreme ladies on the nation's highest court -- obviously -- a little tampon tax update that is locally relevant, and what else? Oh yeah, we have Rebecca Traister here tonight [Cheering] who is the author of All the Single Ladies, a book we love, a woman we love.
Aminatou: So, Supreme Court update, amazing things are happening right now in the Supreme Court because Texas can be awful sometimes. Abortion's on the table. So I wanted to read this quick thing from Slate that the great Dahlia Lithwick wrote, and it's kind of . . . I know a lot of you have read it because everybody has tweeted it and emailed it to us, so it's pretty great. "When the Supreme Court last heard oral arguments in a landmark abortion case was April 1992. The case was Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Sandra Day O'Connor was the lone female justice. 24 years later there are three women on the court, and if you count Justice Stephen Breyer as one of history's great feminists -- and I do -- then you can view the arguments in the landmark abortion case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt as creating a neat 4/4 split. On one side you have a group of testy male justices needling a female lawyer for Texas clinics about whether it was even appropriate for them to hear this appeal. On the other you've got four absolutely smoking hot feminists . . ."
Aminatou: "Pounding on Texas's solicitor general for passing abortion regulations that have no plausible health purpose and also seem pretty stupid. It felt as if for the first time in history the gender playing field at the high court was finally leveled and as a consequence the court's female justices were emboldened to just ignore the rules. Time limits were flouted to such a degree that Chief Justice John Roberts pretty much just gave up enforcing them. I counted two instances in which Roberts tried to get advocates to wrap up as justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- RBG -- and Sonia Sotomayor simply blew past him with more questions. There was something wonderful and symbolic about Roberts losing almost complete control over the court's indignant women who are just not inclined to play nice anymore."
Ann: Ugh. But it was so satisfying. So this is a case about whether Texas is allowed to essentially restrict abortion so much that it becomes illegal, not just try to make it illegal outright. It's sneaky and rude. And there's something so great about these women being like "No, this is sneaky and rude." Like we see what you're doing.
Aminatou: We see what you're doing and there's enough of us now that we don't give a shit about you so it's perfect.
Ann: Right. Also did you see the fanart on the steps of the Supreme Court?
Aminatou: Amazing. Amazing. All of it was great.
Ann: Notorious RBG fanart.
Aminatou: It was great. Yeah, so, you know, go feminism, go abortion. We're finally winning.
Ann: Thanks to our favorite supremes. That's it in summary. Next topic, kind of related. I don't know.
Aminatou: Very related.
Ann: Yeah, anyway, you could also call this a This Week in Menstruation because, you know, it fits. But we talked on the show about the tampon tax a while ago which is the idea that paying a tax on feminine hygiene products is gender discriminatory. There is no equivalent product that dudes need just as much that they are required to pay taxes on.
Aminatou: Yeah. They don't tax like, I don't know, men's razors more than they do ours. It's very annoying.
Ann: Whatever. Yeah, although a lot of people who argue that the tampon tax is not sexist will say "Well, you know, we tax toilet paper and everybody needs that."
Aminatou: Yeah, I'm not buying it.
Ann: [Laughs] I was like what is your reaction to that? But a California state assembly member whose district is here in southeast Los Angeles is sponsoring a bill to correct that and remove the tampon tax in California, and she had this great quote . . . [Applause] Yeah. There's a petition you can sign. We'll put it on the website. Someone was questioning her, like is this really that big of a deal? I think the total nationwide is something like 20 million dollars in taxes which . . .
Aminatou: That's a lot of money.
Ann: Right, right. The only way you don't think that's a lot of money is if you're an extremely rich person. Yeah. Anyway, but her quote was "I think a lot of women have at some point thought about it, you know?" Which made me feel kind of bad because until this became an issue on the Internet I had legit never thought about it. [Laughter] I mean I was like I'm on your side but never once did it occur to me that my carrots aren't taxed that way; my tampons shouldn't be either.
Ann: Actually that's a terrible, terrible thing. You know, food. Food. Food and other necessities aren't taxed. Yeah.
Aminatou: Information is power, Ann. I'm happy for you. Now you know.
Ann: [Laughs] Help me here. We just love that it was a local assembly member here in L.A. There's also legislation introduced in New York and a couple of other places. You can Google it. So yeah, just some tiny, newsy topics before we get to our main event.
Aminatou: We're so excited to have Rebecca on the show with us. She's one of our favorite feminists and she's also, you know, coincidentally one of our favorite writers so that works out really well. If you've never read some of her work she wrote this amazing book about the 2008 election and Hillary Clinton specifically called Big Girls Don't Cry, currently writing for New York Magazine, follow her on every platform. And she's here with us. Rebecca, come join us.
Rebecca: Hello. Hello.
Ann: We know you had a long road here. Thanks for being here.
Rebecca: Thank you. I'm really happy to be here.
Ann: Do you want me to pour you some wine? Oh, you're doing it.
Aminatou: Okay, Rebecca, we have a couple questions for you before we dive into reading some of our favorite parts.
Aminatou: You know, your definition of single doesn't necessarily mean women who don't want to marry or who will never be married. Why is that clarification so important?
Rebecca: It's important for several reasons. So this is a book, it's called All the Single Ladies. It is sort of about the rise in the numbers of single women across the United States, especially in the last 30 years, but really the story throughout history. It's true that the term single encompasses a lot. I for example an married. Not only married, I'm like boring married. I'm straight married with two kids. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn which is like the epicenter of boring married in the whole world I think. I got married at 35. And I do tell this story -- the book is not about me -- but I do tell my story about having been single for 14 years and now being married. I hope I make it clear in the book it's not about a binary situation between one kind of life which is married life and another kind of life which is married life. It's about the massive social, political, cultural, economic, sexual rupture that's happening when we remove this one model for what adult female life was supposed to look like basically for all of our history. And what it was supposed to look like started with marriage to a man. That was really how adult female life was supposed to kick off for most women in America for hundreds of years.
That marriage was supposed to be and in fact was for many women defining and for many women limiting and for many women wonderful and happy and rewarding and many of them love being married. But when you take that single model off what you get is this infinite variety of paths that women might take around love, around sex, around work, around friends, around maybe marriage, maybe not marriage, around kids. You have hetero partners and same-sex partners. You have monogamy. You have promiscuity. You have celibacy. You have periods of these things interspersed with each other in all the patterns we could imagine. It's about that variety as opposed to the single path that was prescribed for so long.
Aminatou: That's awesome. [Laughs]
Ann: We love no single path. Also I remember having a conversation with you when you were at some point in the research process for this book where, you know, you really blew my mind by saying hey, it wasn't always . . . I mean I'd read other books about how 1950s white middle class suburban America obviously was not everybody's norm, but that even at earlier points in America's history single women had been far more normalized and had far more freedom kind of resembling what we have today. And I'm curious if you can kind of give the Wikipedia single women in history.
Ann: Like, you know, an overview maybe, at least in the US.
Rebecca: If I can encapsulate 200 years of complex history? Yeah.
Ann: Just the highlights. Just a few of the highlights, yeah.
Rebecca: Right. So when I actually planned to write this book it was going to be about now and it was going to be about our generation and how we were changing the world and this was unprecedented and my publisher bought that and they were like "Yeah, unprecedented women changing the warrior. It's never happened before!" And then I started to do research and I was like oh, shit, this has totally happened before. [Laughter] Not at this magnitude. And what I discovered was really going back to America's founding, and this is where I'm going to try to go through this really in a snappy way, so in America's founding first of all there are a lot of American women who had marital liberty whatsoever. Enslaved marriages were not legally recognized. They were forced on many enslaved women and men as a way to try to get couples to stay together and not escape.
So many African-Americans -- many enslaved African-Americans -- had no marital liberty whatsoever. On the other hand marriage and early marriage was absolutely the norm for white women in the colonies, and really until the 19th century at which point so many men started heading west and so many men were killed during the Civil War. But there was really a man shortage on the east coast, and middle-class white women . . . after emancipation, as soon as there was marital liberty, black marriage rates actually skyrocketed because hey, it was legal. But for middle-class white women marriage rates plummeted and there weren't husbands to be had.
What was fascinating was that this group of middle-class white women, largely on the east coast, many of them suddenly had these lives that were not bogged down in wifely and maternal responsibility and they did what women had been trained to do which was turn their energies towards service of community. But what that became for a lot of them was service within these reform movements like abolition, suffrage, the temperance movement -- a little more questionable -- the labor movement . . .
Rebecca: The labor movement. It was young women in the mills and factories that staged some of the first walkouts that led to what became the labor movement. The settlement house movement. Settlement houses were a breeding ground for a really progressive economic policy. You also had women opening college for women and African-Americans, pushing into new professions like teaching and nursing, absolutely changing the scope of possibility for women.
And this went on really into the beginning of the 20th century sort of culminating with the passage of the 19th amendment and its ratification in 1920. And around the beginning of the 19th century you began to see a lot of forces getting kind of anxious about these women. For example, president Teddy Roosevelt who starts ranting about what he called race suicide and starts talking about how middle-class and upper-class white women aren't breeding enough and they are . . . they're dooming the white race. So you're getting some presidential pressure. You're getting the medical establishment suddenly diagnosing singledom and frigidity in women as a perversion. There's kind of the invention of dating and suddenly young women are encouraged to pair off much earlier with men than they have been before, and there are all these pressures coming from different directions. And often we hear about that mid-20th century domesticity as being the product of post-depression, post-wars. We've got to get women out of the factories and back into the houses. I actually think there were other reactions happening there too.
And so you had a lot of those middle-class white women after World War II hustled into these new suburban developments that the government was underwriting, a lot of white men going to college on the G.I. bill. At the same time you had black families cut off from that kind of domesticity from the very same mechanisms. Those suburbs that the government was underwriting forbid black residents, many of them. There was very little housing for black families. The highways that took the well-paid husbands from their jobs building vacuum cleaners or whatever in the middle of the cities to the suburban homes where their wives were there to do the cooking and raising their kids, those highways were cutting off black neighborhoods and black marriage rates began to dip. There simply weren't the resources to nourish those kinds of patriarchal families that white women were being encouraged to tend to.
So that is how I argue in the book in 1963 you get The Feminism Mystique which is an explosion out of those white suburbs and in 1965 you get the Moynihan Report which is the diagnosis of black poverty sort of stemming or circling around the pathologizing of families led by single women. But from that point on you get a building of the behavior of not marrying and it builds and builds through the 1990s. Middle-class women stop marrying as much, wealthy women stop marrying as much, and pretty soon you have Murphy Brown then you have . . . [Laughter] Then you have Sex and the City. And suddenly this behavior is discernable as women's liberation. And that's the brief history of single women in the United States.
Ann: Do you want to read us something from the book?
Ann: Story time?
Aminatou: Story time.
Rebecca: One of the reasons that I think I get to be here tonight is because this book contains the origin story of Amina and Ann.
Aminatou: Don't do that.
Aminatou: Don't do that.
Ann: We don't want . . .
Rebecca: They told me their stories before they even had this podcast.
Ann: It's true.
Aminatou: Separately we told you.
Ann: It was like when you separate people to see if they're lying. Like you actually interviewed us separately.
Rebecca: I did interview them separately, yes.
Ann: And then checked our stories. Yeah.
Rebecca: And so I'm going to do hopefully three brief readings about the story of Amina and Ann. In 2009 two women living in Washington, D.C. were invited to a Gossip Girl viewing party. [Laughter] Ann Friedman, then 27, arrived with a boyfriend. Aminatou Sow, then 24, was wearing a homemade Chuck and Blair shirt in reference to two of the show's new vile protagonists. They noticed each other right away.
Amina said she knew immediately that Ann, funny, tall, loquacious, was someone that she wanted in her life. Even as they left the party that first night she hoped that Ann and her then beau would be walking in her direction. They weren't. "I remember being really heartbroken," Amina said. It is weird to read your voice when you're next to me. [Laughter] I'm going to say that. I've read this passage now a couple of times at readings and it hasn't happened before that you were next to me.
But when she got home, she discovered that Ann had already friended her on Facebook and knew then that they were meant to be. In a bit of social kismet both women were invited to another event the very next day. They started hanging out all time, discovered they shared pop culture and fashion interests. Ann was a journalist, Amina a digital strategist. As a way to get to know each other they started a pop culture blog called Insta Boner. [Laughter]
Ann: I think it's still up.
Rebecca: Check it out later. That chronicled their literary, political, and stylistic obsessions. "We learned to speak the same language," said Amina. "We were instantly close," agreed Ann in a separate interview. [Laughter]
Aminatou: That's so awkward.
Rebecca: They tell the truth. Though their connection wasn't sexual, the process of falling for each other was almost romantic. With Amina, Ann said, she found "The thing I always wanted but didn't get from relationships with men, pushing me to be better without seeming like they were constantly disappointed in me." [Laughter]
Ann: We might have to leave.
Rebecca: She very quickly began to rely on Amina for emotional support, personal advice, and professional counsel. "All of the things that people say they turn to a partner for I turned to Amina for," said Ann. Among the largely unacknowledged truths of female life is that women's primary foundational, formative relationships are as likely to be with each other as with the men we are told since childhood are supposed to be the people who complete us. Female friendship has been the bedrock of women's lives for as long as there have been women. In earlier eras when there was less chance that a marriage entered early, often for practical, economic, and social reasons, would provide emotional or intellectual succor -- I hate saying that word out loud . . . [Laughter] Female friends offered intimate ballast. Now when marriages may ideally offer far more in the way of soulful satisfaction but increasingly tend to begin later in life if at all, women find themselves growing into themselves, shaping their identities, dreams, and goals, not necessarily in tandem with a man or within a traditional family structure but instead alongside other women, their friends.
Ann described her friends, Amina chief among them, as "My emotional support, my everything." And Amina said "I always tell Ann she's the single most important relationship in my life, not to put pressure on her [Laughter] but because it's true." Is this less fun than it seemed like it was going to be when you . . . [Laughs]
Aminatou: This is so painful.
Ann: I'm sweating a lot.
Rebecca: A couple of years after Ann and Amina began -- here's where we get to Call Your Girlfriend. A couple of years after Ann and Amina began to twine their lives around each other, Ann decided to leave Washington to pursue a work opportunity. The separation was devastating. Amina remembered in detail the things they did together to gear up for her best friend's departure: the packing and the de-accessioning of Ann's stuff and the goodbye partying. On the morning that Ann set off across the country, moving first to Austin, Texas and then on to Los Angeles, Amina recalled how hard she cried. "I went and got coffee at 7 in the morning and I was hysterical," she said. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done."
The sadness Amina felt when Ann left didn't dissipate quickly. She started going to therapy again since "the person I would talk to wasn't there." Feeling that her social fabric in Washington, D.C. had unraveled Amina began to make plans to leave the city. "Ann was the center," she said, "and without her there was not a lot there for me." There was little chance that Ann, who had a big job in Los Angeles and was falling in love with her new city, was going to return east.
Amina recalled a road trip they took together out west. Ann had gotten California plates and was glowing with affection for her newfound home. Amina remembered telling her "It's stupid beautiful watching how you fall in love with California. It's like watching the Grinch's heart grow." [Laughter]
Ann: I was really grumpy on the east coast.
Rebecca: And then I'm skipping a little bit. "She's the person I text all day," said Ann. "If she didn't hear from me for a day you could basically assume I was dead." When Ann spent a year as a boss she was careful never to talk to her colleagues about her romantic or her sex life, but she said "They all knew Amina was my person." "It's really important that my coworkers know Ann," said Amina. "You have to know the place that Ann occupies because people only talk about their significant others. I don't even think I say she's my best friend because it's so much more than that to me. She is the person I talk about every day. She is my person."
Aminatou: Ann, that was really intense. You know, I remember Ann and I were on a trip in New York when she told me that she was having lunch with you and you were writing this book and I was like oh, I love Rebecca Traister. She's so cool.
Aminatou: And like two days later you emailed me and I did a little dance around my computer. And I really remember talking to you about that but it was also such a specific moment in time, you know? And the book process takes forever and years later some fact checker calls you and it's like "Do you still feel this way?"
Ann: It's like if married couples had to answer to that the way we did, yeah.
Aminatou: Yeah, and the thing is Ann and I had really never talked about talking to Rebecca and so when she was reading the parts that she was fact-checking for you I got really hot and uncomfortable. I'm like I can't handle this right now.
Aminatou: But thanks for having us in your book. [Laughs]
Rebecca: Their story is . . . so I mean those were just little bits of it. Their story really is so moving and they both tell it so beautifully and with such care and wit, I think it makes the book.
Ann: So we wanted to read some parts of the book that we loved. I mean, which is slightly . . . normally when people interview an author they let the author read the book, but we were like . . .
Aminatou: Not on Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: [Laughs] It's like only now that I say this in front of you guys does it sound kind of rude that we were like "We want to read your book actually."
Rebecca: I read your voices. You can read my voice.
Ann: I guess. Yes, that's true. And so we both picked parts of it that we really loved for different reasons. There is a chapter called My Solitude, Myself, where Rebecca talks about some of the negative stereotypes about single women. Specifically that they are selfish and self-centered and the world revolves around them. Also that they are kind of immature or that if they were truly living as adults they would be looking to partner with someone or have kids or whatever. These are things that my very conservative family either explicitly or sort of implicitly has had to say about me at various points and so I devoured the section.
One of the things in it that really changed my thinking on something is there's the section here about Sex and the City, which not to harp on this too much tonight, but . . . which I've never really loved. You know, I watch it in the same way that it's sort of in the ether.
Aminatou: Did you watch it while it was on the air?
Ann: No, no, no. I watched it on a DVD box set in the house I lived in in college.
Aminatou: Okay, good.
Ann: It was like you come home drunk and it's just like sure, that episode you've seen ten times before, that's like how . . . and I don't even know how I saw it ten times. Anyway, but I hate it for the same reasons that everyone hates it. It's just like oh, rich white ladies living in a weird, rich, white Manhattan. This has no relevance to anything. So Rebecca writes in this section about selfishness "I myself judge Sex and the City for its reliance on expensive shoes and meals as symbols of female independence but we are used to the idea of expenditure on familial domestic trappings. I might have reared back from a scene of Carrie Bradshaw dropping hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes, but would I have batted an eye at Carol Brady writing out a check for drapes?" And I was like that really . . . I was like oh, yeah, maybe I need to re-think the consumerist aspects and watch more than just the GIFs of Sex and the City now.
Anyway, "But to the sort of deeper point about selfishness and the expectations on women to put other people first, when people call single women selfish for the act of tending to themselves it's important to remember that the very acknowledgment that women have selves that exist independently of others, and especially independent of husbands and children, is revolutionary. A true age of female selfishness in which women recognized and prioritized their own drives to the same degree to which they have always been trained to tend to the needs of others might in fact be an enlightened corrective to centuries of self-sacrifice." Just like yes. Put it on a placard. I will carry it. Yeah. Amina so agrees, obvi.
Ann: "The advice she gives everyone is always choose yourself first. Women are very socialized to choose other people. If you put yourself first, it's this incredible path you can forge for yourself. Amina too understood how she sounded as the words were coming out of her mouth. If you choose yourself people will say you're selfish, she said. But no. No." [Laughter] That's how you'd say it. No. "You have agency. You have dreams. It takes a lot to qualify a man as selfish." Yes. I had to read that. [Applause] I'm curious if on the sort of negative stereotypes front if you expect the sort of group of women with a prolonged single experience to only grow do you think stereotypes like this are receding or are resurging in a way that -- anyway.
Rebecca: I think both. The bigger the population of women living independent of marriage, either in advance of it or totally outside of it or rejecting it or just not doing it, the more threatening that is to all sorts of power structures. And as soon as you threaten or disrupt power structures, power gets really angry at you in one way or another. I think it's not accidental that the rise in the number of single women has been coterminous with the rise of the wedding industrial complex and the fetishization of weddings and Say Yes to the Dress and all that stuff. The kinds of messaging about immaturity and selfishness of unmarried people, their naivety, I think those are all angry backlash. And the interesting thing is so far it hasn't had any impact on the changing marriage patterns. Women are continuing to marry later and marry less, really with every passing year. And the more that they do that the more they're going to normalize this kind of new model for what female life might look like. And that over time will make . . . I mean the power of those messages maybe is receding, but the messages themselves are probably going to just continue to be amplified.
Aminatou: One of the chapters for me, or at least one of the sections of the book that was really powerful was all the parts that you write about money and the for richer or for poorer aspect of being single. That resonated a lot with me because in typical immigrant fashion I have been supporting myself for a long time and supporting members of my family. It's something that's always front of mind. Sometimes it's just like man, I wish I was coupled with someone for economic reasons which is awful to think, but you know, those hotel rooms don't pay for themselves.
Aminatou: And you have this fantastic part in here about wedding and resentment that comes up and bubbles up in that context and I really wanted to read from that. "There is one particularly ironic wrinkle in the relationship between marriage delay and wealth accrue. Elliot, the novelist in Washington, attended eight weddings the year she turned 31." Real talk. "She spent money on travel, gifts, bridesmaid dresses, showers, and bachelorette parties. 'All my disposal income was going towards other people's weddings,' she said. 'I remember saying to my friends you guys can all just buy my book when it comes out.'"
"At 40, she said, her money is now going to baby showers. As women's earnings have increased and marriage has been postponed the wedding industry has transformed nuptial celebrations into yet another luxury good that women buy for themselves. Reliant in part on late marrying, economically-established couples with disposable income, the so-called marriage industrial complex has ballooned to dimensions that might be comical were they not also so wasteful. The average wedding costs nearly $30,000 and that's just for the spouses and their families. The bane of existence for so many single women is the cash they lay out for their friends' weddings." Ugh, yes. This thing. [Applause]
"As writer Dodai Stewart told me there are resentments that crop up between friends who have been independent together about the kinds of celebrations that happen around marriage ceremonies and not around single life. Dodai recalled an instance in which she lost her patience with a friend, having made a bachelorette party trip and gone to the wedding. 'I was just done,' she said. 'Not with our friendship; just with showering her with presents. I'd much rather be spending money on myself. If these women are living in a dual-income household why am I buying them a present? What about single girl showers?'" [Applause]
When I read this out loud I was screaming in my house. This was insane. "In fact, single girl parties are not unheard of. Some high-earning, unmarried women are reclaiming their 40th birthdays, the event that is supposed to signal the symbolic ticking out of the biological clock, the turning point at which we're told that our youthful appeal begins to ebb and the symbolic entrance not into adulthood but into middle age as celebrations of the lives they have lived and the future in front of them. That is at least in part what we celebrate at weddings. Kate Bolick, author of the 2015 book Spinster, threw a lavish joint birthday party -- a 40th birthday party -- with a married best friend, an event her and her friend referred to as their plutonic lesbian birthday wedding." [Laughter]
"Bolick wrote about that book in Elle, acknowledging that for me this party was actually a little bit like a wedding. It was the first time I'd asked my family and friends to take considerable trouble to gather together on my behalf, not to mention spending their money to get there. Did I get points for sparing them the added expenditures of a bridal shower, bachelorette party, reception dinner, day-after brunch, and a gift? Plus the bonus of knowing that unlike nearly half of the weddings they go to this celebration wouldn't end in divorce?" [Laughter] "If there was one thing I could assure my guests it was that I would be around until I was dead." [Applause]
Rebecca: It was amazing because that was a thing I heard -- truly I interviewed around 100 women across the country. Different ages, different races, classes, ethnicities. And this was a thing specifically for women sort of in their . . . especially in their 30s. I heard from practically every single woman I spoke to, and actually some who were married but still had the same critiques, about the amount of money spent on stuff like bridal showers and weddings and baby showers and stuff like that which is why I wrote about it at the length I did. And here's the crap part about feeling so ambivalent about Sex and the City, which is that Sex and the City was always there first. So there actually is this whole episode on Sex and the City, as it turns out -- I didn't watch it when it was on but I have seen it since and people are constantly sending me references to it. But there's an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie Bradshaw wants to have a single woman registry like for shoes, right? You know, so this is . . . but this too is about the changed marriage pattern. It's when marriage has moved from being the starting event in adult life, when the sort of giving of gifts was about stabilizing an adult life and so many people were entering into the institution coming right out of childhood, or adolescence . . . there are different eras really.
This is tangential, but I write a little about Little House on the Prairie and Laurel Ingles in this book and I've been reading this to my five-year-old child, Little House, and there's a whole chapter as it turns out about this girl in Little House on the Prairie who's getting married at 13 on the prairie. So sometimes they really were coming right out of childhood. But where it's really about starting adult life, and the giving of gifts and everything. And I should say I have been married. I have received wedding gifts. I have given wedding gifts with great love and pleasure. But it was a different use for those gifts, and in fact one of the ironies is that now that we start life off on our own, living economically more independent lives than in previous eras, many of us actually really need those gifts on our own since we're not combining either incomes or resources in terms of we're not necessarily partnering with someone who's going to be either helping us with earning or helping us with laundry.
Ann: Also it's funny just hearing you talk about that. Like I know a lot of friends who have gotten married in sort of the later end of the average marriage range spectrum who are like "I paid out so much money. I'm having a big whatever, whatever. I'm having all the events." And it's like I don't want to tell them they're wrong because they're right. You pay out . . . it's this weird pyramid scheme that's happening or something.
Rebecca: Right, right.
Ann: But there's a part of me that's like stop the insanity, how do you . . . it perpetuates even through people who are resentful at the system for that.
Rebecca: Yeah, no, I think that there are different kinds. I've now observed myself also socially the different kinds of people who are getting married. Exactly that. It's like "No, I am going to get every dollar back. You are going to come to Tahiti with me six times." There's that. With really a spirit of revenge, which really it's kind of like hats off. But then there's also the I am not going to impose this on anybody because I have been through it. I myself feel terrible on this account because I was always the worst wedding attender and in fact my best friend from high school is here and I love her dearly and she is still one of my best friends and I did not go to her wedding because I was on vacation with my friends and I got the dates mixed up and then I couldn't change my vacation plans. She's my best friend from high school and I didn't go to her wedding. So I was always -- I never had this resentment myself in part because I was a terrible wedding attendee. I just never . . . and then when I got married, I had a wedding, like a big party. I don't want to pretend like I got married at a barbecue in a backyard. But because I'd been such a terrible wedding guest and an unreliable wedding attender and really, honestly, if I'm going to be truthful I also have not really been good at giving presents either -- I just sort of haven't done it -- and I felt tremendous guilt at asking anyone to show up for my wedding. So I sort of said "You don't have to come if you don't want to. You don't have to come if you don't want to."
Aminatou: I just instituted a policy of I don't give a gift now until I go to the wedding because I'm like if you treat me right, I treat you right. And I have found this to be very helpful. You have a full year to give people gifts after their wedding. Thank you Emily Post Institute.
Rebecca: [Laughs] I'm like ten to fifteen years behind on Emily Post rules for some of my friends.
Ann: We talked about the Anita Hill passage in your book because obviously the Clarence Thomas hearings and her role in the culture, I had never really thought about her as an iconic single woman or the ways in which her story was shaped by the fact that she was single. And so I was curious if you could talk a little bit more about Anita Hill, a single woman, and then also maybe some other sort of like stealth or iconic, forgotten single women. I don't know. That was one I thought of where I obviously know who she is but I hadn't thought of her as an icon in this specific way.
Rebecca: So Anita Hill -- I mean I'm 40 and I was in . . . so when she testified, it was 1991. I was in high school. And whether it was true at the time, and I don't exactly think it was, I know it made a huge impression on me, but I now look back at her testimony as being real flashpoint for me in terms of my development about gender, about race, about watching our representative government, about where my interests would go as an adult because of her treatment by the senate judiciary committee. And I met her -- I wanted to write about her in the book, and then I was invited, and this is important, on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC a couple years ago when I was writing this book and I was lucky enough to be invited on as a guest on the same episode that Anita Hill was there. I ran up to her and I asked if I could possibly interview her for this book. I thought she'd find it weird that I was asking her this question, can you talk about how your singlehood related to your treatment at the hands of the senate judiciary? And she said "Oh, I actually wrote about this." And I said "You did?" And she'd published an essay years before in which she had explicitly written about how her identity as a black woman who is untethered from this institution that had historically made women comprehensible had contributed to the way that people could talk about her and denigrate her and cast her as a threat. And she'd written this incredible essay and she sent me the book and she gave me an interview for the book.
I knew she was single but I hadn't thought about that as being such a powerful factor, but she had, and written about it at length. There's references to the piece throughout my book and I recommend it to people because she's a great writer and a great thinker. As far as other stealth single women, one of my favorite stories -- it's not so much stealth single women, but one of my very favorite stories in the book is about Marian Anderson, the singer. She actually . . .
Aminatou: A Marian Anderson fan in the audience. [Laughs]
Rebecca: So Marian Anderson gets a proposal from her high school boyfriend Orpheus Fisher who has a great name after high school and she turns him down because she wants to have a career as a singer and she feels that marriage is going to weigh her down and that she won't go where she wants to go. So she turns down Orpheus, and she goes on to have this remarkable, historic career and is the first black woman to sing at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and tours the world. Then when she is 46 she decides to get married to Orpheus Fisher [Laughter] who apparently has stuck around.
Ann: Long game. Real long game.
Rebecca: Real long game. So I love that story.
Aminatou: You know, Rebecca, I was re-reading the intro to your book and I was really struck by the introduction note you had in there about how you didn't really set out to write a book where only female voices were represented even though you interviewed about a hundred women around the country.
Ann: It was amazing because most of the times books are like "Sorry, didn't mean to only interview white people," but yours was like "Sorry, I didn't mean to interview only women."
Aminatou: "I'm sorry, I couldn't find the men to talk to." But when you were writing about delaying marriage as not just being good for women's independence but also for men as well, you said that they learn how to clothe and feed themselves, to clean their homes and iron their shirts and pack their own suitcases, which hats off.
Aminatou: Can you expand a little bit more about your thinking about that? Like how that process ended up. What is the place for men in All the Single Ladies?
Rebecca: Well, there are men who are described and written about and occasionally quoted in All the Single Ladies but very rarely. And it's not because I'm not interested in their stories. The story of what's happened to men and how they've reacted and how they've played a part in this massive shift in marriage patterns is totally fascinating and people should really write books about it. It's just not this one. And the reason that it's not is because the thing that I was after was the really revolutionary aspect of this, and for men this is a changed world too, but there has historically been space for men to live independently in the world. There's been a possibility for it. They could enjoy comparable sexual liberty because reproduction doesn't take place in their bodies. They may have experienced raise eyebrows and homophobia and all kinds of things for living outside of marriage but there's been space in the world for them and historically there has not been space for women and that's why this is such a massive rupture and that's why my book is about the story of women living outside of marriage.
But I do want to emphasize that I think that this story is in the big picture really excellent for everybody in part because it does enable a new set of relationships that I think are going to get us closer to more egalitarian relationships between the sexes. It is absolutely stunning that now women and men may spend a decade, two decades, their whole lives in advance of marriage and certainly outside of marriage living together in the world as peers, as colleagues, as friends, as people who have sex with each other but are not legally bound for the next 50 years, as people who have affection and respect for each other and who develop independently their economic, their professional, their personal interests, their domestic skills, who learn how to use drills and invest money. And that when and if they do partner romantically or sexually in any kind of long-term way they're going to come into that partnership on far more equal footing which I believe is good for everybody. So they are part of the story. [Applause]
Ann: You know where to find us, callyourgirlfriend.com. Twitter at @callyrgf. Where else?
Aminatou: On our email.
Aminatou: Callyrgf@gmail.com. On Facebook, Google, that address we don't really . . .
Ann: Yeah, we don't really support the Facebook page.
Aminatou: I know. Doing events has sort of forced us onto Facebook and we're not happy about it.
Ann: But yeah, anyway . . .
Aminatou: And yeah, I guess thanks for coming. We had such a good time.
Ann: Oh wait. Special sign off . . .
Rebecca: This podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.
Ann: Ugh. Okay, okay. See you on the Internet!
Aminatou: See you on the Internet!
Rebecca: See you on the Internet!