Friday, February 14, 2014

10 myths of being single

With today being Valentine’s Day and all that, I thought I would re-vist an issue that is relevant to today’s theme. I have been reading Singled Out by Bella DePaulo and I would recommend it to anyone just to read, even if you are married and living what society considers to be the “dream”.

I know I have written about this book before but in summary DePaula has 10 myths that haunt the single person and they are;

Myth #1The Wonder of Couples. DePaulo feels that couples are awarded celebrity status compared those who are single.  She argues that ‘even the most ordinary couples elicit gratitude for the most un extraordinary gestures when the recipients of their non-largesse are adults who are single’. Aren’t singles lucky to have couples to share life’s journey with? Aren’t singles lucky to have couples who want to spend time with poor single people?

I found DePaulo’s discussion around the change in nature of relationships between those who marry and those who don’t interesting. She cites several examples of married couples relegate their single friends to brunch with the children or casual BBQs on Sunday afternoons rather than more formal dinners with other couples and other such events because Singles are seen as ‘not worth a babysitter. You are not worth a trip from an out-of-town. You are not worth the money. You are not worth the time’.

She continues to argue that while couples with kids do have more logistical challenges than those without kids, they are more likely to overcome these obstacles when it is for a meet-up with other couples.

Myth # 2Single minded. According to this myth, singles are just interested in getting paired off.

De Paulo says ‘Depictions of being singles, interpretation of their motives and emotions, and conversations with them are driven by the assumption that for single people, the quest to become unsingle dominates their lives’. The media is especially guilty of this and often portrays them as desperately searching and/or bitter. The media choose not to portray the common reality that many single people lead rich and meaningful lives that revolve around friendships, community activities and interests as well as much, much more.

I see this often in horoscopes (not that I take them seriously) where they often seem to tell us that finding a partner is around the corner or that they are already part of our lives but haven’t considered them as a romantic partner yet.

Myth #3The Dark Aura of Singlehood. This myth perpetuates the idea that single people are miserable and that their lives are simply tragic.

De Paulo has developed an acronym – Bitter, loveless, alone, miserable, and envious of couples. She continues to questions why this sticks to only singles and with 27 million people living alone in America, why people don’t challenge the stereotype.     

This dark aura that she speaks of apparently gets put on single people in different ways.

‘Single people who are strong and unapologetic, and who show a little attitude, get pinned with the darkness that is menacing on the outside and insecure on the inside. They are called bitter, ballsy, difficult, angry and scary….Single people who show some vulnerability are deemed as fragile through and through. They are sad, hurt and deserving of pity. And lonely. Always lonely’.
To be single is never flattering even though it can be the best thing ever.

Myth #4 - It is all about you. Apparently! DePaula notes that single people are considered selfish, immature, irresponsible and insignificant, not to mention just big children whose lives are simple and straight forward.

Imagine two people, both working in jobs they don’t particularly enjoy and one is married and the other isn’t. The one who is married quits the job she hates to “find herself” while being supported financially by her husband but the other continues to slog it out in a job she hates because if she doesn’t work her bills do not get paid.

Another thing, have you noticed how much it costs to get married these days? With the dresses, venues, photographers, fancy invites and thank you cards, etc (this is all before you’ve left for your honeymoon) the cost goes into the thousands and unless it is an Indian wedding where weddings go on for days, the whole event is over in 12 hours.    

Now, who is it all about again and who is more responsible?

 Myth #5 Attention, Single Women! This myth is centred on the idea that educated and professional women over 40 are more likely to be killed by terrorists than get married.

This myth is based on the idea that women are focusing too much on their own careers and achievements outside the home which makes it harder to find a husband later on. DePaula states the common theme that ‘the more a woman succeeds in her career, the less likely that she will have a partner or baby’.

Because, according to DePaula, Success (whether it be professional or in the sporting, arts or in civil society fields) is isolating and cannot bring happiness or true fulfilment because only marriage does that.

In DePaula’s own words, ‘Take one successful professional woman, subtract work, add husband and live happily ever after’.

Myth #6  – Attention Single Men! Unlike women who are constantly reminded that their job isn’t going to love them back, men face different issues.

Single men are seem to always be referred to as party animals who don’t really look after themselves and need a wife to encourage healthy eating, driving more safely and basically not being a slob.

 DePaula cites scientific studies that marriage is better for men than for women. Better for both their physical and mental health as well as for their social and professional credibility. ‘Even the really small stuff has different meanings if it comes from the mouth of a man who is married rather than a man who is not’ says DePaula.

Myth #7 - Attention, Single Parents!  Single parents often get a lot of mud thrown at them, making them look like they are the roots of all the problems in society.

DePaula argues that there are wider problems like poverty, illiteracy, un/underemployment and not to mention the involvement of both parents that will influence a child’s future outcome.

She reminds us to let go of the fantasy that all children living in nuclear families have two equally engaged parents who lavish their love and attention on their children and to remember that children can grow up with multiple positive influences that do not necessarily have to be living in the same house.

Myth #8 – Too bad, you’re incomplete. This is my favourite as it is the myth that I find the most annoying. It really frustrates me that society assumes that because I am not married, I am not complete person or don’t have a life.

I totally agree with DePaula when she says ‘the overvaluing of couples places one meaning of the word family at the tips of our tongues, when other meanings are at least as deserving of that place of honour’ and that only married people have a true understanding of society, like their opinions are the only ones that matter.

The equation – Single = no mind, no heart, no life has to be the biggest myth of all.

 Myth #9 – Poor Soul. Central to this myth is that a single person will die alone and completely miserable as they do not have the meaningful relationships to support them in times of crisis, sickness and even the good times.

DePaula seems to argue that because single people aren’t married and have a social support system that goes with that (which she established is a socially constructed myth that this is the only relationship that offers this) they seem to be better at going out and actively maintaining relationships that offer support, friendship and help during times of crisis.  She cites a small American Study that found that ‘the women who had always been single and those who were currently married were least likely to be lonely. The formally married were the loneliest, but even they, were on the not-so-lonely end of the scale’.

What is the secret?

According to DuPaula, it is not buying into the mythology and believing that coupling up and ultimately families are the only kind of relationships that are nurturing.  They are also probably more comfortable in their own company and understand that romantic relationships are not the be all or end all of the human existence
If you haven’t read Singled Out yet, I would highly recommend it. Even if you are happily married, even if you think that marriage is the best thing even; it will give you some perspective of this age-old institution.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Facebook chief recommends us to “Lean In”

You know when a book has made an impact when it is regularly referred to in the media and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has defiantly made a splash. Lean In got people talking about the progress that women have made in society and why there is so far to go.

Coming from some who Popular Culture would describe as having “made it” she offers words of advice and encourages us to lean in and to actively take part in their career, take risks and make their dreams happen.

While Sandberg does quote research and goes in to data quite deeply to back up her arguments, I want to provide a highlight of the parts of her book that I found especially interesting rather than a synopsis.

She believes that an equal world has an equal division of women running our businesses and half of men running our homes.

One of the ideas from the book is if women are prevented from fully participating (though barriers to in society then the whole of society does not benefit from their skills and expertise and is ultimately poorer as a result.

The opening chapter of the book gives the context in which women operate, regardless of where we are in the world. A lot of things are different but the strength of the patriarchy is almost universal even though in western countries it is a lot more subtle.

She reminds us of the issues that many women face in other parts of the world and that, in many ways we are so much more privileged than Women in Sudan and Afghanistan.  Most of us are able to gain good levels of education, we are able to vote, we are not considered the property of our husbands, etc. 

While the politics of women can help women in other cultures is another discussion, this book is deliberately aimed at women in The West and especially those working in the middle and upper echelon of the knowledge economy.

What I found interesting was her study of the reality compared to the myths or narratives that are present in society.

For example, generation X and Y were raised with an increasing sense of equality with their bothers and we soon saw that girls of this generation excelled academically. But as soon as these generations left environments that Sandberg describes that encouraged behaviour including “raise-your-hand-and-speak-when-called-on”.

This is one of the challenges that act as a central theme of Sandberg’s book. She argues that ‘Career progression often depends on taking risks and advocating for oneself – traits that girls are discouraged from exhibiting’. So the skills girls were using to their advantage during secondary school works against them in the work force.

This idea of advocating for yourself, being ambitious with what you want to do with your life and not lowering expectations are key arguments of the book. Sandberg stresses that these traits are important in increasing women’s participation in business, government and civil society.       

One of Sandberg’s ideas that I found especially interesting was the “stereotype threat”. While this is not necessarily a new idea, this threat is when members of a group begin to be aware of negative stereotypes that society has placed on them. The effect is that they start to live the narrative or as Sandberg puts it ‘are more likely to perform according to the stereotype’.

So when women are told that they are less good at maths, leadership or combining a successful career with a family, they are less likely to pursue careers which require maths, apply for leadership positions or continue to pursue their careers goals while caring for a family. Why would you bother applying for a course at university that requires advanced skills in maths if you’ve always been told you’re bad at it?

I totally agree with Sandberg when she argues that we ‘need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers – or even happy professionals and competent mothers’.

Finally, I thought Sandberg’s chapter on mentoring really interesting. In a nutshell, she argues that while mentoring is the key to success, society looks at it the wrong way around.

Instead of thinking that getting a mentor will make you successful, Sandberg argues that excel, become successful and you will get a mentor that will work with you to get to the next level.   

Her argument is as follows; mentors select mentorees based on past success. They are more likely to invest in individual whose talent is obvious and has a successful track record.

It make sense that successful people further up the career chain want to invest in people that are like them rather than those who have yet to prove themselves.   

She points out that asking a business, community or political leader out of the blue rarely works but in reality such relationships happen organically benefits both parties.

This is a powerful book with much to think about. Lean In inspired me to think big and be an active participant in my dreams and goals, both professionally and personally.   It reminded me that it is up to me to make things happen and not to sit back and wait for things to happen for me. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...