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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation Hardcover – March 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
In 1960, more than half of Americans were married to heterosexual partners before reaching the age of 30. That statistic has dramatically reversed in the years that followed, with only 20 percent reaching that same milestone in the present decade. Traister traces the roots of this phenomenon much further back, from 1960, and demonstrates how single women have typically made the decision to marry later or not marry at all when given advantages such as education and career options. The understanding of how single women affect politics and social change is startling to say the least, and young women will find clarification and confirmation in this read. Being single is not a failure, nor is it a death sentence. Media outlets and politicians are often the source of urging women toward heterosexual marriage. Even though this push is typically intended to subjugate women, the book does not condemn the institution of marriage; in fact, the author makes the opposite case. Marriage should be an informed choice, Traister argues, and it should not mean giving up on dreams or aspirations. By weaving anecdotes with detailed research (source information as well as updates on the profiled women are provided), this volume will draw in young adults and help them comprehend the quiet and steady evolution that women have been spearheading for quite some time. VERDICT A stand-out, empowering selection providing substantive research; for general readers as well as those with an interest in feminism and social justice issues.—April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL
PRAISE FOR ALL THE SINGLE LADIES
*** A Best Books of 2016 So Far select by Entertainment Weekly ***
“Fascinating, entertaining, surprising—and heartening. A brilliant book that is also warm, funny, and a pleasure to read.”
"Traister is a triple threat--essayist, journalist, and polemicist--bringing a seismic shift to light, hunting down its implications, and showing how it changes politics, and how policy needs to change to reflect it. Her book demands not just reading but discussion and debate.
—Boris Kachka, Vulture
“A singularly triumphant work of women presented in beautiful formation... Keenly mindful of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status…[Traister] is both deliberate and conversant in her language of inclusion…As impressively well researched as All the Single Ladies is...it's the personal narratives drawn from more than 100 interviews she conducted with all manner of women that make the book not just an informative read but also an entirely engaging one.”
—Los Angeles Times
“A well-researched, deeply informative examination of women’s bids for independence, spanning centuries…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…[she] brings a welcome balance of critique and personal reflection to a conversation that is often characterized more by advocacy and moral policing than honest discovery…All The Single Ladies is arriving just in time. This is an informative and thought-provoking book for anyone – not just the single ladies – who wants to gain a great understanding of this pivotal moment in the history of the United States.”
—New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“Powerful and convincing…we’re better off reading Rebecca Traister on women, politics, and America than pretty much anyone else. [Traister is] one of the nation’s smartest and most provocative feminist voices.”
—The Boston Globe
“The enormous accomplishment of Traister’s book is to show that the ranks of women electing for nontraditional lives…have also improved the lots of women who make traditional choices, blowing open the institutions of marriage and parenthood…This rich portrait of our most quietly explosive social force makes it clear that the ladies still have plenty of work to do.”
“A monumental study of the political, economic, social, and sexual consequences of the rise of unmarried women.”
“Lucid and well-researched…[Traister] vividly illustrates the collective power of single women in guiding legal, economic, and social progress and in ‘asserting themselves as citizens—full citizens—in ways that American men have for generations.’ A chapter on female friendships satisfyingly conveys the complexity of a significant, and often dismissed, relationship.”
—The New Yorker
“Personal and relatable…[Traister’s] assessment of single women’s sex lives is so balanced and ordinary-sounding that it becomes extraordinary in a world where Tinder is supposedly bringing a dating apocalypse…I’ll swipe right on that message any day.”
“Though Traister is no longer one of us, she retains her memories and her empathy, as well as her feminist commitments…Drawing on, historical and contemporary sources, as well as her own reporting, she has produced a wide-ranging, insistently optimistic analysis of the role of single women in American society.”
“I can’t begin to count the number of conversations I’ve had in my adult life about my lack of enthusiasm to marry… Thankfully, with the publication of Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, I can stop explaining and buy her book for all the busybodies in my happily unmarried life. Traister blends history, reportage and personal memoir to propose that the notion of marriage in American life has been and will be written by unmarried women.”
—The Guardian (US)
“Traister’s illuminating history of women who haven’t put a ring on it, whether by choice or by chance, is smartly placed in a larger historical context and enriched by compelling personal narratives.”
—Entertainment Weekly, Best Books of 2016 So Far select
“Traister is one of the sharpest journalists writing about feminism today, and her look into the link between eras with large numbers of unmarried women and periods of drastic social change is absolutely riveting… 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: ‘Ring on it’ or not, the paths open to women today are varied and bright.”
In this intelligent book, Traister looks at the many reasons for choosing a patch that would have been cultural and economic suicide 50 years ago. She wants single women to recognize themselves as a political force and to celebrate unmarried life for what it can be: an excellent option.”
“Wonderfully inclusive, examining single women from all walks of life—working-, middle-, and upper-class women; women of color and white women; queer and straight ones…With All the Single Ladies, [Traister] brings her trademark intelligence and wit to bear, interspersing her own experiences and observations with dozens of interviews with women all over the country, plus historical context, from so-called Boston marriages (the nineteenth-century name for women who lived together) and the Brontë sisters to Murphy Brown and Sex and the City.”
“No husband, NP…In All The Single Ladies, an exhaustive examination of independent women and how they shaped the world we live (and date) in today, Rebecca Traister explodes the centuries-old notion that mirage is compulsory to living a happy, fulfilled life and reveals the inestimable power of being blissfully unattached.”
“All The Single Ladies is essential, careful, bold, and rigorous; it’s a warning and a celebration, and I loved it.”
“[All The Single Ladies] has the potential to become a seminal text on female identity in the West…Traister expertly paints a modern portrait of American life and how we got here, with an intersectional approach that accounts for class, race, and sexual orientation. Even more impressive is how Traister pushes a feminist agenda without the book ever feeling like it has an agenda, or that it's pointing the finger at the reader to make him or her feel guilty.”
“A well-written and unabashedly feminist analysis of the history and current situation of single women in America.”
“Exploring all aspects of single life—social, economic, racial, and sexual—Traister’s comprehensive volume, sure to be vigorously discussed, is truly impressive in scope and depth while always managing to be eminently readable and thoughtful.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“[Traister is] a thoughtful journalist…This fast-paced, fascinating book will draw in fans of feminism, social sciences, and U.S. history, similar to Gail Collins’s When Everything Changed.”
“Incorporating a lively slew of perspectives of single ladies past and present, Traister conducts a nuanced investigation into the sexual, economic, and emotional lives of women in America and the opportunities available when marriage is no longer “the measure of female existence.”…Traister is funny and fair in how she deals with the prevalent stereotypes and remaining stigmas attached to being an unmarried woman in society…an invigorating study of single women in America with refreshing insight into the real life of the so-called spinster.”
“Cogent and provocative…a persuasive case for why unmarried women have grown into a potent political and social force…Readers will also appreciate Traister's willingness to recount, with candor and humor, experiences in her own life that fit into the larger national story. This is a fascinating book—and an important one.”
—Bookmark/Politics & Prose Blog
“Part social and cultural history, part anthropological and journalistic investigation, part memoir, and total investigation into the phenomenon and political power of single womanhood.”
“Timely and important…a significant addition to the literature of sociology and women’s studies…Clearly this book belongs right up there with those by Gloria Steinem, Gail Collins, and other feminist writers who shine a light on contemporary life as few others can.”
—New York Journal of Books
PRAISE FOR REBECCA TRAISTER
--The New York Times Book Review
"One of the most powerful voices in a new generation of American feminist writers."
--Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
"The most brilliant voice on feminism in this country."
--Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird
"A clear-eyed, whip-smart observer of the political scene."
--Daphne Merkin, author of The Fame Lunches
--Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air
"Clever, caustic, [and] wickedly funny."
"The heir to the tradition of Mary McCarthy and Joan Didion."
--Eric Alterman, author of The Cause
"Provocative and insightful."
--Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife
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Top Customer Reviews
Just to be clear, Traister doesn't disparage marriage. In fact, she is married with two children herself, although she was in her mid-30s before that happened. This book is about women who spend at least some portion of their adults lives unmarried. Most of the time that's due to marrying later, but there are divorced women and women who live with serious partners as well. The point is that this demographic has been growing steadily larger, and is becoming a political, social, and economic force.
The best part of this book is the history, which focuses on the late 1800s to the present. It's always refreshing when someone acknowledges that the "traditional" 1950s model of a house in the suburbs with the husband working and the wife keeping the house was a historical anomaly and only applied to a relatively small section of society. Traister recognizes that poor, minority women usually had to have jobs outside the home. Feminism has frequently celebrated white, middle-class women for doing much the same thing that these women have always had to do. Traister not only acknowledges they exist, but fits them into the broader framework of society and how demographics and history have affected them.
There is a practicality running through the book that I really appreciated. It's easy to condemn women for having children while single/poor/young, but Traister looks at the economic and social choices that lead women to it. She also looks at some of the more pragmatic downsides of being single. Who will take care of us when we're old? Who will help us haul furniture home from Ikea? What if we just get tired of both earning our own wages and keeping our own homes?
The only quibbles I have are that Traister didn't acknowledge the dark side of female friendship. The chapter about the bonds of friendship between women was positively glowing, and there are many wonderful things to be said. However, mean girls and frenemies are a widely acknowledged phenomenon among young women, and it seemed odd to only cover the positive sides of female friendships.
I would also have liked a little more depth on child-free women. It's mentioned briefly, but the emphasis is certainly on single mothers, women who have children later in life, and fertility treatments. The number of women who choose to forgo having children entirely is also growing, and should have gotten a little more coverage.
However, the book seemed to lose its focus after this point. Each chapter is based on a different aspect of the life of a single woman, but there isn't much structure beyond this. It is typical for the author to spend a paragraph or two discussing the experience of some particular woman she interviewed, then use a quote from a historian or historical figure (completely without context) in the next paragraph to imply that this situation is an old one, and then describe a somewhat relevant experience in her own life, before making some broad generalization about how this is a common phenomenon. Much of the content is interesting, but I can't help but wish she would have fleshed more of the material out instead of skimming the surface, generalizing, and moving on. It is dizzying.
Overall, I think the book is worth a read, especially for young women, on the merits of its subject matter and the breadth of the topics and events it touches upon. All the single ladies is a good launching place for learning more about feminism and the evolving roll of women in our society.