Until recently, the expectation for American women was to be married by your 30s or harden and crust into a crone shaped barnacle—but in the past couple of decades, a radical shift has occurred. More and more, women are staying single into their 30s and 40s and hanging onto more progressive politics. This change has turned single women into one of the most important voting demographics in nation.
In her upcoming book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, Rebecca Traister investigates the latest (almost accidental) wave in U.S. women’s liberation. Thanks largely to the feminist activists of previous generations, we find ourselves more sexually, politically, economically, and socially independent than ever before and—as it became clear in the 2012 reelection of President Obama, in which 23 percent of the electorate was unmarried women—our vote has become increasingly louder.
“While they are not often credited for it, single women’s changed circumstances are what’s driving a political agenda that seems to become more progressive every day,” Traister writes in her New York magazine cover story. “The practicalities of female life independent of marriage give rise to demands for pay equity, paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, lowered college costs, more affordable health care, and broadly accessible reproductive rights; many of these are issues that have, for years, been considered too risky to be central to mainstream Democratic conversation, yet they are policies today supported by both Democratic candidates for president.”
Though an extreme change, Traister argues that the increased political and social involvement of unmarried women is not intentional activism:
Today’s women are, for the most part, not abstaining from or delaying marriage to prove a point about equality. They are doing it because they have internalized assumptions that just a half-century ago would have seemed radical: that it’s okay for them not to be married; that they are whole people able to live full professional, economic, social, sexual, and parental lives on their own if they don’t happen to meet a person to whom they want to legally bind themselves. The most radical of feminist ideas—the disestablishment of marriage — has been so widely embraced as to have become habit, drained of its political intent but ever-more potent insofar as it has refashioned the course of average female life.
This may be why single women’s votes are skewing towards Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton. Though Clinton has long championed causes that are important to unmarried women (like early childhood education and healthcare reform), Sander’s aggressive progressiveness and economic stances have become increasingly more appealing.
“Single women may not be looking for a feminist hero; they may just want their affordable college, higher wages, and paid sick days,” Traister writes.
It’s here, ironically, that Clinton might be suffering from female voters’ inherent sexism:
A January poll released by National Partnership for Women & Families revealed that 68 percent of unmarried women (compared with 52 percent of all likely voters) believed an elected official who supported new paid-leave laws would be more likely to understand their needs. While Clinton and Sanders both support this legislation, and Clinton has talked about it more often, those who have voted so far have heard Bernie making more robustly progressive economic promises. And they seem to believe him more.
Or it could be because Clinton is slightly more conservative. But regardless of who gets the democratic nomination, Traister reminds us, it’s assumed that single women—regardless of race or class—will overwhelmingly vote left and not right.
“The independent woman, both high earning and low earning, looks into her future and sees decades, or even a lifetime, lived outside marriage, in which she will be responsible for both earning wages and doing her own domestic labor,” Traister writes.
This is the new social compact that she requires: stronger equal-pay protections that guarantee women’s labor will not be discounted because of leftover assumptions that they are likely to be supported by husbands; a higher federally mandated minimum wage, which would help to alleviate the burdens of poverty on America’s hardest and least-well-remunerated workers; a national health-care system that covers reproductive intervention, so that those who want to terminate pregnancies or have babies on their own or wait until they are older to do so are able to avail themselves of the best medical technologies; more affordable housing for single people, perhaps subsidized and with attendant tax breaks for single dwellers who choose to live in smaller, environmentally friendly spaces; criminal-justice reforms that address and correct the injustices of our contemporary carceral state; government-subsidized day-care programs; federally mandated paid family leave for both women and men who have new children or who need to take time off to care for ailing family members; universal paid-sick-day compensation, regardless of gender, circumstance, or profession; increases rather than continual decreases in welfare benefits; reduced college costs and quality early-education programs. Come to think of it, these policies would benefit lots of people who are not single women as well.
Read her full article here.
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Image via NBC.