This is a comeback I’ve heard many times for the six years I’ve been writing my advice column, And That’s Why You’re Single. Apparently, in order for a woman who writes about dating to be taken seriously, she needs to have a man to trot out or cite as evidence that she knows of what she speaks.
My answer to this pointed question is quite succinct. I don’t need a man in my life in order to practice common sense and critical thinking. People throw the fact that I’m single (as far as they know) in my face to try and discredit me. This one query reveals quite a bit about the person posing it. Namely, that they consider a woman’s ideas and opinions invalid unless she has a man by her side to validate them.
This question isn’t really a question. It’s an attempt to minimize my thoughts. The point of the inquiry is to shame me. Apparently, a woman who isn’t constantly looking for excuses to talk about her relationship is considered suspect.
What’s funny is that I never hear the same types of criticisms directed at single men who write about dating and sex. In fact, I think single, male relationship writers like Dave Zincenko and Michael Thomsen tend to get more of a pass from their audience. Men aren’t viewed with the same critical eye for being a certain age and still single. They’re supposed to be playing the field and exercising their options, especially if they write about sex. In a case like that, the more experiences the male author deconstructs, the better he is perceived. And not just by his male readership.
I’m not sure whether many women will agree with this, but I tend to believe that a man with an impressive roster of sexual experiences is considered more desirable. His female readers may outwardly act outraged at his admissions, but I think internally they find him more attractive than a man who admits to dating one or two women before marrying his high school sweetheart. What I really think makes the man more sought after is that, because of his “vast” list of lovers, he is seen as a challenge. Men don’t bother to slut shame him. They’re too busy trying to replicate whatever tactics this guy employs to score so easily and often. The women that these writers date don’t see him as a liability. They consider him a catch, if only because of the potential bragging rights that come with “taming” him.
Now imagine a woman using her own Black Book as a source for her writing. If she’s liberal with her sexual admissions and beliefs, many folks see her as a threat. A big portion of her female readership will see her as a traitor because they’re being encouraged to examine their own insecurities that revolve around men and sex. If she can’t manage to find anybody to settle down, she’s too picky or damaged. The insults and accusations consistently revolve around three things: her looks, her age and her relationship status. Those are considered a woman’s Achilles Heel, and men and women will do whatever they can to sever it. When Candace Bushnell’s marriage dissolved, you could almost hear people running to the Internet to mock her. “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E. L. James repeatedly had to endure comments about her weight and looks, as if she didn’t deserve to be so successful because she wasn’t a size two.
The reason for that, of course, is because most women are expected to wear the fact that they have a boyfriend as though it’s a badge of honor. The act of doing so was ingrained in us as young as our early teens. Being able to say that you had a boyfriend was considered the end all be all. We’d find ways to shoehorn mentions of him into conversations about biology lab or what we ate for dinner. Sharing that you had a boyfriend somehow elevated you over the heads of your peers. It meant that you found a boy that found you attractive.
You’d think that this sort of intra-gender competition would cease after high school. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Read the comments of any article that revolves around dating – specifically the author’s dating woes – and you’ll be treated with numerous stories that start off with, “Well, when I met my boyfriend…” A quick tour of these threads will make you feel like you’ve been transported back to your high school lunchroom. I recently got into it with a commenter over at XOJane. Rather than actually argue the valid points I raised, my opponent snarked back, “You can disagree without being mean. Just sayin’ (oh, and btw, and that’s why I’m NOT SINGLE). hugs.”
In these situations, a woman will trot out her relationship (no matter how new it is) to bolster the validity of her insight. That is what truly makes behavior like this so unfortunate. For years women have struggled to be independent from men. Yet there appears to still be some underlying need to prove to other women that we have male approval. It’s as if some women believe that the ability to utter the words “my boyfriend” grants them access to some kind of higher ground.
I don’t think it’s a conscious action. I think it has been burned into our brains to think that, without a partner, we don’t deserve to have an opinion on certain matters. Mainstream media, TV and movies don’t help us break out of this thinking, either. I recently bemoaned the cancellation of my guilty pleasure TV show, “Smash,” complaining that all the lead female characters had to be attached to a man, a couple even fighting over one. Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” has to be tied to the simpering, brooding Fitz in order to make her more interesting. We’ve been conditioned to try and one-up our peers where men are concerned. There’s this subversive need to prove to other people that we are desirable. And the way many of us prove that is by trotting out our partners. Social media feeds are clogged with references to boyfriends and dates. While some of these mentions are expressions of genuine happiness, I think many others are revealed strictly for the benefit of the reading audience. “Look at meeee! Somebody thinks I’m pretty!”
Originally, my decision to keep the details of my love life out of my writing was one of self-preservation. The personal memoir writing format has birthed a popular subsection that I affectionately refer to as the Oversharing Trainwreck. There’s this misguided belief out there that a woman who writes about sex and dating has to exploit her own experiences in order to be considered “brave” or “real.” The core of any good relationship is intimacy. Taking to the web to spill my guts made it difficult for any man to trust or feel safe with me. Now I choose to keep my love life status to myself to avoid being defined by my ability to get a man.
No woman should be made to feel as though she needs to prove value or intelligence in this manner. Her work–and her life–should stand on its own, regardless of whether or not she has a man by her side. — Christan Marashio
Christan is an NYC-based writer and columnist. As a 40-something dating in Manhattan she can teach you that sometimes the love of your life is the love of your life. Read more on her blog or on Twitter at @ATWYSingle