Image Caption: The image is a full-color photograph of a young woman on a cheerful yellow background. The woman, on the left, is visible from mid-torso up, and is dressed in a black, form-fitting top. She’s slim, olive-skinned, brunette, with stylish glasses, long wavy hair, and large hoop earrings. She’s smiling broadly. The bold, black text to her left reads, “This is Terri. She’s successful, happy, and at 38, just fine with never getting married. Ever.”
To ring in the New Year, Boston Magazine ran a thoughtful piece about being an adult whose main purpose in life isn’t to get hitched. I know, right? When I saw the cover of the magazine while waiting in line at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago, my first thought was, “We’ve only just discovered this?” I mean, people have not been getting married since, well, forever. More or less. But apparently, we need to keep re-discovering the fact that, as Samhita at Feministing puts it, “single women are not tragic, lonely were-witches.”
Regardless of article content, I’d like offer the image above (a web variation of the magazine cover) for analysis as part of the Let’s Talk Images series. Because after thinking to myself, “We’ve only just discovered this?” my second thought was, “Apparently we’re still waiting for the day when an article about not marrying isn’t illustrated by a woman.” Because of course, when we — as a culture — think “single people” we’re really thinking “single women.” Men, like women, often live into adulthood without marrying, or without a primary sexual relationship. Yet they are rarely the cause for concern single women are.
As Hanna pointed out, “never getting married” is not the same as “being single” or “not being in a relationship.” So it’s unclear from the text in the image whether the woman depicted is just unmarried or actually unattached to other person(s). However, it’s clear from the punctuation in the text (“NEVER GETTING MARRIED. EVER.” That the married/not-married dichotomy is the key one here.
I do think it’s a positive sign that the woman in the image looks confident and happy, and that the text reinforces the fact that “successful” people can also be unmarried. I’d argue, however, that this type of imagery reinforces on some level that it’s okay to be marked as weird in some way (in this case, unmarried) as long as you’re not too weird. Non-conformity in small doses is much less scary than non-conformity in multiple ways. The young woman depicted is youthful looking, conventionally beautiful, slim, feminine. Although it is legal to get married to someone of the same sex if you’re in Massachusetts, somehow I don’t think this article is about lesbians who’ve decided not to get hitched. The text also tells us that Terri is “successful,” presumably in terms of her career. On the one hand, it’s women like Terri who are assumed to a) be panting for marriage, and b) a “good catch,” so probably more likely to be constantly questioned about whom they’re dating, etc. Women who are seen as undesirable in one way or another are likely questioned less about their marital status, since people expect them to be losers when it comes to marriage.
I could be completely off on this, since I somehow escaped those questions from friends and relations alike, despite the fact I was single and not dating into my late twenties. If y’all have a story to tell about being harassed as a single person, do share in comments!
Join the conversation Harpies — what else does this image tell us about perceptions of singleness and relationships in America today?