No one cared about anyone’s marital status at the FYI Book Club discussion of “All the Single Ladies” by Rebecca Traister. However, many readers had a comment about the institution of marriage and the groundbreaking strides unmarried women in history have made on everyone’s behalf.
Traister’s cultural history of the single woman is a deft blend of historical analysis, intense research and interviews with a diverse group of women. Her writing style is engaging, and attendees remarked on how easy it was to absorb so much information.
Readers — women, men, married, single — gathered at the All Soul’s Universalist Unitarian Church for a conversation in partnership with the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, a multipartisan grassroots organization dedicated to supporting women’s participation in politics.
“Traister writes about women in power and how this is not the norm at all,” said the group’s president, Rebecca Richardson of Kansas City. “She shows us the women who were outliers. There’s still so much work to be done.”
Immediately readers appreciated Traister’s forthright writing style. “I was impressed with her approach from a very realistic perspective,” said Riva Capellari of Kansas City. “The way single women have changed the way society approaches personal relationships, politics, finances. The younger women are benefiting from the older women who didn’t get married. Traister showed how it has changed how we live in this world.”
Vickye Sayles of Kansas City said, “Traister knocked it out of the park. Right off the bat she has acknowledged the role of black women. She’s done her research. She’s accurate and clear. She’s riveting.”
Beverly South of Kansas City agreed. “The author presented the research in an accessible way and provided a different perspective on it for me. I went through the ’70s, during the women’s rights movement. It always seemed like a middle-class white woman cause. It was great to get the story from all different ages and colors.”
Reader Judith Reagan of Kansas City also liked the history, but something else resonated with her: “If you’re single and/or a minority, you don’t have any power because you don’t have time to have power.”
This opened up a discussion comparing the benefits and drawbacks of marriage. “Single women definitely struggle more because they don’t have someone to fall back on,” said Nancy Alpers of Kansas City, Kan. “Just having a partner can make it easier to build wealth, and building wealth means building power.”
Natalie Millard asked the group, “Are single women afforded more opportunities in the workplace because they are unmarried and childless?”
Capellari thought so. “If you’re single, you have more options. Married women with children may not have many of those same options because of family care. This makes them feel unwanted in the workforce. It may be easier in some ways to be single, but then lawmakers look at you in a certain way because you have freedom, education and a chance to climb the corporate ladder. Then the men make laws that keep us from doing just that.”
Sayles laughed and said, “I’ve been called June Cleaver with a Chris Rock attitude!”
Annalise Fonza of Lee’s Summit said, “Political activity is not just running for office. Start teaching the awareness in middle school. Break the stereotypes for children and show them what it means to be a woman who is successful and educated. If you’re not willing to be political where you are, then you can’t ask someone else to be political.”
Remona Miller of Kansas City said political women need to be unafraid of their own pasts: “If you run for office, your past experiences could come up — divorces or abortions. You have to be willing to stand behind your choices. A voter may not agree with your choice, and sometimes this hinders women from standing up and running for office. They are afraid of what’s in their past. But this doesn’t mean you can’t be a great leader.”
Some of the readers say being single is no longer an embarrassment.
“It’s not really a topic anymore,” said Laura Lovinger of Kansas City. “It’s not weird to be 30 and single. Places in this book didn’t resonate with me, because I’m not coming from the background of not being married. It’s more the norm to not be married.”
“Our ability not to feel the pressure to get married helps,” said Jacey Barnes of Kansas City. “No matter how much you may hear the ‘why aren’t you married?’ remarks. I still hear it, after I’ve been divorced. But now I’m in my mid-30s. I have a house, a new job. I’m great. But that viewpoint comes with age.”
Many readers felt life would be just fine if they didn’t get married.
Amy Kuhnlein of Kansas City found the book empowering and inspiring: “I took away this validation that I’ve got it going on. The choices I’ve made up to this point are just fine. Being single is not a death sentence.”
Miller finds inspiration in the unmarried people she knows who are older than she is: “It’s definitely easier now to be single, and your mindset starts to change as you age. If I get married, fine, but it not, I got this.”
An entire room of women and men, married and single, nodded in agreement.
Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Kansas City Public Library’s director of reader’s services.
Join the club
The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a book-of-the-moment selection every few weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look in FYI on Aug. 5 for the introduction to the next selection, “The Leavers” by Lisa Ko.