Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell blundered into the swamps of genderspeak this week when he said that Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano will be “perfect for that job” of Homeland Security Secretary “Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it.” The colorful PA guv was careless about the open microphone that was just inches away. Watch what he said, and how he then tried to explain it away, on this link. Bloggers immediately went into overdrive on this one.
Campbell Brown immediately called Rendell out on his sexist comments. New YorkTimes Columnist Gail Collins wrote in her usual pithy manner that: “…it’s unmarried women at the top who often wind up portrayed as vestal virgins… Instead of being celebrated for their achievements, they wind up regarded as slightly fanatic.”
Slightly fanatic? As a lifelong practitioner of the joys of single living, I have first-hand acquaintance with the deep suspicions and blatant biases that “singularity” can evoke from others — the fundamental assumptions that we singles have “no life,” the suspicion that we are somehow “unbalanced,” the open accusation that we might be, shudder, “workaholics.” I’ve heard it all. Whatever. Don’t tell them how much fun I’m having!
The very idea that we might actually love what we do and find deep pleasure in our work is called out as unhealthy. The idea that we don’t drag ourselves through life plagued by myriad conflicting commitments (that often seem to make our married friends slightly nuts, by the way) is mis-labeled as anomalous rather than the state of happy contentment that most of us singles enjoy.
I have long suspected that the name-calling is actually a form of jealousy in disguise. Single life offers great freedom. I may choose to work on a Saturday, or I may choose to drop everything, grab my camera and kayak and float down the river. Which leads to the real point: we singles have great lives and enormous freedom; we just might choose to keep the private parts very private. Especially for those of us who work in the public eye, the moments of peace and solitude are even more delicious — and sources of creative renewal.
Women alone have long had to deal with the whispers and nasty labels — generations ago it would have been “spinster” or “old maid” or “unclaimed treasure,” all labels that bespeak a defect related to being unmarried. The bias against women who are not currently married is long gone, since “single” women including those once married are actually the majority of adult women in this country. But the bias against truly single women — a very different demographic, those who never married, who have no children, who have always lived singular lives — remains, albeit more subtle until the likes of an Ed Rendell opens his mouth.
Good thing the world has some of us who not only love what we do, we also have the freedom to do it with abundance. Good thing as well that the world has others who enjoy raising families and balancing more complex lives. We’re all part of the great human ecosystem, and we all need each other. A little more appreciation, a little less derision, please, for all of our choices in life.