Stuart Schneiderman at "Had Enough Therapy?" writes about the latest affront
among indignant feminists:
A woman wrote to Carolyn Hax at the Washington Post with this problem:
I was at a wedding recently where family members kept coming up to me and asking me why I wasn’t married and if I had a boyfriend. I’m a 34-year-old single woman and these relatives hadn’t seen me in a few years. I was really uncomfortable with the incessant questioning.
What is a good response when people ask intrusive questions regarding your relationship status? I am really still angry at how rude and insensitive the relatives were and I don’t really plan to go to another family wedding because of this. Am I being too sensitive/overreacting? I see no excuse — I have never gone up to a married couple and asked them why they didn’t have children or something similar, so I don’t see how this behavior is excusable and why I should have to put up with it.
Here, a number of this woman’s relations, people she never sees outside of weddings, ask her why she is attending the event unaccompanied.
The woman in question believes that the questions are intrusive. She is so angry and offended that she plans to boycott all future family weddings.
As the doctor points out, the "Am I overreacting?" suggestion is just a rhetorical feint, to establish the writer's bona fides as a thoughtful type who's willing to look at things from all sides and give the benefit of the doubt. It certainly doesn't extend to disturbing the satisfying halo of aggrieved resentment hovering over her head.
One hates to mention it, but these relatives—I suspect that they are female relatives—are asking these questions at a wedding. At a wedding one’s thoughts often fly ahead to the next wedding. It is not abnormal or insulting.
That was my first thought. "Spread the wealth!" Instead of demanding an explanation for her singleness, they're trying to stretch the good-luck mantle to cover her too. "One wedding leads to another" is an old saying. She's assuming that they know the truth already, when they really might not (she doesn't see them very often). They might be expecting to hear her say that she DOES have a boyfriend, and then they can happily start speculating on when the next family wedding might happen. Once all that enthusiasm has been revved up, people want to keep the party going.
Of course, instead of boycotting family events altogether, she might decide to just restrict herself to funerals. That gives rise to a different set of assumptions and trains of thought, and she might be spared her relatives' impudent wishes for her happiness.
Her relatives are not intending to pry. They are expressing concern about her singlehood and would prefer to hear some good news about her. To their minds that means hearing that she has a boyfriend, or a reasonable facsimile.
Within a certain culture a woman’s being single is a sign of independence and autonomy, something to be celebrated. Within most cultures it elicits expressions of concern.
I remember the leadup to my sister's 25th highschool class reunion. She was telling a coworker - a lady from the Philippines - that she was a bit nervous about going back and meeting all the people she'd known in high school. She was wondering how her life would compare to that of the people she'd known as a kid.
"Ah, yes," her friend sympathized. "You nervous. You no married, no children..." My sister was stunned into silence. "At least you not fat," added the lady comfortingly.