I avoid saying the word “love” like a middle schooler who’s afraid to be caught using an unfamiliar vocabulary term incorrectly. As far as something meaningful goes, the word “relationship” is longer than anything I’ve ever managed to piece together.
This doesn’t seem to be the case for many of my friends though. Not that I am some university unicorn; I am by no means alone in this singles’ boat. And it seems perfectly plausible to me that, over the course of my relatively short life, I have remained single. I only started to question why this is when I realized that I am somewhat behind when it comes to dating.
I often wonder how others see me. I’ve been called pretty, and hot. I’ve also been called a bitch, and I’ve been called a slut (though not in so many words). One friend commented, “You go through guys like you go through drinks.” Upon seeing my surprise, he said that it’s “fine” because he’s the same way. That’s one impression of me, I suppose. There’s no denying that I’m flirty.
I once mentioned that I feel “backwards,” to a friend. In high school, relationships were commonplace but I wanted nothing of the sort. Now, in university, I see these same people gladly partaking in hook-up culture, with a ‘been there, done that’ attitude toward anything serious. Have I missed a step? As with sex, the thought that comes to mind is, “When it finally does happen, I’m not going to know how to do it right.”
Earlier this year a gropey young man at a club was asking me why I don’t have a boyfriend. “You’re pretty,” he said, implying that all good-looking people must have partners. He’s not the first to draw such a conclusion, and at this point the sweet coating of flattery is starting to wear thin. There was once a day when I was too wrapped up in the ludicrous idea of a person being “too attractive” to be single to really wonder about this question’s repercussions. Today however, I know that this isn’t just another backhanded compliment. What I see now is a very specific judgment, based on my relationship status. It’s made worse by the fact that the asker always points out my looks, ruling it out as a reason for my loneliness. This leaves my personality and behaviour as the culprits.
At this point it’s just easier for me to lie about my relationship status. Otherwise the dreaded question will follow: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” I may as well be asked what’s wrong with me. It’s a disguised insult, which I hope will someday cease being a part of my life. I would like to live in a society where the frequently asked question is not “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” but rather, “Why do you feel you need a boyfriend?”; where two is not always better than one; and where being single is not just okay, it’s goddamn fantastic.
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Media discussion of young women and their sex lives generally come in two flavours these days: micro and macro. Writing in the former category will usually take the form of an opinion piece or a report on the newest findings from the seemingly endless studies on relationships that magazines seem to love. In the latter category, we have shouty reactions to these pieces online (see: Jezebel).
Blogs like Jezebel and The Hairpin lead the shouting initiative, usually, with social media and the blogosphere providing the momentum to keep it going. It usually goes pretty quick (sometimes it can go longer: just look at the comment-section havoc wrought by Kate Bolick’s piece in The Atlantic two years ago, on how hard it is to be a single lady). By the time you read this article, the frenzy for the latest instance of this will already be over.
This time around, it was Emily Yoffe over at Slate who displayed a phenomenally fuzzy notion of the meaning of ‘victim-blaming’ by telling college girls that while it certainly isn’t their fault if they get sexually assaulted while drunk, it is their fault for being drunk in the first place. Yoffe’s article was published on October 15, and the ensuing media shitstorm peaked within a week or two. The internet has now moved on, but this is going to happen again soon. It always does.
Personal narrative is a powerful tool in the journalistic arsenal, perfect for bringing political issues down to a warmer, more personal level. But most of the widest-reaching media outlets don’t seem to understand how to use it. There’s a vague idea that it’s good for women’s issues (“women are emotional, right?”), and sometimes the editors will even go so far as to think maybe it’s good to have women writing about women’s issues, but the thinking seems to stop there. Writing about the college hookup scene? How about a middle-aged woman?
This isn’t to say outsiders have nothing to offer, but promoting their analysis over the firsthand accounts of people directly involved in the issue is all kinds of wrong and disrespectful. So at The Daily, if we use our space to publish an opinion about a young woman’s sex life, it’s going to be written by a young woman, as the above narrative was. And it’s going to come to a point about those old feminist chestnuts: choice and bodily agency. She wants to be single, she wants to be proud of it, and so she will be.
But we’re not done being angry yet, folks. Not by a long shot. Because contrary to those aforementioned publications’ publishing practices, personal narratives are not just for the white middle-class women whose voices are most often amplified and discussed by the internet feminism machine. They’re also for voices not so easily heard, not so well distributed – they’re not hard to find if you’re looking. The virtual world is full of blogs and online zines that consist of nothing but material from people who bring up statistics and interview subjects featured in articles written by privileged Atlantic staffers: lower-income parents detailing exactly how they use their food stamps, hijabis chronicling their bafflement at the stupid questions they have to answer from white girls.
So, yeah, we are saying there’s journalistic value in a blog. Sure, the internet’s Sturgeon’s Law-esque (that’s the “90 per cent of everything is crap” one) tendencies have given the blogosphere a bad name. But where else can you find pure, unadulterated learned experience? There are microaggressions to chronicle and evolving opinions and discussions to archive. It’s fascinating, it’s important, it’s worthy of wider exposure. Why are we using our mainstream media to tell girls what to do with their bodies, when we could be using it to tell each other stories? And, you know, maybe learn something new.