February is over, and so are the endless think pieces about Valentine’s Day. I made a conscious effort to ignore nearly all of them, everything from “how to choose the best gift for your significant other” to the mandatory ode to the single life. But there was one article by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman titled “Maybe you should just be single” that caught my eye. Penny explains how being a single woman in your 20s is actually preferable to being in a relationship. I couldn’t help but sympathize with her argument that heterosexual relationships often do more harm than good for women, because men go into relationships with the expectation that they will be doted on by their partners, who are supposedly raised to do just that. Penny says that there are simply not enough good reasons for women to waste the most productive and dynamic years of their life on an investment with such low returns. Men are the primary benefactors of a relationship, she claims.
These observations made me uneasy. As an international student from Turkey, I always thought that America — or rather, “the West” as a whole — had a more “egalitarian dating culture.” So Penny’s claim that many American guys are raised with the same sense of entitlement and the absolute lack of emotional independence common in Turkish men came as a surprise.
But although I agree wholeheartedly that this is a problem, I don’t think that the solution is for women to choose to be more independent and opt for being single. While at first glance it looks like a logical way to avoid harm, it will ultimately exacerbate the fundamental issue at stake: Men do not have a good notion of what a heterosexual relationship should look like.
To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating for fewer single young women — many women remain single throughout their 20s for good reason. Moreover, we should abandon double standards that favor single men over single women — a bachelorette is just as cool as a bachelor. But that doesn’t mean singlehood is the best way of living out your 20s — it’s just one option, and for some who are craving intimacy and a stable relationship, it’s not the ideal.
Penny overlooks the fact that many women do not want the single life. While there is nothing wrong with being single, there is also nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, and the fact that current norms cannot reliably provide healthy relationships for women is seriously troubling.
Some suggest that the solution is for women to embrace more individualistic, “masculine” sexual behaviors. I disagree — why should we try to be more like men? Does that actually liberate women? I don’t think so. What liberates a woman is doing what she actually wants, not conforming to societal norms that favor men over women. We complain that society labels female leaders as “bossy,” but our response is to shape society so that it tolerates aggressive female behavior, instead of cherishing the female capacity for listening and empathy. If a woman does indeed want to engage in casual sex, not have children, dedicate herself to her career and embrace other stereotypically “male” ways of living, we should support that. But we always start with the assumption that this way of living is what all women ask for, and so we endeavor to “correct” the perception that women are more nurturing and emotional. There is nothing wrong with being nurturing or emotional — it’s only problematic when men exploit that tendency and feel entitled to things women are supposed to provide for them.
Women’s inclination to adopt certain male traits is understandable — modern society in many ways demands women be more masculine in order to be successful. But all this says is that modern society doesn’t care enough about women. The path to success shouldn’t involve making women less “feminine” — this implies, falsely, that there is something wrong with femininity. We need to push for a greater acceptance of female traits in leadership positions, rather than just emphasizing masculinity.
Furthermore, abstaining from relationships isn’t a long-term fix for male immaturity. This proposal does nothing to address the real problem — a male population that does not know how to have a healthy relationship. What we need to do instead is educate young men that there are things to which they are not entitled, and that women have their own expectations and needs.
So yes, a dedicated, loving relationship is hard work, and sometimes it’s just not worth the effort. But I don’t think it’s a lost cause. We should still try to create an egalitarian dating culture, if not for the sake of “traditional” romantic love, at least for the sake of young women (and men) who deserve healthy relationships.
Nur Eken is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at email@example.com .