Comment Writer Danielle Murinas argues that society needs to stop stereotyping and stigmatising single women
Emma Watson: “I’m Very Happy Being Single. I Call It Being Self-Partnered”. This was British Vogue’s headline following an interview with actor Emma Watson, who is best known for portraying Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise, and more recently for her advocacy for gender equality. The article discusses how Watson chooses to call herself ‘self-partnered’ rather than single, and how this relates to her character Meg in the upcoming film adaption of Little Women. But it is interesting that they choose to focus on this part of the interview, which only reflects around two minutes of half-an-hour conversation.
The interview itself is a wonderful watch, giving a glimpse into the real Emma Watson. She discusses a remarkable number of important topics: from her recent acknowledgement of needing to avoid being a ‘white feminist’, her own insecurities about playing the symbol that is Hermione Granger, and how she needed therapy over her guilt about being in the limelight. There is also a poignant discussion about transgender issues and wider activism with interviewer Paris Lees drawing on her own experiences as a fellow activist and trans-woman.
There is such a wealth of material on why Emma Watson is such an incredible role model, yet Vogue chose to focus on her declaration of being happily single. Although this can be seen as an inspiring sentiment – encouraging women to not worry about the pressure of marriage and children – it does feed into a wider issue about the stigmatisation of being single as a woman, especially when nearing thirty.
There are so many tropes about being a single woman in her late twenties, all of which present the idea that a woman’s worth is measured by her relationship status. Through doing this society is undermining females’ experiences away from their relationships; dejecting a woman’s choice to not get married or have children, in a way that is different from their male counterparts.
Here are some of the worst stereotypes of a single woman.
‘She must be desperate’. For some reason there is a common idea that a single woman must be desperate because they absolutely need to find a partner, and that this means she will throw herself at the first person that shows any interest in her. Not only is this another way of slut-shaming women, it encourages women to engage in bad relationships, simply because it is somehow better than being single.
‘Oh, she must be completely miserable’. Society believes that if a woman is single it must mean she’s unhappy because she can only gain happiness from a relationship. But this completely undermines the enjoyment you can get from friends and other life experiences. Yes, you may miss out on some things, but that does not mean you are unhappy. A wonderful group of friends can give you so much happiness, even if you are not in a relationship.
‘She’s single and unwanted’. People seem to think that if you are single, it is not out of choice, but because you have been passed over by so many different people and must have such a low self-esteem because of it. This just completely undermines women’s choice. Sometimes women choose to stay single because they need time for themselves, or just because they want to.
‘She’s too much of a career woman’. If a woman has a fulfilling career at thirty but is single it means she has spent too much time on her job rather than on finding a partner. The term ‘career woman’ has connotations of being selfish and cold-hearted, presenting the idea that it is bad for a woman to choose her job over a family. But why is it so bad for a woman that worked years for her dream job, or just any job, and paid thousands for her education to want to focus on that? It is not the same for men, who are instead encouraged to have a high-flying career and be a breadwinner to their family at home.
I am sure that if Watson were a man, we would be having a different conversation. The media is seemingly obsessed with female celebrities’ personal lives, and how they manage their career with their home life. Keira Knightley once called out a reporter for focusing on this, replying “will you be asking all the men that tonight?’. And Vogue’s headline just speaks to these wider sexual double standards.
Of course, there are pressures on men too, but they do not quite reach the level of stigmatisation that comes with all the tropes of being a single woman. Whether women define as single or ‘self-partnered’ society needs to stop obsessing and branding single women.