What does society have against solo women? Especially aging solo women?
Yesterday I read a thoughtful piece about flying solo from one of my favorite Medium writers, Kristi Keller:
I don’t pretend to speak for Kristi or her mother in this piece, just what her article and story brought up for this writer. And, where those questions took me, this cool sunny Thanksgiving morning in Oregon.
Kristi and I are both grounded from our international travels for now. Her points really hit home for me, as for a lot of folks, who are battling it out right now under Covid. But that’s hardly the only issue. As a 67–year-old single woman, for me, the points she makes about the cost of single living really exemplify how much our society punishes us- most especially women, aging women, and far worse, aging women of color- for daring to do it alone.
It wasn’t just that her points resonated. As so often happens with a writer’s thoughtful piece, Kristi sent me on a longer journey. You’re invited along.
A number of years ago I installed one of my closest friends in my home in Denver. Rents were skyrocketing, still are, and she had just been informed that hers was taking a leap she couldn’t afford. I invited her to move in. She did, along with Zelda the cat. There followed two years of some of the most lovely cohabitation bliss anyone could ask for. Truth, if my buddy Sonja had never moved out, chances are I wouldn’t have sold and ended up in Eugene.
I miss her very much. I’ve never ever been so at ease with anyone in my personal space, and it was mutual.
But she did move out, to live with her now-husband. Sonja has a high need to feel protected, and she does, for which I am immensely pleased. Not long afterward I found myself in financial straits. Put out ads for a roommate. Not long after that I moved another woman in, along with her two incontinent dogs, and all hell broke loose.
It wasn’t just the dogs, who shat and pissed all over the house, who tore up my beloved garden. My roommate had terrible mental issues, working all day with psychotic and suicidal teens. So much so that she accused me of being a “rich bitch” who brought in roommates to steal from them. This was after I’d bought her towels, dishes and a great many other things to help her out, despite being overloaded with debit and terrified of bankruptcy.
She finally moved out on her own. She left me with more than $2000 in cleaning bills, and threatened to take me to court for keeping her deposit. A deposit which barely put a dent in the cleaning costs.
So despite the costs, the challenges and the inevitable loneliness, I chose to continue to live alone. As Kristi points out with her typical clarity:
Being single and living alone isn’t some statement of liberation, it’s more like hell in terms of what it takes to get ahead in life. We can live alone all we want but it leaves us paying full price for the same things couples get to split. And it’s hard.
Christ, I get it. I’ve never had kids (dogs, which are easier). I’ve not had a hubby to help pay for shit. I have had men for whom I have had to provide the majority of the financial support, and that with jobs that paid me less, as women invariably get stuck with. Lower pay, more responsibility, and by the way, mind getting the shit stains outta my shorts?
No. Thank. You.
The travel industry duns those of us who prefer our privacy. The single supplement(male or female in this case):
The single supplement is a travel industry premium charged to solo travelers when they take a room alone. The amount…
…can be ridiculously expensive. Kristi, being a travel expert, can speak to this far more eloquently than I can, albeit I’ve paid my fair share of those supplements over the years. Likely will again, too. For those of us who are aging, who have hygienic considerations (yeah, the teeth come out at night) that we don’t wish to share with others, that we snore or whatever it is what we like to keep to ourselves, it makes sense. But we get busted for that desire.
For my part, given the nature of the travel I do, I make my own arrangements where possible. For me that usually means that I schlep my own tent well away from the group. My body wakes up annoyingly chipper at 3 am, which no reasonable human being on earth would appreciate. Given that, I have to be in bed no later than 7, which no reasonable human being would appreciate unless they are similarly burdened with fucked-up circadian rhythms.
Still, given some of the company to which I’ve been exposed on some of these trips, being able to tent half a mile away is a godsend. It’s quiet, I can sleep like the dead, get up when I damned well please, pee into a bottle in the privacy of said tent and have the first, perfect, hottest cuppa joe of the day. Cuz I’m the one who starts the fire for everyone else.
Society busts us too, as Kristi’s story makes clear. The increasingly ridiculous cost of housing, the burden of all the care of said house or condo or whatever, the effort it takes to do the maintenance. I just bought into that big time. My home on the side of a hill here in Eugene is bigger, more complex, the gardens and woods surrounding the home demanding of regular attention and care.
Right now, that works for me. Twenty or thirty years from now, who knows?
Kristi’s question, however, brings up much larger issues, at least for me.
I want to take a cultural dogleg here, as someone who travels widely, and is deeply concerned about the plight of women in the world. Being single is just the beginning of a life fraught with a whole other kind of trouble for billions worldwide who didn’t sign up for this kind of pain and abuse, especially for conditions over which they had no control, such as a husband who gets sick because he refuses to keep his dick in his pants.
If you think you and I have it bad if we are divorced or widowed, try being Kenyan:
These Kenyan widows are fighting against sexual 'cleansing'
In some rural parts of Kenya, widowhood means you're of little value. Culturally, widows are considered impure, and…
Imagine, just imagine, living in a place where HIV/AIDs kills thousands. Few men live past forty, which virtually guarantees widowhood for these young women. Their “single supplement,” if you will, ranges from being forced to have sex with strangers, losing your kids, having to drink the water your dead husband’s body was washed in. I could go on.
You see my point. Being female is bad enough in the world. Being single means being singled out for special treatment as a social pariah. The men who commit the “social cleansing” — by any other word called rape- receive some $260 for the practice. For rural Kenyans, that’s one hell of an incentive.
But wait, there’s more.
Try being widowed in India:
The ongoing tragedy of India's widows - Women's Media Center
Widows in India have a pronoun problem. The estimated 40 million women widows in the country go from being called "she"…
You subject yourself to being “uglified,” if you escape the tradition of burning yourself on your husband’s funeral pyre, you might well be forced into prostitution.
From the article:
Although widows today are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre), they are still generally expected to mourn until the end of their lives. According to 2,000-year-old sacred texts by Manu, the Hindu progenitor of mankind: “A virtuous wife is one who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste and reaches heaven though she has no son.”
If I may, this is pretty widespread. Almost everywhere I’ve traveled some version of this is institutionalized.
It would be safe to posit that much, if not all, of this treatment is result of religious belief, superstition and male patriarchy (which are largely one and the same in most cases, to my mind). Stay with me here.
While Kristi and I live alone in North America, divorced or widowed women in this part of the world still pay a high price, albeit nowhere near what we might have suffered, say, were we Nigerian or Kenyan.
Lest we feel self-righteous here in the West, let’s not.
We in America have our own foul history in this regard:
Most witches are women, because witch hunts were all about persecuting the powerless
"Witch hunt" - it's a refrain used to deride everything from impeachment inquiries and sexual assault investigations to…
We haven’t come very far since. Our terrible fear of Black women, the way we stigmatize their hair, their skin color, demonize their personalities speaks volumes not only about how we still fear subjugated minorities but in particular, women. Women of color, women of color and age. We want to call them witches, evil, anything to avoid seeing them as human and deserving of our love and care as they age, after giving society their bodies, their kids and their service. Their Excellence.
Being outspoken, female and of an age strike terror into the hearts of many, usually those who hate women to begin with. Add racism to the mix, bigotry and religious righteousness, we women don’t stand a chance. Most especially if our sisters climb aboard this sewage train and punish us with impunity.
As with all things, who benefits? Follow the money. If the widow is gone, someone gets her money, clothing, kids, land, inheritance. Someone, usually a man in power. (And his wife, until, of course, she gets old.)
In many cases, a religious man in power.
Need I say more?
Is there any wonder we women fear aging? We may love the relative freedoms of singlehood. We may be willing to pay the price of our privacy. But society doesn’t like us when we go gray, develop wisdom, have an opinion. When men are paid handsomely to rape a young widow, take her land and belongings, what chance does a poor girl in the Kenyan countryside have?
In this way, perhaps, Kristi and I, women like us, are more fortunate. Maybe. I’m closer to her mother’s age at 67, and at this juncture have just enough to be able to swing my own home. Every time I research a piece like this I am reminded of how deeply fortunate I am to have a military disability. I have that. Many have nothing even close. Covid has recalculated our incomes across the board, some disastrously. Like many, my additional income tanked. And with it, many options. Like Kristi, I’d love to get a massage. Well, okay, when it’s safe. But right now, that income has to go to pay the electric bill until I can get back on my financial feet.
The gift of Kristi’s piece, however, was that it sent me on a journey to ask the larger question: why is it that women like Kristi and her mother, any of us aging women, have to ask such questions in the first place? As in, why can’t I take a break once in a while? Live in a place where I can have a dog, since I don’t (have, want, etc) a man or a partner? Or a roommate?
How did we get to a point where such questions even get posited?
Western countries also vilify women for getting older, for no longer being fertile, young and beautiful.
In a country- mine- where nothing but old ignorant white men sat in a room to determine health care for women, how do you think we’ll fare? In a country which just loaded the highest court with what I consider to be extremists, how do you think we’ll fare? We as single women by choice? We as aging women by Nature?
Don’t. Get. Me. Started.
Finally, some reading. My research just revealed this book:
Does God Hate Women?
After all the arguments for subordinating women have been shown to be self-serving lies, what are misogynists left…
From the review:
In Zamfara State in northern Nigeria, a pregnant 13-year-old girl called Bariya Ibrahim received 180 lashes of the cane in 2001 after being pimped by her father. The state’s attorney general said: “It is the law of Allah, so we don’t have anything to worry about.” In Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jews have set up “modesty police” who terrorise young women who talk to men or show ordinary parts of their bodies. They break into their homes if they are seen with men; they force them to sit at the back of the bus, away from the men; and they even, in one recent instance, sprayed acid in the face of a 14-year-old girl. (author bolded)
This is the part that inspired me to buy the book:
There are people in all religions who have — through theological contortions — managed to leave behind literal readings of the text and invent a less foul God to believe in. It is not for atheists to say that one group of believers is right and the other is wrong, as we think they’re all wrong. We can note that the less literalist a believer is, the easier he is to live beside, but we will only discredit literalism and force reform if we are honest about the words of the texts, rather than trying to soft-soap believers.
By the end of this book-length blast, Benson and Stangroom have left religious hatred of women in rubble. Anybody not addled by superstition will have to conclude that such bigotry deserves neither respect nor deference. It does not deserve the taboos that today surround it. It deserves the opposite: contempt — and relentless, unyielding opposition. (author bolded)
You and I can have deep faith in whatever god or goddess deserves our love. However, whatever surrounds that faith is sick indeed if it is manipulated to harm women, any woman, for any reason. But hey that’s just me. For I believe in being just.
Kristi’s article is deeply personal and real, not just for me but for anyone hoping to have a halfway decent life. Her challenge sent me down a different rabbit hole, which shows just how rabid our hatred of women really is. How fueled it is by religious extremism. Extremism which is growing in noise, power and abuses. As the West worries about religious extremism “over there,” it might want to pay more attention to the rise of extremism right here, among us, right now, infiltrating courts, schools, politics.
Those who are likely to be hurt the most are women. Women of age, women of color, women of age and color.
The world’s most precious resource*, to my mind, squandered in the name of fear, hate, ignorance and outright abuse in the name of superstition. These goddesses, these extraordinary people, the repositories of cultural and tribal wisdom, all too often shunted aside if not outright abused for the crime of being widowed, single, and poor. And worst of all, old.
In the name of superstition.
Otherwise known as religion, twisted to benefit the few.
Am I grateful this day of enforced gratitude?
Yes. I am. That for now, I’m at least somewhat safe. That for now, at least I have some income. That for now, at least I have a measure of independence. For a great many of us, most particularly women, this isn’t the case.
We have work to do. My work is, in part, to raise awareness by writing about it. I hope we’re paying attention, for who we put in power (please see Supreme Court, all courts, all State houses, et. al.) will have a say in how you, your mother, our mothers, our aunts, cousins, sisters and girl children will be treated in a world increasingly gripped by superstition, hate and ignorance.
To love our aging women is to love ourselves. The Goddess within. To love, protect, feed and care for our women is to love all humanity, and the Earth which supports us. No faith can claim the corner on righteousness that justifies anything less.
But hell. What do I know? I’m just an old woman.
My thanks to Kristi for the inspiration. I never know where something she writes is going to take me on my armchair travels.
*With all love and respect to my greying Medium male friends, you too.