The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published an article titled “Single Stigma.” This article explored the pressure women in politics face to be married, preferably with children. Americans seem to subconsciously cringe when they think of Harriet Miers or former Attorney General Janet Reno entering an empty apartment after work with a bulging briefcase in hand.

While this societal nosiness may be most prominent for single, female political figures, it can be extended to a judgmental attitude about the way in which all women lead their romantic lives, both in and out of wedlock. Criticisms arise when a woman is either married too early, too late or to the wrong person. Also, raising children undoubtedly comes under scrutiny when family and friends of the mother instinctively feel the need to educate her in this process.

A mechanism that has long perpetuated an exposure of marital status has been to use the titles of “Mrs.” and “Miss.” Our reluctance to use the title of “Ms.” prolongs an acceptance of making such information public. Many people actually feel that a woman’s preferred use of “Ms.” is actually an indication that she is single or divorced. Perhaps a nondescript title is disconcerting to us on some level because it doesn’t satisfy our need to know.

However, the American public does accept such discretion when addressing men.

Men also tend to experience a drastically different, hands-off approach from society when regarding marital expectations. For a man to stay single into his 40s is generally considered nothing more than a “prolonged bachelorhood.”

Why then do Americans take such a personal investment in the lifestyle choices of women, when these decisions are really none of our business? Most of us can reason that the discrepancy in societal attitudes for women and men originates with traditional gender roles. Though phenomenal progress has been made, these roles still permeate our consciousness. They dictate that, as a means to ensure survival, men are inherently independent creatures. Therefore, we don’t presume to know what’s best for them.

On the other hand, women cannot seem to shake free from the standard of being defined by their marital status.

These double standards have fortunately not swayed women like Harriet Miers and Janet Reno, who have persevered in their choice of lifestyle despite public criticism. These women have made an authentic choice as to the direction of their lives, not based on expectations or traditions. All women and men should feel empowered to find true desires for their relationships, filtering out what has been imposed upon them by society.

Furthermore, as onlookers, we need to be aware of our attitudes and values of these decisions. Being aware of a prejudice is the first step towards resolving it and eventually putting an end to stigmas of all kinds.

Muniak can be reached at jmuniak@campustimes.org.



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