Being the girl of your dreams: single, fabulous and loving it
Now as a single gal I’m aware of the single girl construct but it’s the commercially enterprising and idealised narrative I’m going to chinwag about. The fashionable tenet of ‘female, single and fabulous’ has become a consumer and empowerment brand that’s now cooler than ever. In fact the populist vote sees it as an independent emblem of freedom that’s signified its relevance with millions of single women.
But it was at one point a grave situation for the single woman to be. Can you imagine her as some highly subversive aberration because that’s what the vaults of gender history tell us. For over three hundred years the European and American witch hunts saw the subjugation of the single woman through a diabolical gendercide campaign that sent hundreds of thousands of single and terrified women gasping to their demise.
Single women, young and old, were tortured and executed by order of middle aged, jowly faced megalomaniacs of both church and state. Widespread moral panic saw large numbers of vulnerable women condemned for just looking sideways or just looking like a loose sect of enchantresses who supposedly donned pointy black hats with wide brims. But they were simply unmarried folk who possibly owned a cat or two, or were well practiced in midwifery or perhaps indulged in a little bit of herbal healing for the hamlet.
So as Margaret King wrote, for centuries, “while Leonardo painted, Palestrina composed, and Shakespeare wrote,” witches burned.
But from the voodoo annals of early modern times to present pop cultural life and, luckily, the presence of the single girl is still with us. Like a makeover show, she’s a transformational figure and hell hath no fury as a woman demonised in the hell fires of the Reformation for she is a world-class witch after all. She’s been waving that little vindictive wand of hers about and wound up as a post-modern symbol of influence and liberation.
Mass mainstream consumption and a re-education of what the single woman is today seem to frame her new identity. The vast appeal of Sex and the City saw it pushing the envelope of women’s modern sexual identity, squeezing every last drop of female fabulousness and autonomy and I know the theme song alone saw me sashaying with the brainwave I really could have it all.
It established varying forms of female rebellion in that it was better to be alone than in a dissatisfying or disharmonious relationship; women pursuing men in the quest for sizeable orgasms; securing financial independence; achieving career success and generally playing it up as rabid creatures of capitalist consumerism.
But as well as an insight into how women think, women loved the show while men did not. Pallid faced men were known to congregate in clichéd patriarchal domains, tagging it eloquently as ‘Sluts in Stilettos’; probably, for the same reason three hundred years ago, in that it threatened traditional morality and fixed boundaries of heterosexuality with fears of sexually charged women running free challenging all mighty male control.
And it wasn’t the only vehicle that challenged humdrum female virtues. The first social rebel of the early twentieth century, the 1920s “flapper”, flouted every sinless Victorian norm conceivable. She claimed her own sexual revolution and wasn’t called the ‘Deviant Champion of a new womanhood’ for nothing.
Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 bestseller, ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ was a how-to in having it all with love, sex, and money. As a stylistic and gossipy little primer it delivered edicts on everything a sixties gal needed to know about pursuing valid single lifestyle choices.
And being single has emerged to prove it’s more than Vogue/Givenchy ‘Sex and the City’ showiness. No longer is she the desperately unhappy woman looking for any male partner to validate her existence. Her self-belief system says she is now free to endorse her own existence and it’s this understanding that has enticed women to embrace single life because she stamps the blueprint upon her personal life and believes in it from her soul down to her stilettos and her brain down to her birkenstocks.
Sure she’s become a lucrative bonanza but the most admirable thing is the subversion of the stereotypical image – that is, the criticised spinster versus the successful woman which as a rebirth of individual expression is rewarding especially when you can call it your own.
The funny, sexy and political take has seen the rise and rise of the single girl and less of the social expectations that true maturity and responsibility can only involve connection to a man and marriage. Historical, social and cultural moments have defined her in a myriad of ways but the interest in her seems largely grounded in our desire to know who we can or should be, whilst perfecting that smoky eye look if we so choose.
So, release the shackles of single shame for she is an intimate figure of style when one truly finds her within themselves. And while spite and hatred once besieged our group in the dark passages of history you can safely be assured – go forth brave heart, for the single woman has, at last, triumphed.
© copyright Justine Hamilton