Liberation Does Not Equal Satisfaction and Other Revelations from the "All The Single Ladies" Panel

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 22 2011 11:26 AM

Hanna Rosin, Kate Bolick and Rebecca Traister Talk Single Ladies at Last Night's New America/Slate Panel

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Kate Bolick wrote the cover story, "All the Single Ladies," for the November issue of the Atlantic

Last night, DoubleX and the New America Foundation co-hosted a panel featuring our own founder Hanna Rosin, Kate Bolick, the author of the recent blockbuster Atlantic cover story "All the Single Ladies," and Rebecca Traister, who is working on a book about single women for Putnam. The subject at hand was the shifting cultural landscape for single women in America (which is also the subject of Hanna's forthcoming book, based on her Atlantic cover story from last year, "The End of Men"). They spoke to a packed crowd of mostly women in their 20s and 30s (and a few brave, curious dudes).

All three women agreed that the economic picture for the next generation of women is pretty clear: They're dominating. The stand-out statistic expressed at the event was that childless women under 30 are out-earning men for the first time in history. What's less clear—and what the bulk of the discussion was about—is how men and women are reacting to women's new financial power in their personal lives. Kate pointed out that relationship expectations and dynamics are based on outdated scripts. We're currently in a cultural and social muddle because the new scripts are still in development. Hanna and Rebecca explored the changing domestic roles in marriages. Even in superficially egalitarian marriages, some working women resist giving up their gender-specific duties. "Being a 'good mother' is a way women have been valued," Traister pointed out, and so it can be difficult for women to cede childcare.

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Another topic Kate, Hanna, and Rebecca discussed was the lack of sexual confidence many young women seem to have, even as their economic power is at an all-time high. In talking to twentysomethings, Kate observed that for a lot of them, hooking up isn't about sexual pleasure, it's about conforming to cultural expectations. The three also talked about how different gender dynamics are when you compare college-educated and non-college-educated women. The long term relationships of college-educated women (whether they're cohabitation or marriage) are generally quite strong, while in non-college educated households, serial cohabitation is the norm, and instability rules.

Towards the end of the panel, Hanna brought up the issue of women and happiness. It turns out that by almost all measures, women are less happy than they were in the 70s, when they had far less power. To which Rebecca responded, liberation doesn't necessarily equal satisfaction.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.