Says Dowd, "Single carries a connotation of eligibility and possibility, while unmarried has that dreaded over-the-hill, out-of-luck, you-are-finished, no-chance implication. An aroma of mothballs and perpetual aunt."She points out that men can stay "single" forever - because singleness denotes a choice.
Certainly there's plenty of truth to this - and societally, we don't even hold men to a consistent linguistic standard. Whereas a woman of a certain age hauls the phantom corpse of a former marriage behind her, George Clooney's first marriage is invariably unacknowledged; he's somehow achieved the wholly inaccurate reputation of "elusive eternal bachelor."
On the face of it, the dichotomy is almost counterintuitive. "Unmarried," after all, is a statement of fact, where "single" by definition denotes a lack of "other." And di Jill Clayburgh's cotton-clad act of 1978 reclamation achieve nothing? But the point is well-taken. As is Dowd's point that in establishing Kagan as "straight," the White House has, apparently, chosen to see the alternative to homosexuality as "sad-sack manlessness." Dowd parrots the story that's inexplicably being spun: "Kagan has told a friend in the West Wing that she is not gay, just lonely." This, of course, renders "gayness" a bizarre and categorical alternative to "loneliness:" even if unpartnered, this seems to say, a lesbian is free of the pathetic connotations of the spinster - somehow you're less needy, or have so many awesome options you could hit, that, like the perpetual bachelor, you're dashing in your singleness. Even if we don't want you on the land's most exalted court.
White House officials were so eager to squash any speculation that Elena Kagan was gay that they have ended up in a pre-feminist fugue, going with sad unmarried rather than fun single, spinning that she's a spinster...You'd think that they could come up with a more inspiring narrative than old maid for a woman who may become the youngest Supreme Court justice on the bench.
Why couldn't she stop there? Surely this was enough for a column. Thesis: unmarried women are stigmatized; it's a sad comment that people would rather play into this misogynistic false dichotomy than accept the possibility of a gay justice. Prejudice meeting prejudice, stereotype against stereotype. There. Done. Perfectly respectable column. Ah, but no. No, that wouldn't be Dowd's way. No, she has to get in one of those "zingers" that has my nonagenarian grandfather cackling at her hep-cat wit.
Nope. This being a Dowd column, the piece instead had to regress to cutesy circa-'95 sitcom-level shtick. To wit:
Why is there this underlying assumption that Kagan has missed the boat? Why couldn't she be eager to come to Washington to check out the Obama-era geek-chic bachelors, maybe get set up on a date by Michelle Obama, maybe host some single ladies fiestas with Sonia Sotomayor, maybe even sign up for JDate with a new and improved job status?
Hi-larious, MoDo! Sure, maybe Kagan should hop on a camel in Balenciaga while swigging a Cosmo, while she's at it. (Or, since Sotomayor demands "fiestas," that should probably be "margaritas.") That's a better alternative. The column, by the way, is titled "All the Single Ladies," and rivals the gyrating first-graders in terms of misappropriation of that song. I'd inject a line about quiet dignity here, but at this point, well, there's really no point.
All The Single Ladies [NY Times]