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Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Bachelor Girl: 100 Years of Breaking the Rules – a Social History of Living Single

Author: Betsy Israel
Originally Published: 2002
Edition Courtney Read Published: 2003
Publisher: HarperPerennia, an imprint of HarperCollins
Source: Bookmooch

The Story

From the back of the book:

Journalist Betsy Israel paints remarkably vivid portraits of single women – and how they have been perceived – throughout the decades using primary sources, including private journals, newspapers and other materials from popular media. From the nineteenth-century spinsters of New England to the Bowery girls of New York City, to the career girls of the 1950s and 1960s, single women have fought to find, and feel comfortable in, that room of their own. One need only look at Bridget Jones and the Sex and the City gang to see that single women still maintain an uneasy relationship with the rest of society – and yet radiate glamour and mystery.

Bachelor Girl shines a light on the stereotypes that have stigmatized single women and celebrates their resourceful sense of spirit, enterprise, and unlimited success in a world where it is no longer unusual or unlikely to be unwed.

The Response

What a strange coincidence that I was in the middle of reading this when there was a fairly big to-do in the blogosphere about being child-free. (Two of the ones I most enjoyed on the topic are Yes, Childfree is Normal: Why I Moved from “Can’t” to “Won’t” Today and Why I Am Awesome.)

Single life and child-free don’t always go hand-in-hand, but the response to the two of them from society is awfully similar – both groups often feel like they are being looked down upon by the rest of society because the women who choose to be (or who circumstances have made) single and child-free aren’t “doing their duty to mankind” and are “missing out on the best things in life.”

Blah and bother to both of those sentiments.

Up until almost 3 years ago, I had never been in a relationship for more than 3 months. Before I met the bf, I had been on one other date in about 10 years. I was good with that, and happy being single. I enjoy my independence and didn’t feel like my life was any less important or less fulfilling because I wasn’t in a relationship. Now that I am in one, I am still happy. I love the bf more than anything, but my happiness isn’t dependant on the fact that I am in a relationship. And I still do not feel like my single life was any less fulfilling.

I am in my 30’s, and I am child-free. I plan on staying that way. But I do have to say this – oh my goodness, I am so sick of people telling me, “you’ll change your mind in a few years.” Or, “you don’t know what you’re missing out on!” Or when they get that look in their eyes that say they feel sorry for me or that they don’t believe me. Even the bf has told me that he thinks I’m just in denial… And a lot of these responses are exactly the same I would get when I would tell people that I was happy being single.

Le sigh.

So when this book spoke about how society has reacted (and still reacts in some cases) to single women, I got that. I’ve been there. And it was so frustrating to read about how people have reacted to single women throughout the ages, as well as the opposition these single women would face trying to make their own way in the world. It was so frustrating, that I actually was tempted to put this book down and walk away from it a number of times.

I wish I could say that was the only thing that frustrated me about this book.

One of the other large frustrations was where Israel drew her information from. The back of the book mentions that she’s gotten her knowledge from “private journals, newspapers, and other materials from popular media.” Really, the majority of it is from popular media… and we all know how accurately popular media depicts real life. Erm. I was hoping for more than recaps of movies or novels.

Israel made the content accessible, easy to read and easy to comprehend… but she didn’t make it exciting. In all honesty, aside from being frustrating, it was also a little dry. I wish there had been a bit more personality included in the narration. Even with the periods where the author is talking about a real person, including interviews or excerpts from journals (or whatever), it feels flat. I found that rather disappointing as I had really been looking forward to reading this book.

The Bottom Line

While I read it at a time when it was somewhat relevant to other things that were going on, it still wasn’t quite as interesting as I had hoped it was going to be. Slightly disappointing.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 7:41 am September 26, 2012.
Category: Non-Fiction
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  • Aarti

    I completely agree. I feel like all Israel did was watch old movies and draw conclusions from those. I also feel that at the end of the book, she too became judgmental about those of us who choose to be single or childless.