This “All Things Single (and More)” blog is still fairly new, and so I see it as a place that, for now, is mostly read by what I think of as an inner circle of people. Of course, I don’t know everyone who is reading this, but I do recognize the names used by many of the people who post comments. Some have participated in conversations at Living Single. Sometimes I hear from readers by email as well. I hope that the readership will grow over time, but for now, I’m kind of enjoying the more personal feel of this blog.

With that in mind, I thought we might discuss the recent (and perhaps ongoing) kerfuffle over at Living Single. My post about Helen, who presumed to know what singles want ‘deep down inside,’ has sparked a bit of a flame war. Helen has weighed in (I deliberately sent her the link, so she could speak for herself if she so desired), and she is none too pleased.

What I want to ponder with you is the question of how best to point out singlism, especially when you are calling out a specific person. The question behind that question is, what are your goals? For me, they include consciousness-raising and the attitude and behavioral changes that go along with that. I’d like the people who practice singlism to recognize what they are doing (or what other people might see them as doing) and be more hesitant to continue doing it in the future. When I post, I’m writing for more people than just the one in question, so my goals transcend the particular person. I’d like others who read my posts to think more about singlism, too – to become aware of it, and less willing to accept it as legitimate.

By writing controversial posts and allowing comments, I’m also letting everyone see what can happen if you do point to, and object to, singlism. Some will appreciate it (thanks!) but others will attack, and the barbs will be personal.

I also recognize that when I am discussing individual instances, there’s always room for different judgments of what’s going on. Maybe there really was no singlism, and I was over-reacting. I especially appreciate scientific studies (well, the good ones) because they go beyond the level of the anecdote. But our everyday lives aren’t always captured by the available studies, and sometimes we want to try to make sense of what is happening anyway.

When I first started taking singlism seriously, my approach to pointing out instances was sometimes very low key. In an example from many years ago, I was sent a book proposal from a publisher. The author wanted to turn a dissertation into a book. Her advisor was a well-known scholar, at a university that produces some top-quality research in the social sciences. (The advisor’s work is not about singles; she was helping her student with her own interests.) The dissertation was dripping with singlism. Page after page was over-the-top offensive. I was so appalled. I wrote my review, then wrote to the advisor.

I told the advisor how much I appreciated her work (which is in a different area). That was totally true. Then I described, in the most understated and polite way I could muster, what I thought was wrong with her student’s work. She wrote back fairly soon, and, I thought, totally missed my point. I sent the whole thing (my review, plus my exchange with the advisor) to another singles scholar I greatly respect, and she agreed. I didn’t make my point forcefully enough, and the advisor just didn’t get it.

Of course, that’s not to say that a totally understated approach would never work. Maybe I just did not do a very good job of my version of that.

I love using humor, and I tried to do a lot of that when writing Singled Out. Unfortunately, I can’t do humor on demand. It just has to come to me, and it doesn’t always. I also like using analogies and hypotheticals – as in, what if the tables were turned? – as I did in the opening pages of Singled Out. In theory, thought experiments can seem less personal, but even then, people sometimes object if your thought experiments take them into the arenas of prejudice and stereotyping and discrimination.

Helen and a few people posting under Anonymous wrote some very angry, hostile, and (I think) defensive comments. That’s understandable as an initial reaction. My hope is that after they have had their say and some time has passed, they will appreciate some of the points that I and others were trying to make. Perhaps in the future they will be less quick to presume that singles, deep down inside, really want a romantic partner. If so, that’s a good thing (though it probably would be even better if they could get to that without feeling angered first). But if they never do get past the nasty reaction, then I’ve failed.

I don’t like all the stuff that gets hurled at me (accusations that I’m bitter, etc.), but I do find those responses informative. The topic is striking a nerve, and one way the resisters fight is to go for the stereotypes. Another way they are perhaps trying to silence all of us is to say that we are acting like victims and we should just shut up already.

I realize, too, that even when the big isms (such as sexism) have been a topic of public discussion for decades, some of the nastiness still remains. (I’m in California, and some of the scurrilous taunts aimed at serious, accomplished women such as Senator Barbara Boxer are just horrifying. It is not specific to any one party, either.)

Personally, as I read other people’s comments in response to insults, I find that I do not have just one favorite style. Some people are amazingly calm and reasoned despite being personally attacked; there’s something admirable about that. But I also smile at some of the witty and impassioned come-backs. Maybe there’s no one right answer.

When posts generate the kinds of detailed and emotional exchanges like the one about Helen, does that mean that more people are reading the post, and thinking about the issues more deeply, than if I never addressed the Helen issue or addressed it in a gentler way? Or is the end result just a lot of recriminations, with little enlightenment along the way?