You've all heard the jokes. About single women crying alone on Valentine's day, crying at weddings, crying when they see other couples, or babies, or films where the girl gets the guy. According to these jokes single women are semi-constantly crying and barely trying to their jealousy. Then there's the punchlines that we all have pet cats and are obsessed with finding a man (and its always a heteronormative assumption). These insidious ideas are everywhere: in films, TV, and books; in jokes, and clickbait articles, they're so common we don't notice them. The stereotype of of the desperate single girl is in fact so widely used that it doesn't even elicit a reaction.
But here's the thing, these caricatures are so obviously untrue that it's kind of hard to see where they come from. Nobody actually cries when they see a couple holding hands. And for most of the young women I know spare time in which to mourn being alone is a long forgotten dream. Balancing studying, work, sports, passions, with, you know, eating and sleeping is challenge enough before throwing potential relationships into the equation.
So if there's so little basis for these jokes then where do they come from? Well, insecurity. Sadly, even today, if we cannot place people into our world view then they make us uncomfortable. We still identify women in relation to their sexual maturity: as children, as wives, as mothers. Female sexuality is still something shameful, unless its for producing babies, so the only way sexually active women are respectable is if they are committed to a man. It's closely linked to the ostracising of women who don't want children and is, essentially, just another way of slut shaming.
Because as women who are not in relationships don't fit the paradigms of wife, mother, caregiver then we, as society, must mock them. Because thats what we do to people who don't fit in, we make them into a joke. Because thats the only way they can be understood.
It's the reason you will rarely see a woman in a film who doesn't end up in a relationship. Single women in fiction are usually single either because they are mourning a past love, or are 'the slutty one'. The idea of a woman living a full life without a partner is so alien, that for an ending to be a 'happy ending' she must be coupled off.
A change in the narrative surrounding single women is long overdue. We need to stop telling young women that having a boyfriend or husband is an aspiration. Because, whilst being in a supportive fulfilling relationship can be a wonderful thing, it is in no way the ultimate life goal. Tell girls to aspire to have careers that they love, tell them to try new things, tell them to play sport and play to win, tell them to make art, or music, or literature. If women are brought up to be good at and enjoy lots of things then they wont have time to cry on Valentines day because they're single, and whats more they won't give a crap about being single in the first place.
But most importantly we need to start pointing out the ridiculous double standards that single women are held to. We need to start calling bullshit on these lies.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today. Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a summary of who you are and what you'd like to blog about.