March 8, 2016

Leftovers or Delicacies? Single Women Go From Desperate to Dangerous

I do? More like, I might. Maybe. If I have time.
I do? More like, I might. Maybe. If I have time.

By Alexa Day

This past weekend, in China, the body of a 43-year-old woman was discovered in an elevator. She’d been there for a month. Maintenance folks had stopped the elevator, yelled to make sure no one was there, and left the elevator out of service for a long holiday. The BBC reports that scratches were found on the inside of the elevator car.

Sounds like a nightmare, right?

On Chinese social media, folks are coming out to blame the maintenance folks and building management for not doing more to make sure the elevator was empty before taking off. They are also blaming the woman in the elevator.

This is not so surprising, given the nature of social media.

Ms. Wu was single, and she apparently had no one to check on her whereabouts. While some are reflecting on urban isolation in China, where a person can be surrounded by others and still be more or less alone, others believe Ms. Wu was at risk because she was unmarried, one of the so-called “leftover women,” or “sheng nu.”

A single girl becomes one of the sheng nu in her late 20s.

I had two questions right away.

If a Chinese man had died after a month in an elevator, would anyone on social media even mention his marital status?

And would the American media devote any attention to the marital status of a woman who’d been trapped in an elevator for a month?

The second question was tougher for me.

Also last weekend, I ran across an interview with Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. Traister recalls that in her favorite childhood stories, the heroine’s life seemed to end when she got married. American society might still pathologize a woman’s decision to remain unmarried. At one time, she might have been decried as undesirable; today, she’s more likely to be viewed as selfish. Either way, the adult woman with no spouse is coloring outside the lines and has been for a long time.

Here and in China, however, more and more women are living the single life and loving it all to pieces.

They’re building full lives — personally and professionally — and it’ll take some pretty special guys to entice them to take that walk down the aisle.

I’m proud of my genre for keeping up. When I first started reading romance, marriage really was the end of the story — the only end of the story. Today, a romance heroine is more likely to enter the relationship of her choice, maybe a marriage and maybe not, on her own terms. These aren’t stories about women who are worried about being leftovers. These are stories about women making the choice to bring love into their already full lives.

Is the world ready?

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Alexa Day writes erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent and fictional worlds where strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and recovering attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

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  • Post authormadeline iva

    Two comments:

    There’s another ‘single lady’ controversy in China that speaks to the whole ‘leftover woman’ thing in a less tragic way: http://shanghaiist.com/2016/02/10/cny_dinner_breakup.php

    How can we to change our approach to romance in the face of saying it’s great if single women stay single? Or is this contradictory? On one hand, yeah, we’re beyond the stage where romance has to end with a marriage and/or a baby. On the other hand, we live in a society (still) where actions speak louder than words, where ‘true love’ means commitment.

    One way around this is to write erotica.

    Another way is the HEA ending — which works really well if the partners are still pretty new to each other. Charlotte Stein does a great job of this in Doubled, her menage book. She cuts things off just at the point where it seems like this is going to be serious, and doesn’t delve into the question of how these three people (one woman and twins) are going to have a HEA.

    The third way seems to mean writing love stories and not romances — like they’re together for a while, and it’s true love but they’re parted by the end — either from death or because he’s from space, etc, etc.

    But is there anything else I’m not thinking of?

    Reply to madeline iva
    • Post authorKel

      It interesting to see how people approach family-structuring. In a non-romantic sense, they’re entirely correct – socio-economic status is very important; it assumes that people from the same class background will have the same values and thus be generally life-compatible. Marriage is actually a construct to bind families together. It’s entirely reasonable for the status and needs of the families involved to be considered first.

      As far as personal fulfillment; it should be as widely varied as the people involved. Some people are happy with known outcomes, some are not. Some people want lots of attention, some people want the attention of a particular other person. Some people want adventure and excitement, some people very much do not. Some people are happy in the city, some people want to get lost in the darkness and look at the stars.

      Why would a single definition of a relationship suit all people?

    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Lol. The guy in that story dodged a bullet.

      I think the HFN ending is what keeps me in romance. Having said that, I think it’s absolutely possible and just as desirable to portray the single life as fabulous in romance. I prefer a story where the heroine is leading the sort of life she would only alter for a pretty spectacular guy — my kind of romance is the story of what happens when she meets the pretty spectacular guy. True love might mean commitment to society, but society hasn’t done enough for me to warrant that much of my deference. If my heroine has taken a step toward relationship at the close of the story, I’m going to call that mission accomplished.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorKel

    I find it horrifying that anyone was left in an elevator for a month and no one noticed. I mean, I don’t talk much to my downstairs neighbor, but I notice if her car doesn’t move on a weekday and check if she’s alright…

    On marriage: I refuse to settle. I never have, I never will. If that means I’m forever unmarried, so be it. It doesn’t mean I’m alone. In fact, I’m probably alone less than I could like…

    • Post authorAlexa Day

      What I love about that interview is the idea that we’re not really choosing from the old dichotomy of marriage vs. non-marriage. Instead, I hear this question: “Could I, right now, let a man into my life? Am I at that place?” The notion that a woman who doesn’t want kids and enjoys financial self-sufficiency has no reason to get married — except that one indispensible person — is pretty cool. I’d love to see it go more mainstream, but I’m content to pass it along to my niece by myself.

      Reply to Alexa Day

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