Dear “Bachelors”: A Follow-Up

29 Apr

Dear “Bachelors”: A Follow-Up,

Now I’m starting to get huffy. Following this letter, a debate raged (trickled) on FB regarding the appropriate definition of the word “bachelor.” I am going to respond for a few reasons. #1 reason is that I know the definition of the damn word. #2 reason is that I was trying to be nice but it’s an old-timey word to represent an outdated concept and now that I’ve thought about it I have more to say about it. And if you want to willfully misunderstand my point about this word, then don’t continue to read, because I’m going to try to make it hard for you to do so.

Don’t give me that thing about everyone who isn’t married is a bachelor/bachelorette and that’s why we have those parties! We have those parties for a lot of reasons, but the existence of those terms is not primary among them. In reality– we have those parties, and we use those words within the context of those parties, which means those terms really only apply for the very short span of two weeks before a wedding. We also drink out of penis straws during those parties. SO THERE’S THAT PIECE OF EVIDENCE REGARDING THAT SOCIAL MOMENT.

I don’t know any women who self-identify with the word bachelorette outside of that context, and that means that there’s no gender equivalent for women, which in and of itself should tell you that “bachelor” is a gendered, sexist, and outdated term.

Yes, the technical definition is any unmarried man. However, let’s be real: we don’t consider men in serious long-term relationships to be bachelors, and we don’t consider 18 year-olds to be bachelors. And if we operate by that technical definition, then any gay man will be a bachelor for the REST OF HIS LIFE no matter how committed he is to his partner. And that’s absurd. I refuse to accept that, on both a linguistic and a cultural/legal level. (P.S. Let’s change the laws so everyone can get married if they want to!)

Language does not operate in a technical sense, it exists within context— sociocultural, political, economic, daily, living, real lives contexts. So yes, while the dictionary defines “bachelor” as any unmarried man, we do not think of all unmarried men as bachelors. The word carries with it the idea of a certain age or development in life in which a man could or should be married but is not. This is seen in the fact that the term is defined against being a married man: it’s parameters are defined by what it isn’t.

Thus, my argument about the 18-year-old…while 18 is certainly a legal age to get married, we do not expect 18-year-olds to be married, therefore they are not defined by their unmarried state and slapped with the label “bachelor”. And in this day and age, the average age for marriage is being pushed farther and farther back— and expectations for marriage in general have changed—- thus my question, at what age does one become a bachelor? (My (male) cousin claims bachelors are “creepers who are 50+ and probably airline pilots.” My guess is men over 50 and airline pilots will object to this.)

And so my larger, central claim is that there is no age at which one becomes a bachelor. There is one’s relationship status at all times, yes, sure. But I don’t self-identify by my unmarried status or claim it as some sort of glamour/sexual badge, and why should men?

And yes, these are still the connotations that bachelor carries: a swinging man, out on the prowl, free to have sex and drink and generally have a better time than those of his friends “trapped” by marriage or relationships. He has a certain economic status, a certain swagger to his step, a certain eligibility for marriage– he’s a “good catch” and yet unfettered. And he might be a sexual predator with black satin sheets. (Oh yeah, baby.) He also has an empty fridge. This is because only women grocery shop and he will only be well fed at home once he finally decides to settle down.

HOW MANY STEREOTYPES CAN WE FIT IN THAT ONE PACKAGE.

A friend in the comments of the previous post mentioned “Classically Bachelor has meant a single, well educated, decently groomed, man. A man who is unattached by choice, not by circumstance.” Ok then. Unless you’re George Clooney, my argument stands that you’re really not a bachelor, you’re just a guy with or without a relationship or a love interest or a crush or a partner.

He continues…”That’s the ‘Bachelor’ lifestyle, getting ready for the day at 7PM hung over, eating top ramen because you are to lazy to go to the store to get anything other than video games, and having a pile of clean and dirty laundry no where near where you do laundry or keep your clothes normally. Bachelorhood has somehow devolved from a post under-grad singlehood, to a slovenly debauched state filled with costco bricks of cheese and inebriated Call of Duty sessions well into the night.”

Sooooo— guys— that sounds fun…Look. I get it that calling yourself a bachelor maybe makes you feel better when you’ve just been dumped. Which maybe explains men’s reluctance to relinquish this term fully. But that alone should tell you something– when it’s a term you only whip out when you’re feeling bad about yourself, doesn’t that indicate that it’s about appearances and social myths rather than any sort of personal reality? Plus there seems to be some sort of separate attachment to “bachelor pad.” Men who won’t describe themselves as “bachelors” are totally willing to call their houses or apartments “bachelor pads” which also seems to be about appearances– the desire to feel that they’re living in a sweet space with a certain social cache rather than a farthouse of doom and mold.

I’d like to point out that when I started taking a poll of men that I know, asking if they self-identify with the word, three of them responded with a joke about having a “bachelor of arts” degree. WHICH I’VE GOT TWO OF. One said that he preferred the term “girlfriend impaired.” Another said “hecks no.” Two married friends responded with “nope.” Which is a valid poll result, in that I was taking a poll, and it was a result. Sort of the same way in which you qualify as being a bachelor by being over 18 and unmarried— and so do I. BACHELOR LADY, BABY.

MM

…Lady bachelor? I don’t know. I just don’t think I can do it. I feel a proximity STD coming on just saying the word.

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3 Responses to “Dear “Bachelors”: A Follow-Up”

  1. Brendan Cavalier 29 April 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    I’ve been described as a ‘bachelor’, and have also been told I have a ‘bachelor pad’. I certainly wouldn’t call myself or my place as such, but its been said.
    I however, do not fit the ‘I play CoD till 3AM’ bachelor mold … nor do I have any noticeable swagger, and my sheets are white. I’m probably somewhere in between.
    Though I definitely agree with you on a lot of your points, I would like to defend myself a bit.
    “I, for one love PB&Js … all the time. But when I’ve been in relationships, I tend to feel like I’ve got to go a step or two beyond that when making a meal for my significant other. Its that primal provider thing I think. Consequently, when I’m in a relationship I tend to have more options when I look in the fridge.”
    I never meant to insinuate that its a ‘woman’s job’ to buy groceries, and that without them men/I would simply starve. I did mean to say, that when I have a feminine presence in my life on a regular basis I tend to take better care of myself, which includes buying produce for myself. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
    A ‘Bachelor’, usually has one of two connotations when I hear it: Either the creepy swinger, or the slovenly frat-boy mess. Neither are enviable … and it leaves the term vague in definition, which is even worse. It doesn’t carry any real glamor for me, or most men that I know who are happily single, or happily married. It seems to be the dream state for those who are unhappy in their state in life “I need to reclaim my Bachelorhood”. Less a sexual badge, but a badge of confident masculinity. Which is odd, because I don’t believe the most confident, masculine, single men I know would initially describe themselves as bachelors; they might agree that they are bachelors if pressed but its not a term they carry with them.
    Now, the only time I thought it was cool to be a bachelor was when I watched Wayne’s World (the first one, age 10) and saw Rob Lowe’s apartment … which was a sweet space and does have a level of social cache. I think it had a pool table in it!
    Is the term being mildly misogynistic/sexist? You wont get a lot of argument from me.
    Perhaps the fact that this term is so widely used, yet has such a vaguely sexist feel to it is evidence that we are slaves to our own vocabulary. Do we need a better term for men that fall into the various categories? Probably.
    I could go on, but I think in many ways you’re preaching to the choir on this one … at least from the FB and blog comments I’ve seen.
    However, I will say this, if I was taking a survey, and someone asked me the question: Are you a Bachelor? I would answer, yes. I do fit quite nicely into the vague text book definition. On the flip side, if someone asked me to describe myself with a 100 single adjectives, titles, or descriptors, Bachelor would not be among them.
    Thanks for dealing with my horrendous grammatical errors, and talking in circles. How long do you think this can go before Godwin’s law starts taking effect?

  2. The Postman 29 April 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    “I don’t know any women who self-identify with the word bachelorette outside of that context, and that means that there’s no gender equivalent for women, which in and of itself should tell you that “bachelor” is a gendered, sexist, and outdated term.”

    Um. WHAT?! Perhaps you are more likely “willingfully misunderstanding” people’s rebuttals. When people see someone worked all up into a tizzy over a non-issue (seriously, look at all the CAPS LOCK in that post!), they’re bound to send you some grief.

    One of your two Bachelor’s degrees is clearly not in logic. The above logical fallacy from your post is worthy of Faux News, it’s sensationalist bullshit, and probably the culprit behind the ensuing “fair and balanced” debate. If you don’t like the the connotation you think Bachelorette carries (which, by the way, my informal polling suggests that zero guys think of any skewed meaning behind the word, so you are free to reclaim it all you want, and FORGE it into the gender equivalent you so long for), you don’t have to use it. You can ignore it, like most do. And there IS NOT one single connotation that “bachelor” carries, although your weird insistance that it does is probably the other reason the, uh, debate rages on.

  3. margaret michelle 30 April 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Steve–

    You’re right– I don’t have a degree in logic. They don’t, in fact, award such things. I do, however, have a degree in language and society— that is, in how language and society interact and create power structures and inform identity. In how they work together and against one another to define race, class, and gender in ways that restrict or create movement and agency.

    But that, in my mind, is beside the point. More to the point: all I really want to say is that I think “bachelor” is a silly word for young men to use to refer to themselves. That’s my opinion. What’s expressed on my blog is opinion, not “news,” and therefore also not “sensationalist bullshit.” This is a personal website, and it’s my space to express my opinions and feelings. Yes, opinions and feelings. Some more thoroughly argued than others, some more eloquent, some more humorous, some more dear to my heart. Some more, perhaps, offensive to your ears and sense of logic. When that’s the case, you’re welcome to disagree. Respectfully. I do not invite you to insult me or my ability to think. I do not welcome your accusation that my argument is illogical. Setting aside the gendered history of that argument, what I’ve said above is simply not lacking in logic. I may not have laid out all the steps I took to get from Point A to Point B– as in the quote you chose to frame your comment with— but there is logic there, and there are also years of study and education behind the general principles of what I said (perhaps not evidenced in this case, but extrapolated and applied like any good academic). And true, I used hyperbole and exaggeration and even caps lock in certain places– because those are ways in which I enjoy expressing myself— and those also do not invalidate the pieces of rational reasoning.

    I’m sure there are as many kinds of bachelors as there are unmarried men out there. I decided to elaborate on the original post because I discovered I had more things to say. For the purposes of making a point, I chose to lay out some of the extreme examples of social myth surrounding the word— from glamorous penthouse to farthouse of doom– and question their continued function in society. I don’t expect everyone to take this argument seriously. It’s not nuanced (hardly at all). It’s not, for that matter, a particularly serious argument. I don’t consider this a very pertinent social issue, and it’s not one I wish to spend any further time on. I do take the consequences of language and social structures seriously and I don’t consider them, in general, to be “non-issues.” And I also take personal criticisms leveled at me on my space seriously, and that’s why I’ve chosen to respond this once. If you don’t like it (the post or this response), you can, in your own words, “ignore it, like most do.”

    P.S.— Brendan, I wasn’t accusing YOU of having black satin sheets or saying that YOU think it’s a woman’s job to buy groceries! Heavens. I was generalizing and using stereotypes, like any good pundit. Or maybe I was mixing the real world up with “Anchorman.” Damn! It’s happened before, it’ll surely happen again.

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