Amidst cultural messages about romance, dating, and marriage, singleness is often relegated to the sidelines. Or, in efforts to wield power and control, it is turned into a trope—a caricature onto which our society can project fears and assumptions and stereotypes. In her capstone Integrative Project, Kellye Kuh (MA in Theology & Culture, ‘18) dove into this reality through the particular experience of the single white woman, exploring what underlies the objectification of singleness and how we can begin to change it.
“On a regular basis, I don’t want to be too excited or too sad or too happy—I definitely don’t want to be too affectionate, and I don’t want to be too wild, because there are stereotypes about people like me and I don’t want to fulfill them.”
Kellye shares how this project grew out of her experience “managing the stigma of being a white single woman every day,” cautious of how she interacts with others and constantly aware of what she wears, whom she sits next to, and how she acts and speaks. Kellye clarifies that, while many of these dynamics also affect single women of color in profound and unique ways, due to the scope of Kellye’s project, the availability of existing research, and the uniquely particular experiences of intersecting identities, she is speaking primarily to the experience of white single women.
“The single white woman—people are afraid of her. And as a result they objectify her.”
After tracing a brief history of the ideals and expectations placed on white women in the United States—including the prioritization of heterosexual coupledom and the near deification of the family—Kellye discusses how stereotypes are used to channel fear by turning a person into an object, something that we can handle and use. Her project zeroes in on the label of one particular stereotype: the “basic bitch.”
“If singleness is considered lesser than in today’s society, and if being female is considered lesser than, then why are people afraid and why are they calling me names?”
You’re probably familiar with the caricature the label refers to—the white woman who loves Starbucks, wears yoga pants, watches Sex and the City and The Bachelor, has no opinions of her own, and is obsessed with finding partnership. Kellye argues that this stereotype was formed by the fear of two particular values: mystery and eroticism. Our culture often does not know how to handle either, so a caricature is created that is stripped of all eroticism and lacks any mystery whatsoever. “The ‘basic’ woman is simple,” says Kellye. “There’s nothing about her I do not know, and that makes me feel better.”
Kellye’s final thoughts cut to the heart of this issue, and she leaves us with questions that might open us to meaningful, life-giving work:
“What is so scary about being mysterious, and what is so scary about being erotic? And how do you individually express your mystery? Because the way I see it is, if we can each express our mystery, then if someone else feels mysterious, it probably won’t be so scary anymore. And the same with eroticism: how do you individually own and express this eroticism on a daily basis?”