Feature

‘Singlism’: Do only married people have lives?

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell opened up a little Pandora's box when he remarked that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano was a good choice for Homeland Security secretary because she has "no life" and "no family."

“How many times have politicians been warned about the dangers of an open microphone?” said Campbell Brown in CNN.com. Not enough times, it would seem, for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who last week was caught on tape faintly praising the selection of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be the next Homeland Security secretary. “Janet’s perfect for that job,” said Rendell, “because for that job you have to have no life. Janet has no family. She can devote, literally 19, 20 hours a day to it.” The governor later apologized, said Jane Roh in the Philadelphia News Examiner, but seemed unsure what he’d said that was so sexist. So look at it this way: Was outgoing Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff unfit for office because he’s married with children? Or is it only women who are capable of handling a career or a family, but not both?

Rendell wasn’t guilty of just sexism, said Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, in PsychologyToday.com. His comments were a blatant “act of singlism,” a prejudice so deep and widely held that it usually “slips under the radar.” Many of us single people prefer the freedom and autonomy of living alone, and we take profound exception to Rendell’s assumption that because Napolitano has no husband or children she has “no life.” Rendell later tried to explain himself, said Gail Collins in The New York Times, saying he meant only that Napolitano is a “workaholic.” But “it sure sounded as if single people like Napolitano exist in a state so dark and barren that the empty hours can only be filled by guarding the nation’s borders against terrorists.”

Bigotry against single people is unacceptable, said Arianna Huffington in Huffingtonpost.com, but the more prevalent prejudice is against people who don’t work 20 hours a day. There’s a “pervasive misconception in America” that to do a job right, you have to work constantly. In fact, the opposite is true. People who take regular breaks from their work are not only healthier but also happier, more creative, and ultimately more productive. As it happens, Napolitano actually has a full life, as an avid reader, a tennis player, an opera buff, and a hiker; she describes climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as “one of the most memorable experiences of my life.” I, for one, would prefer to entrust my security to the “judgment and wisdom” that comes from a well-rounded life, rather than to an overcaffeinated stress addict who spends all his or her waking hours behind a desk.

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