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Review: Bachelor Girl, Betsy Israel

More and more women over the course of the twentieth century made the choice to be single; still more didn’t choose to be single but ended up in that boat anyway. Marching alongside the female crusade for greater freedoms was often a parade of usually young women determined to enjoy them, creating waves and social trends as they went along. Israel’s book charts their progress, from the Flappers of the ’20s to the working women in World War II to the professional single women of today. She ends by asking whether or not women are still expected to marry and have children – and if so, why?

This is a very light, magazine-like read about the history of single women, mainly in New York City to give the book a focal point, though Israel actually starts out with nineteenth century women that chose to be or ended up single like Louisa May Alcott. In many respects the book wavers between these two types of women, the ones who chose not to marry and the ones who were widowed or simply couldn’t find an appropriate husband (the advent of the spinster). She charts the greater freedoms accorded to women and just when it became okay for a girl to go out on dates alone, when they went out dancing with just their girlfriends, and how employment helped the single woman get by and enjoy herself.

The most interesting aspect for me was obviously the historical, rather than the sociological angle. I had fun imagining my grandma out in New York City with her friends as a young girl; I know she got married young and didn’t really work before she married my grandpa, but it was still fun to think about, putting a human face on the stories of the women Israel actually discusses. It’s fascinating to see how the pendulum on treatment of women swings depending on circumstances and even events going on in the wider world – everyone knows that women were freer during the World Wars because the men were off fighting and they had to work, but the book also discusses what happened when the Depression hit and mentions other, later eras as well.

The real downside of the book was the fact that, although it is meant to focus on the single woman, the author really emphasizes the stigma they’ve always faced in opposition to the celebration the book suggests. Yes, there are issues even now; women are still looked down upon for not wanting to have children, for getting on in years without marrying, and so on. Men are still praised for doing things that women are expected to do, like childcare and housework. But I went into the book expecting a celebration of choices, because we really can lead happy and fulfilled lives without getting married (not that I can talk having been married at 23), and didn’t really feel I got that. The author takes things from a feminist point of view, but I felt depressed by the end of the book instead of empowered. If it makes sense, there wasn’t enough, “Look how far we’ve come, we can go even further!”, and too much, “Things are still bad and probably won’t get better.”

Still, Bachelor Girl was an engaging read that delved a bit deeper into the issues single women have faced throughout history right up until the present day. Its approachable, magazine-style prose makes it perfect for even the most casual reader. Recommended.

  • No buy links because the book appears to be out of print and I can’t find anywhere that has it!

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my library.

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9 comments to Review: Bachelor Girl, Betsy Israel

  • This is terrible. I had this book out from the library and I actually can’t remember if I read it… I think maybe I started it and just never got a chance to finish it…
    Kailana´s last post …Week in Review 14

  • I like books that deal with social issues like this, and the fact that it is written in such an engaging and informative style really makes me want to pick this one up. I am glad you enjoyed it, and I thank you for your excellent review!
    zibilee´s last post …Dancing with Gravity by Anene Tressler — 298 pgs GIVEAWAY

  • Great review! I read this one years ago and definitely agree with most of what you said. The author’s magazine-style writing worked really well. However, I was really disappointed in the lack of optimism. It’s not very good for a book to celebrate how far we’ve come over the years, but then promote the idea that we won’t be going much further in the future.

  • That does sound depressing. And what is with the cover? Shouldn’t there be a woman fending off a guy on it instead of throwing herself at him?

  • That’s a shame it didn’t celebrate women’s choices more. I wonder when it was printed. The cover looks like it’s from the 60s.

  • I read this book last year and was super-disappointed by it. I felt at the end, after the author got married, she became like Bridget Jones’s Smug Marrieds, talking pretty negatively about modern single women. In looking over my review, it does seem like I didn’t much care for this book at all, though there were some eye-opening sections, like about how dangerous single women were portrayed as being, historically. Glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t love it, though.
    Aarti´s last post …Musings- A Spy in the House

  • Oh I am super intrigued by this one. I love anything that deals with the history of women.
    Amused´s last post …You Think You Know a Person

  • Eva

    I really, really didn’t like this one. Especially as someone who has chosen to be single, I thought Israel was pretty obnoxious! I’m surprised you weren’t bothered by her reference to ‘baby brides.’ ;)
    Eva´s last post …The Story of an African Farm thoughts

    • Meghan

      Actually I was – but I read it so long before I wrote my review that I completely forgot and only going to your review reminded me of that. The whole ‘safe’ thing didn’t apply to me at all – nor any of my friends who have also been married quite young – so it’s just annoying all round. I think I blocked off the end and only remembered the first half for the review.