“Wasting the Best Years of Their lives?” Single Women and the Commodification of Time

Talk by Kinneret Lahad, Tel Aviv University

2018.01.22 | Anne-Mette Pedersen

Date Thu 05 Apr
Time 14:00 15:30
Location IMC Meeting Room, Jens Chr. SKous Vej 4, Building 1483-312, 8000 Aarhus C


A few years ago, Princeton alumna Susan Patton, sparked intense debate when, in an open letter to The Daily Princetonian, she suggested that female students make the best use of their time at the university by finding a future husband. Patton’s letter generated much media attention.  While some commentators criticized her for a sexist and elitist outlook, others saluted her for her courage in saying the truth to single women. Claims like Patton’s are ubiquitous in public discourse about midlife single women. One striking feature of this discourse is that these numerous instructions are anchored by socio-temporal metaphors and principles. Single women are warned not to waste the “best years of their lives", to manage their time wisely, and to invest in the right kind of men/commodity. Moreover, this discourse is imbued with “objective” calculations about man-shortage, consumer demands, expiry dates and the rules of demand and supply.

Patton’s letter is a useful opening point for this paper because it raises some of the important questions that motivate my analysis: how does the commodified language of social time shape our perceptions of female singlehood and female subjectivity in general? What sort of exchanges take place between single men and women, and what are its conditions? How far does the abstraction of time into a quantifiable measure control single women’s lives? In this paper, I argue that the naturalized, objective temporal rules of supply and demand are significant discursive resources in everyday discourses, and through these the oppression of women occurs and age-gender based hierarchies are produced and maintained. Within this context, I stress the need for alternative ways of thinking about singlehood and female subjectivity, in a manner that disconnects singlehood from the normalized concepts of market logic, exchange value, and the notion that a single woman can be “sold” and “traded.”

About the speaker:

Kinneret Lahad is a senior lecturer at the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, Israel. She had been involved in various prestigious research projects, which merited international attention, praise, and materialized in publications in leading journals.  Her research interests are interdisciplinary and span the fields of gender studies, sociology and cultural studies. She has written extensively on female singlehood, families and time connecting them to sociological and feminist theory. Her book A Table for One: A Critical Reading of Singlehood, Gender and Time was just published by Manchester University Press. She has also co-edited a book on mechanisms of denial and repression in Israeli society and is currently co-editing an edited book on feminism, emotions and academia to be published by Palgrave during 2018. Her current projects include independent and collaborative studies on aunthood, friendships, feminism and emotions, feminist age studies, egg freezing and solo dinning and belonging. For the last years she has taught in various academic institutions in Israel, Italy and the UK. She has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University, a visiting scholar and professor at Venice International University, a visiting lecturer at the Master MIM Erasmus Mundus graduate program at Ca'Foscari University in Venice and an honorary research fellow at Manchester University (UK). Links to her papers and work can be found here: (https://telaviv.academia.edu/KinneretLahad/Papers).




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