My friend Christina Campbell and I devised a letter to send to the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity, a new organization that strives to promote equity in representation of marginalized groups in television. For years, Christina and I have examined how singles are portrayed in television, and we wrote them a letter back in June. We didn't hear back (probably due to the massive amount of emails these folks get), so I'm posting here, and you'll see this on Onely, Christina's site.
Dear Think Tank for Inclusion and Equality:
We admire your mission to help storytellers write non-stereotypical portrayals of characters from marginalized groups. In order to help you enhance your mission, we would love to help you create a fact sheet about how to write unoffensive, realistic portrayals of single people. In this note, we explain what “singlism” is, how scriptwriters unintentionally commit singlism, and how they can write better single characters. Both of us have extensive experience advocating for unmarried and socially single people; our advocacy work has appeared in national publications, multiple popular podcasts, academic conferences, and college courses.
WHAT IS SINGLISM?
Many people don't realize relationship status discrimination (aka singlism) exists. Singlism is the societal stigma against people who are not married or otherwise part of a couple. This discrimination not only exists, but it bleeds over into other "isms," such as racism, classism, and ageism. For example, over 1300 laws in the federal code privilege married people over singles; according to our research, an unmarried person can easily spend at least a million dollars more than her unmarried peer, just from discriminatory tax, inheritance, and social security laws. For example, a person can leave their social security benefits to a spouse, but not to a sibling or even a domestic partner. This discrepancy hurts all singles, but it particularly impacts singles from historically excluded groups. This government-sanctioned discrimination implicitly encourages commercial enterprises to have similar policies privileging marriage. Insurance companies often charge higher rates for single people. Employers, rental car companies, AARP, and countless other organizations allow people to add spousal benefits for free, without offering singles equivalent services for one of their loved ones. All this systemic singlism encourages our culture to view unmarried/unpartnered people as "less than," a view that shows up repeatedly in TV shows and movies.
HOW CAN SCRIPTWRITERS WRITE UNOFFENSIVE, REALISTIC CHARACTERS?
--Don't automatically conflate a "happy ending" with characters coupling up
--Don't use a character's marital status as a signal of how responsible/irresponsible or mature/immature they are
--Don't use a character's relationship status as a way to indicate how lonely they are (or are not)
--Avoid stereotypes such as the party-hearty, promiscuous single; the workaholic single; the recluse; or the man-child
--Show at least one single character being happy, responsible, and productive
--Avoid romantic subplots unless they clearly relate to, and advance, the story. Or don’t have a romance at all—surprise viewers by showing an important platonic relationship instead.
--If you do have a romantic subplot, consider having it derail and show the protagonist still coming out on top, which is a more true-to-life scenario
--Don’t always have the protagonist be married, or end up married/partnered
--If you have multiple protagonists, don’t have them all end up being married/partnered
We would love to work with you to create a fact sheet that educates writers about relationship status discrimination and helps them craft powerful, well-rounded single characters that challenge the stereotypes of single people as lonely, immature, and always seeking a partner.
Please feel free to check out our work. Christina’s websites are ChristinaDC.com and Onely.org. Craig’s website is TheHappyBachelor.org, where you can find links to his work, which has been published internationally. You can also contact Christina at email@example.com and Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your time,
Craig Wynne and Christina Campbell
My name is Craig. I'm an educator, writer, and unapologetic singleton. When not reading, writing, or teaching, I enjoy hiking, running, watching movies, going to concerts, spending time with friends, and playing with my cat/son, Chester.