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The blogger over at Cookin’ and Shootin’ quoted the following, and I wanted to steal it as a starting pistol for my own musing thoughts:

M.F.K. Fisher on being a woman and dining alone, 1938:
“More often than not people who see me on trains and in ships, or in restaurants, feel a kind of resentment of me since I taught myself to enjoy being alone. Women are puzzled, which they hate to be, and jealous of the way I am served, with such agreeable courtesy, and of what I am eating and drinking, which is almost never the sort of thing they order for themselves. And men are puzzled too, in a more personal way. I anger them as males.”

Does this still stand eighty-five years later? Is there some element of a woman being by herself and chomping away on her food of choice that continues to be, like an awkward pause in a packed gathering, socially unacceptable?

I have eaten alone on most of my trips, choosing to eschew the company that is there for the taking through Couchsurfing.com and other such sites, and instead just hang out alone. It isn’t that I can’t do company, or am a social recluse, it’s just that on occasion, I love only being with myself. And there is certainly something, as MFK Fisher says, about the ‘agreeable courtesy’ of the waiters and  ‘puzzled’ looks of anyone surrounding (indeed, many of them try a little too hard to pretend they’re not looking!) which is somehow amusing, yet comforting to my aloneness; a sort of testament to the fact that they wouldn’t dare to do the same. And that is quite satisfying – although I’m honestly not sure there is anything to be ‘brave’ about. 

Googling ‘women eating alone’ returned some amusing results: http://gawker.com/5904548/if-women-stop-eating-alone-whom-will-we-pity-in-restaurants , which makes some thought-provoking points about the women who ‘feel the need to fake cell-phone conversations’ at their tables for one. I mean, really? Is anyone so insecure? Or is it that, unlike me, they are unable to remain out of contact with society for even one meal? Unlikely.

It’s not as if, when a woman (or man, too) sits down to eat alone, the world as they know it will implode, sending detritus of their fantastically lonely life flying in all directions; yet it would seem that from the Google results (‘women eating salad alone, laughing’ being just one) so few people dare to cross that unmarked line of social pariahdom and fear just that aspersion being cast.

Taking this thought further, another article, from the god-sent Guardian newspaper delves further into social acceptance, and its standpoint on not stigmatising women who choose to eat alone is so, so welcome to a social, outgoing introvert like me!

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“I’d rather”, the writer states, “see a website that challenges sexist stereotypes than one that suggests the way to combat them is to never eat alone while female”. Yes, yes and yes again! Sometimes us women, like every other person in the world, want time alone. Sometimes we like a challenge. Sometimes we (shock, horror!) may not have anyone to hang out with. Whatever the reason, both men and women eating alone anywhere in the world have a right to not be judged and pitied as though it really is still 1938. Extroverts welcome company and are energised by it; introverts are not, no matter how social we may be.

And as an introvert going to the Balkans this summer, I will be eating alone some of the time. And I shall have fun whilst doing it, as though it is a luxury little obtained.

 

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One thought on “Why is the perception of women and their solitude so stigmatised by social pressures?

  1. Maybe I missed something but I didn’t know there was a stigma attached to eating alone. I travel alone and happily go into restaurants to eat by myself. Actually it hasn’t even occured that anybody would be looking at me. Being nosey, I’m usually too busy looking round at everybody else 🙂

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