Upon visiting the Women in Comedy Festival here in Boston, I was first struck by the rare glimpse of female solidarity that I got to see performed on stage. Secondly, however, I was struck by the number of jokes that overlapped with other performers from the night, usually with something to do with the implied hilarity of the "Single Woman." Almost every act that performed focused on relationship status and the necessary desperation of a woman over a certain age who does not have a life partner. As a feminist and believer in a woman's worth whether or not her day-to-day is characterized by co-dependency, it was concerning to hear joke after joke about becoming a spinster who is comforted only by the presence of cats (as if that's a bad thing??).
Not only should women have the freedom and the space to make jokes about things that aren't considered "women's jokes," but the singleness of women should probably stop being used as a punch-line. These jokes reflect a number of things about how we feel about women, culturally.
Even though we've moved well beyond forcing women into the home for life, there are many enduring limitations that keep women focused on finding a significant other. It's notable that the idea of women being kept inside the home applies particularly to white women who were considered too dainty to work, though. Black and brown women were often forced out of the home to work, and thus--among other historical factors and legacies associated with slavery in the U.S.--were systematically kept from developing long-lasting partner relationships.
No matter the historical implications and the modern-day motivation, reducing the legitimacy of women solely to their ability to sustain a relationship (most likely with the opposite sex) is damaging to our image of womanhood. Some women are asexual, some women are fiercely independent, some women have conditions that can prevent them from forming lifelong bonds, and some women would just rather do their thing--and I'm sure there are more hindrances to list here, too. Overall, it's well past time to start thinking about women as whole enough on their own without the validation of another human being.