The Magnificent Spinster
February 3, 2015 4:05 PM   Subscribe

30 of the Best Pop Culture Spinsters Elisabeth Donnelly presents "our 30 favorite writers, artists, and fictional characters who show the freedom that comes from living an unmarried life — female characters who are defined by their wants and desires, and not characterized through the simple scrim of their relationships."

From one entry on the list: Nora, from Claire Messud's novel The Woman Upstairs, which is sort of about spinsterhood itself:
“I’m a good girl, I’m a nice girl, I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and my brother’s shit, and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died, after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father every day on the telephone — every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a bit muggy too? It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “such a good teacher/daughter/friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.”
posted by ocherdraco (72 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spinster is a word that cannot die fast enough.
posted by Dashy at 4:12 PM on February 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.”

I admire this woman and wish to subscribe to her newsletter.

+1 for Marilla Cuthbert! Nice one.

I'd also add, controversial though she might be, Condoleezza Rice to that list. Absolutely characterized by her wants and desires, has made her own way, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:16 PM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I was a child, I thought that a "spinster" was someone who could spin webs, in a manner not unlike that of Spider-Man. It seemed like a pretty sweet deal.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:22 PM on February 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


> Spinster is a word that cannot die fast enough.

My cousin was listed in a registry at her Anglican church as a "spinster" until she got married about ten years ago.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:23 PM on February 3, 2015


Eleanor Rigby is one hell of a stretch.
posted by darksasami at 4:29 PM on February 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


What? No Miss Haversham?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:31 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maggie Smith three times!

And while she may not officially be a spinster, I'd like to add Katharine Hepburn to the list.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:35 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Shall 'bachelor' die too?
posted by adept256 at 4:39 PM on February 3, 2015


I would vote for "bachelor" becoming gender-neutral and replacing "spinster." I describe myself as a bachelor without shame.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:42 PM on February 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


My bachelor status is 'confirmed,' in keeping with the archaic usage of 'spinster.'

(Not that spinster necessarily meant nod-and-a-wink lesbian, just saying those two terms come from a different time.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:43 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure! If you can get a bachelor's degree, why not?
posted by adept256 at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Spinster" is a potentially awesome word that needs to be reclaimed. Spinster Pride, y'all.

also the name of Kitty Pryde's maiden aunt.
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Bachelorette?
Right.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2015


My mother, who grew up in a very small town in the Midwest, in response to the rise of the possibility of gay marriage a number of years ago, wanted to know what the big deal was. She said that while growing up people in her town would talk about that nice couple of spinsters who lived down the street or that couple of bachelors who shared a house. And not in a negative way. I guess it was just a possibly naive euphemism for being lesbian or gay. Or maybe it wasn't all that naive.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:48 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Coco Chanel, Susan B. Anthony, Queen Latifah, Jane Austen, Rosalind Franklin.

Katharine Hepburn's Rosie
"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll"
.
.
.
posted by edgeways at 4:55 PM on February 3, 2015


At least one of those women is queer, edgeways, which to me at least seems to orbit outside the popular conception of spinster. That is, a woman who likes men and chooses to not need them.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:57 PM on February 3, 2015


Spinster is a DJ who can really spin those albums, baby!

I am 41 and happily single. Footloose and fancy free and no big deal. Pop culture does need a few good lessons, but this is a very nice fictional confirmed bachelorette list...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 5:02 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


DJ Spinster was single before it was cool.
posted by adept256 at 5:05 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


We could argue now, that given the fairly wide availability of ssm, being queer would no longer matter irt so called spinster-hood, it may be simply (at least with modern examples) choosing not to be married. full stop.

dunno. Just had the thought. Anyone else care to weigh in?
posted by edgeways at 5:09 PM on February 3, 2015


Re: the reclaiming or abandoning of the term, there's this upcoming book, which got a big splashy ad last week in one of the publishing newsletters I subscribe to. I thought it was an odd and interesting choice to use that word, especially with that modern-looking cover.
posted by sunset in snow country at 5:20 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a little icky to call the Brontë sisters spinsters. I mean, they died aged 29, 30, and 38. Old to be unmarried in the 1840s, but not so much these days. Also? Charlotte did marry.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:26 PM on February 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


While it's great to resist defining these women in relation to other people, it feels weird that the alternative is to celebrate them for being "defined by their wants and desires" instead. I know we're in a consumerist society and it's hip to be what you want, but really? Defined by their desires, instead of, say, their achievements or their skills or their strengths? Their endurance, or their contribution, or their genius? Being defined by one's desires sounds like an awful thing to praise about anybody, man or woman.
posted by Bardolph at 5:29 PM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm weird. I love the word spinster. Spinning is fascinating to me. You take lots of separate things, most very short, which are weak and fragile and can blow away, and then you do MAGIC and they become combined somehow, and strong, and at that point you can stop and make clothing and houses and blankets or you can do more MAGIC, and it becomes stronger!, and at that point you can stop and make wrapped food and hold together bales and tie people up, and then you do MAGIC and suddenly pianos are as nothing to your strength, and eventually with enough SPIN (and metal beginnings) you can make skyscrapers.

Spinning is AWESOME.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:31 PM on February 3, 2015 [28 favorites]


We could argue now, that given the fairly wide availability of ssm, being queer would no longer matter irt so called spinster-hood, it may be simply (at least with modern examples) choosing not to be married. full stop. 

My opinion is that it's nobody's business whether I am queer or married or not. My one selfish hope from the whole same sex marriage movement is that overall, public concern about private lives diminish. The wink-wink definition of bachelor and spinster need to go, because whichever orientation they indicate, it's no one's business. Full stop.
posted by Dashy at 5:33 PM on February 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, Phryne in the novels is in an open relationship with a married man and very good friends with his wife. She RULES.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:34 PM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Miss Marple rules.
posted by clavdivs at 5:35 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mary Poppins?
posted by bq at 5:43 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is probably not human so maybe doesn't count.

Eddings' Polgara almost counted, before the promise of the books got buried in the shit landslide.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:46 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dana Scully. (Okay, yeah, I know she ended up with Mulder by the time of the second movie but COME ON, if you're looking for "badass single woman" that's a good one.)

Buffy Summers. Yeah, okay, there was the whole tortured-relationship-with-Angel thing, but she chose to walk away from that - TWICE - on the grounds that "I'm not done growing up yet and I need to be on my own right now" and even while all that was going on she was saving the world.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Weird, I always thought Maude from Harold And Maude was a widow.

+1 for Auntie Mame, btw.
posted by Sara C. at 5:50 PM on February 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Okay, yeah, I know she ended up with Mulder by the time of the second movie

There was a second movie?

I ask that seriously, not in the nerdy 'there were only three Star Wars movies' way. I actually had no idea there was a second movie.

And having her end up romantically entangled with Mulder is an epic betrayal of everything both characters ever were. I fucking hate that shit. People can love and respect each other, and be emotionally intimate, without having wedding bells ringing. I would love for that to happen more in popular fiction in any medium.

I'd also like to add Mrs Garrett to the list.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:55 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I hereby revoke my +1 for Auntie Mame and convert it into a frenzied cry of AUNTIE MAMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE #spinster4lyfe because it's a fucking travesty she was left off this list.
posted by Sara C. at 5:55 PM on February 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney

Far and away my favorite children's book of all time
posted by likeatoaster at 6:00 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow! I totally thought this would be an article about PR hacks. I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on.

Also, would that we could all have an Auntie Mame!
posted by lkc at 6:00 PM on February 3, 2015


Mary Richards/Mary Tyler Moore is an unforgivable omission, given that the changing definition of spinsterhood was explicitly addressed in the show.
posted by klarck at 6:03 PM on February 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


Admiral Grace Hopper!
posted by Dreidl at 6:04 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


One might, tentatively, add Egwene Aes Sedai to the list. And Kay's Lisseut, from Arbonne. Susan Calvin, too, unless my memory is failing me.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:06 PM on February 3, 2015


There was a second movie?

I ask that seriously, not in the nerdy 'there were only three Star Wars movies' way. I actually had no idea there was a second movie.


I Want To Believe. 2008. Mulder and Scully are shacking up together, with Mulder staying off the grid because he's still technically a fugitive, and Scully working as a doctor in a Catholic hospital; they get tracked down and Mulder is offered a pardon when an FBI agent is kidnapped and a retired priest is claiming to have visions of the killing.

Meh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:17 PM on February 3, 2015


I Want To Believe. 2008. Mulder and Scully are shacking up together, with Mulder staying off the grid because he's still technically a fugitive, and Scully working as a doctor in a Catholic hospital; they get tracked down and Mulder is offered a pardon when an FBI agent is kidnapped and a retired priest is claiming to have visions of the killing.

I strongly suspect my brain deleted all notifications of this to prevent my large intestine shooting up through my body and throttling it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:22 PM on February 3, 2015


I Want to Believe. 2008.

Scully has long hair.
posted by double bubble at 6:28 PM on February 3, 2015


"Coco Chanel, Susan B. Anthony, Queen Latifah, Jane Austen, Rosalind Franklin."
One of these is not like the others.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:28 PM on February 3, 2015


There actually was a fun snarky little moment when they first turn up at the FBI after so many years away, and see Dubya's portrait on the wall.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mame was a widow, and then she married at the end to Lindsey-Woolsey (ha). I mean, she was awesome, but not a spinster in the never-married sense.

Now Agnes Gooch is a spinster who married a drunken asshole who knocked her up, which is spun as a triumph for some reason. You're better off without him, Agnes.

If I had a boat, The Magnificent Spinster would be a great name for it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:46 PM on February 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


I hereby revoke my +1 for Auntie Mame and convert it into a frenzied cry of AUNTIE MAMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE #spinster4lyfe because it's a fucking travesty she was left off this list.

How does Auntie Mame count she got married like four times, depending on which of the books you're reading.
posted by winna at 6:48 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


ahh emjaybee got there before I did!

<3<3<3<3<3 for Mame, but she wasn't a spinster. Chu-Chin-Chow forever!
posted by winna at 6:49 PM on February 3, 2015


I like spinster. Not bachelor, and bachelorette is a little too adorable for me.

Of course, my life goals do include wearing lots of tweed and solving The Case of the Dubious Curate.
posted by betweenthebars at 7:16 PM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I hear it and think of arthritis, boiled potatoes, over-eagerness, poverty, and shirts buttoned to the neck. (And, for some reason, unusual health habits, like taking very long walks after dinner or before dawn, but that's neither here nor there. Maybe it's a little here, as it means being some kind of kook, anyway.)

It would be a trick to split the word from its implied judgements - that the woman's homely and charmless; that she can't inspire love, and/or (at some times/places) lacks the sense to fake it well enough to get the security marriage offers. Slightly less unacceptable if there was a proposal and she denied it. Then, she's less ridiculous than tragic. Or yeah, maybe she's a lesbian, which is the most positive interpretation in that it suggests independence and empowerment (kind of, except that if it's true, there's the staying in the closet part. Which some may also feel is positive, in that she's doing her thing and is polite enough to keep quiet about it).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:18 PM on February 3, 2015


(And, like in the post, dutiful, long-suffering caretakers of elderly parents. And it's true - never-married daughters do wind up holding the bag a lot.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:21 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Very timely for me - I am nearing 40 and beginning to accept that I might in fact be a spinster for life, and might be okay with that. But then I find myself asking 'if my life is not about romantic love, or family, then what is it about?' and this is a pretty good answer: freedom that comes from living an unmarried life — female characters who are defined by their wants and desires.
posted by bunderful at 7:25 PM on February 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


The complaints about Scully winding up with Mulder read to me like another attempt by others to dictate how a woman should live her life/feel about her life. I don't see why spinster characters must be single for their entire narrative to be a woman who can be happy on her own, or to prove anything to anyone. Feminist cred is determined by a woman living her life on her own terms, whatever those terms may be, and however much those terms may change over time.

Scully was seemingly very contented to be single for most of The X-Files. Over the nine year run, there are a number of men who show interest in her and while she has a dalliance or two she turns them all down in the end and never looks back. Watching the series, I always get the sense that Mulder would have been ready to get busy with her at any point, but it is she who is keeping him at arm's length. He is regularly flirtatious with her; she responds only with an amused, tolerant, closed-lip smile, and is only very rarely flirtatious with him. Over time their always obvious chemistry became a very deep emotional bond, and eventually she is finally ready to accept and act on her love for Mulder. It happened at her pace, not at his. It took seven years (they are definitely a couple by the end of the seventh season). And they don't get married — she says explicitly and emphatically in the 2008 movie that Mulder is not her husband. Scully's terms again. So I'm perfectly happy to see Scully wind up with Mulder, because it was what she wanted.
posted by orange swan at 7:35 PM on February 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


That's fair, Orange Swan...but in my case, the biggest reason I was "NoRomo" were because of wanting to see my own unique experience echoed out in the world. Two of my best friends are guys whom I feel exactly the same kind of love, devotion, loyalty, trust, and faith that Scully had for Mulder - but without that ending up as a romantic situation.

And people don't seem to know what to do with the fact that I love these guys, but not that way. It's like, that level of closeness without having a romantic component doesn't compute for them. I often am able to fend people off by saying that I did date both of them at first but it didn't fit, and this way is a better fit - but I still get people thinking I should get back together with one, even though it's been 20 years since we ended the romantic side of things, or telling me that it's "not healthy" that I stayed close to two of the finest men I've ever known, simply because we weren't dating.

But when this was on, I had something to point to and say "okay, look at that, see how they are? And they're not a couple. It's not, like, an automatic thing that a man and woman have to end up as a couple, you know."

So while yes, it is fair to be happy that Scully ended up how she did, I also ended up in a a good place too, and the world isn't as quick to acknowledge that as it is to acknowledge Scully's situation, and it's a little annoying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's funny how I still perceive marriage as the ultimate goal even though I am pretty content living alone, and even though there's plenty of evidence out there that marriage has a 50% chance of going sour pretty quickly.

The fairy-tale happy ending is drilled into our heads at every turn. I think we're all somewhat complicit in reinforcing that expectation for others, no matter what our personal take on marriage. Given how pervasive the idea of living "happily ever after" with someone is, it's almost impossible to imagine life outside of that frame of reference, even though I am living it.

It would be great to see more characters where relationship status isn't mentioned (or emphasized), because it's just not relevant to the story.
posted by mantecol at 8:06 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Every time I have to change someone's name at work: guess what, most of them are newly married ladies. And every fucking time I think, "Oh, now you're married and you're Mrs. Hisname and now you're worth something!" (Not to mention that I am not because I'm single, even though ain't no way I' m changing the last name unless I go into Witness Protection.) And really, ugh, why am I thinking shit like that?! Because well....you gotta be married to count is really embedded in our brains, like it or not.

Yuck. I don't wanna be like that. Especially about myself, you know? I'm undecided on whether or not I'd actually want to (though of course, it's not an option), but it seems pretty clear that I'm more suited to be single and it's unlikely short of divine intervention. So this list rocks.

Even though I looked at the summary of The Woman Upstairs and thought "uh, I really don't think I'm gonna like that book," I really love that quote. I relate very well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:33 PM on February 3, 2015


This list made me sit down and watch A Room With a View for the very first time and it was simply delightful and amusing.
posted by weeyin at 8:46 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I turned around twice and found myself looking back at my life and realized I spent most of it unmarried - huh - how did that happen, anyway?

Would I change it? Who knows? It's been good just as it is, but it might have been good in other ways had I taken a different road. What matters is to just live as you choose - single or married - but live completely and don't regret what you didn't do because you really don't know how it would have turned out anyway.

At least that's the way I look at it. I think we live many lives so I imagine a few of them will involve marriage or partnership and others will be on my own. I don't personally find the idea of living a solo life a cause for celebration or a cause for sadness in this century, anyway, though it took a great deal of courage to do so a hundred+ years ago when it was extremely difficult for a widowed woman or single woman to exist unless she could find someone to take her in. My great grandmother Lucy lost her first husband in the civil war, leaving her with one child; she then married another man, a minister, by whom she had twins - he ran off with another woman with whom he fathered two more sets of twins, so she divorced him; she then married a single man who was crazy in love with her but pretty unstable (I have several of his love letters to her) - they had two daughters but just a few days after the second babe was born he committed suicide, leaving her alone with four kids (one of her twins had died); she then married a man whose wife of seven children had died in a buggy rollover, but most of his children were grown - his name was George and he and Lucy had three more children, one of whom was my grandmother. Lucy spent over 25 years having and raising children and each time she lost a husband and remarried she had to fit herself and her children into her new husband's life, whatever it may be, which couldn't have been easy, certainly in those days. But the story of Lucy is that she was the world's best mother and grandmother, so that way worked out for her. I'm glad that women aren't forced into finding a partner quickly when they lose their spouse nowadays - glad that we can choose our own way.

And glad that we can write and be read, also.
posted by aryma at 9:06 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The list is great. So is my never-married, never-wanted to aunt, who told me after one break-up, "You know, you can just decide to be on your own if you want. It's fine." (And I think I will be fine if I don't get married.) She was always so evidently self-contained and cool that people never questioned her, and they wouldn't dare call her a "spinster". (I have no issue with being alone, I just hate that word and think its connotations are too strong to be pried from it. And it's reductive. Would anyone call Simone de Beauvoir a spinster? I doubt it. Though she should be on this list of amazing women / characters.)

The main difficulties with being single are financial, imo (if you're not earning six digits) - not making the property ladder, issues with saving for old age, etc. Isolation is a danger, especially as the familied withdraw to take care of their nests, but the amazing on-their-own women I know overcome that by having and being great friends.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:07 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eddings' Polgara almost counted, before the promise of the books got buried in the shit landslide.

What??? What "shit landslide" was that? I adore Polgara. What's this about?
posted by aryma at 9:10 PM on February 3, 2015


And... me, I guess. Born a chick, never married or wanted to. When same-sex marriage became legal in the US, family started pressuring me about my singleness. When transmen were publicly known to have babies, they hassled me even more.
Is this being a spinster? Awesome, I'm enjoying it.
posted by Dreidl at 11:25 PM on February 3, 2015


Very timely for me - I am nearing 40 and beginning to accept that I might in fact be a spinster for life, and might be okay with that. But then I find myself asking 'if my life is not about romantic love, or family, then what is it about?'

Yep, same here. Very timely. I do have a tendency to fall in love, VERY rarely (we're talking once every three or four years), and it's always turned into deep friendship. Which is awesome! I have great friends, men and women.

Honestly that's more what it's becoming for me – wanted to find love all my life, and as I near 40, am realizing that I actually have it, in the form of awesome friendships, plus I'm free, growing my career, and enjoying life. Regrets for singlehood are starting to feel more like echoes from the past and less like unfulfilled deep desires.

And that's cool too – life is full of change. Maybe someday I'll meet someone and be happily coupled. But I haven't sought that out for about five years now (of eleven years single), and really don't miss it. Most people I work with don't even realize I'm single nowadays; I don't bring it up. Don't need to, my life is my life.

These women, and y'all here, are awesome, such a refreshing read.
posted by fraula at 2:30 AM on February 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


What??? What "shit landslide" was that?

The entire series that he wrote twice? It's paint-by-numbers fantasy full of cardboard characters and pretty egregious racism, every character is defined by their nationality (Sendars are like this, Tolnedrans are like that), gender essentialism, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:57 AM on February 4, 2015


Miss Marple forever.

One of the best things about her is that she uses all the prejudices against her (little old maid, hopelessly out of date Victorian, too old to be useful or clever, from a small village so she can’t really understand the world) to catch all the murderers who sneer at her. The people who mock her are the ones who get punished for daring to believe that she hasn’t lived a rich and interesting life and developed into a wise and interesting person.

I also love the way that her dashing nephew Raymond is a sardonic urbanite who writes LITERATURE (i.e. everyone is miserable and love always dies), but every story that features him shows him to be ridiculously naive and easily duped while his sweet Aunt Jane repeatedly saves him from his idiocy.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 6:16 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Honestly that's more what it's becoming for me – wanted to find love all my life, and as I near 40, am realizing that I actually have it, in the form of awesome friendships, plus I'm free, growing my career, and enjoying life.

And then you have me, who still wants to find love - but is not willing to settle for just anybody just for the sake of having it. The number of men I've clicked with romantically are few and far between.

But that's partly because I seem to be instinctively picking really, really good guys. One of my exes pretty much saved my life on our second date. Another one is someone I ended up working with, and our work collaborating started 36 hours after we broke up - he called me back and said "wait, though, we talked about working together, would you still be cool with that?" and I said "you know, I think I would," and we ended up co-producing about 4 plays and founding a playwriting contest together. We're still working together even though he's now a photographer and I'm a writer. I've even found out that the guy I had a crush on in high school but never even dated is a good enough egg that he gives free dental care to a couple of patients in his practice each year, just 'cos.

Finding The Right One is a numbers game, and there are a lot of other factors aside from the guy's inherent goodness. So I'm basically giving myself a lot less guys to choose from, and a lot more time in between each one. So it's just gonna take me longer, and I have to do something in the meantime.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is freaking great! More stuff like this!

I always refer to myself as a spinster, and I do everything I can to revive the word. There's no reason spinsters and bachelors shouldn't be respected and happy at any age.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:10 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I love it. I'm not a spinster, but I sort of aspire to live like one, as much as I can. I've been reading a lot of Jessa Crispin's essays about reclaiming spinsterhood lately and finding them really inspiring. My favorite that isn't behind Spolia's paywall is probably this essay on the 9 of Cups:

When I was 27, tired of waiting for men who said they were going to take me to Ireland but never made the time to go, I took myself to Ireland. It was November, off season, when I wandered into Kinsale. Many of the restaurants had closed, but one had not. I was two weeks into my trip, and this was the first time I felt up to dining alone.

I had eaten alone, sure. Take out from restaurants, or sandwiches at cafes. But to sit in a nice restaurant, to endure multiple courses with the chair opposite me remaining empty, I had not yet found the strength. But now here I was.

I remember the clams, the wine. I remember the book I stared down into, sure that everyone was looking over at me in pity. But most of what I remember were the black walnuts on the cheese plate. They were extraordinary, as if I had never truly eaten a walnut before. Rich and bitter. I had that impulse to share the information, that “try these,” that sharing of the experience. But there was no one else there. I had to learn, in that moment, to enjoy the walnuts only for myself. I felt that Nine of Cups feeling, of satisfaction and wholeness. It turned my loneliness into solitude. But it also made me want to cry a little.

posted by libraritarian at 8:00 AM on February 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


Spinster is an absolutely ace word and should be promoted to utter coolness at our earliest convenience.

And I know she was Miss Marple, but I also really rate Margaret Rutherford's performance as Professor Hatton-Jones in Passport to Pimlico. It's got the lot - intellectual, humorous, independent, forceful and iconoclastic. (OK, she's nuts on the aristocracy, but that's her bag.) It's a supporting role but it's a great one and would have been much the lesser had it been played by a male actor.

(She herself didn't marry until she was 53, but do check out her biog on Wikipedia. It's eventful. Her father "suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to Bethnal House Lunatic Asylum. Released to travel under family supervision, he murdered his father, the Reverend Julius Benn, a Congregational Church minister, by bludgeoning him to death with a chamber pot, before he slashed his own throat with a pocket knife at an inn in Matlock, Derbyshire, on 4 March 1883.[1][2] Following the inquest, William Benn was certified insane and removed to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum".
posted by Devonian at 9:00 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


...a woman who likes men and chooses to not need them.

You rang?

For real though, the above is the closest definition I can think of when it comes to the way I live my life. I unabashedly love the word "spinster," but not a fraction as much as I love being one. Even after being raised up to believe that marriage was the thing you did to legally entangle yourself with the person you've grown to resent and/or openly despise most in the world, thanks to my terrible, awful, no-good gender role assignment, I still had to spend a lot of time and effort convincing myself that it's not only perfectly OK to not be married, but perfectly OK to actively not want to get married, ever. As a wise man once said, "Garth, marriage is punishment for shoplifting in some countries."

I don't have a biological family, I'm never going to get married, I'm never going to have children, and all of those facts are a result of my own conscious efforts and decisions, each one plucked from the pages of my own design. This is the life I dreamed for myself as a girl, complete with a laundry list of truly ridiculous solo adventures and a wealth of friends all over the world, friends whose grace, intelligence, and boundless talents delight and inspire me every day. Probably 95% of those friends are married, and they sometimes admit that they think a life of solitude must occasionally feel precarious or scary. They say they can't imagine not being partnered, let alone not wanting to be, but to me, it feels amazing. My life feels so full; I'm too busy to be lonely.

Re: the reclaiming or abandoning of the term, there's this upcoming book, which got a big splashy ad last week in one of the publishing newsletters I subscribe to. I thought it was an odd and interesting choice to use that word, especially with that modern-looking cover.

I was a little worried that the book would turn out to be an undercover anti-spinster polemic, but I checked out some of the author's other work and found this excellent piece published in The Atlantic a few years back: All the Single Ladies.
Bella DePaulo, a Harvard-trained social psychologist who is now a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is America's foremost thinker and writer on the single experience. In 2005, she coined the word singlism, in an article she published in Psychological Inquiry. Intending a parallel with terms like racism and sexism, DePaulo says singlism is "the stigmatizing of adults who are single [and] includes negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles. In her 2006 book, Singled Out, she argues that the complexities of modern life, and the fragility of the institution of marriage, have inspired an unprecedented glorification of coupling. (Laura Kipnis, the author of Against Love, has called this "the tyranny of two.") This marriage myth—"matrimania," DePaulo calls it—proclaims that the only route to happiness is finding and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who can meet our every emotional and social need. Those who don't have this are pitied. Those who don't want it are seen as threatening. Singlism, therefore, "serves to maintain cultural beliefs about marriage by derogating those whose lives challenge those beliefs."
Yep! Pitiable or threatening, that's all we get to choose from. Besides that, though, the only true bummer about indefinite chosen singlehood is all the straight dudes (partnered and single, but mostly partnered) who assume that since I'm unmarried and unpartnered, since I don't "belong" to anybody, I must be some kind of crazy slut, and thus they give themselves permission to try anything with me that they want. So I have to tell men -- men in committed, monogamous relationships; men with wives! -- to take their hands off of me much more often than I could have ever imagined. My unwedding ring chips away a bit of it, and the fact that I am (gasp! horror of horrors!) visibly aging has eliminated most of the rest, but the unwanted advances from partnered men have yet to disappear completely.

So many of these guys inexplicably misinterpret my utter satisfaction with solitude as a desire to hook up with them on the down-low. I won't lie: Having this experience so many times has given me an insight into the inner lives and thoughts of a depressingly large number of married men, and the sum total of these insights would make me extremely hesitant to put a ring on it even if I weren't an enthusiastic spinster. Which I am. Spinsterhood is goddamn delightful.

With all that said, I've never even heard of ~75% of the work listed in the FPP link and mentioned ITT, but I'm excited to dig in! Where should I start?
posted by divined by radio at 9:37 AM on February 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


What is the male equivalent of "spinster"? Permabachelor? Does one exist? Why not?
posted by naju at 3:30 PM on February 4, 2015


I think the male equivalents used to be "gay" or "George Clooney," but they're outmoded.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:02 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The male equivalent is bachelor, which has always been a quasi-complement. This is usual with "mirror" terms in English. Master and Mistress are another situation where the words were supposed to be equivalent, but since we don't treat men and women equivalently - either practically or rhetorically - the terms become bent.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:11 PM on February 4, 2015


Where's "Aunt Jackie" from Roseanne? Watching the show again as a single, 30-something woman, I related to her so much. Plus she is really funny and Roseanne is the best show.
posted by bearette at 9:14 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie) was a great, positive influence on me when I was growing up.

Even though she was portrayed as being "husband crazy" it was always so clear to me that she may have wanted companionship but she didn't really "need" to be married and she was doing just fine holding her own with her male comedy-writer colleagues.

But possibly the biggest influence on me was Marlo Thomas in That Girl:
In the beginning of the fifth season, Don and Ann became engaged, although they never actually married. The decision to leave the couple engaged at the end of the run was largely the idea of Thomas herself. She did not want to send a message to young women that marriage was the ultimate goal for them and she was worried that it would have defeated the somewhat feminist message of the show.
I realize Ann Marie was hardly a spinster by any definition but just the message that you didn't need a husband to survive was huge.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:36 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is the male equivalent of "spinster"? Permabachelor? Does one exist? Why not?

The closest male equivalent would be "committed bachelor," but it lacks some of the negative connotations of (like "dry and sexless") that spinster often has, at least in older novels. Sometimes committed bachelor is a euphemism for gay, but not always; by adding the word "committed" it gains the sense of permanence that spinster connotates (again, in older novels; I only see the word now used ironically), either because of closeted sexuality or some other reason.

I've also only seen "committed bachelor" used in novels to describe wealthier men (especially the kind of man who inherited some money and has dinner every evening at his all-male private club in London), whereas "spinster," as noted above, often goes along with at least semi-poverty and a constrained life in a bedsit or as a charity case living with relatives.

I think it is great that people are at least trying to reappropriate the term and unpack the ways in which it has used to elide all kinds of identities and choices, from women who were forced to keep their sexuality closeted, to women who had to make the best of the constrained marriage options after the slaughter of the great wars, to women who created an independent intellectual life at a time when that was not an easy option.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:11 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


« Older "Why can't I type Ś in Medium?"   |   Lady Mondegreen Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments