Why I’m No Longer Scared of the Term “Spinster”

I’m thirty-one years old.
I live on my own.
I do not own a cat.
I am not in a relationship.
And up until I read Kate Bolick’s memoir, I have feared that I will become a spinster.

9780385347136Originally, the term spinster, generated in fifteenth century Europe as an honourable way to describe the girls, most of them unmarried, who spun thread for a living. Since then, society has reshaped the term to become a disparaging, offensive term that is now defined by the dictionary as, “A woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying”. Surprisingly, the dictionary does not define the term, “usual age of marrying” and after a quick Google search, it turns out that Cosmopolitan and BuzzFeed weren’t able to provide a definitive answer to that question either. Which led to my interest in Kate Bolick’s new memoir, Spinster: A Life of One’s Own. A book that’s described as, “a revelatory, lyrical, and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single.

Kate Bolick has always been a writer, she’s written articles for The New York Times, The Observer and many other esteemed magazines that I could name that would make your jaw hit the floor. She’s currently a contributing editor for The Atlantic and now an author of her first book which challenges readers to reexamine what it means to be single by putting a microscope on her own relationship history and delving into the lives of pioneer women from the last century whose influences and way of living began to have such an impact on her life that she starts to mirror their philosophy of life. What do I mean when I say that? Well I think it’s important to share a little bit about the timeline of this book for you to get a better understanding.

The book starts with a young Kate Bolick who’s dating on and off with a man she refers to as “W”, she’s working four jobs and she’s just been told that her Mother is about to die. As she sits by her bedside, she starts to wonder about her future, about her life and what her Mother would do if she could have done things differently. After her Mother passes, Kate vows to take some of her Mother’s spirit in stride and focus on building a pretty outstanding resume. After some hesitation, she packs up everything (including W) and moves to NYC. New York is the town in which Kate begins to discover the woman she wants to be with the help of some pretty inspirational ladies. She picks up some work by Maeve Brennan, an Irish writer who received huge accolades in the United States, specifically New York and her life was forever changed. Maeve was a contributor for The New Yorker known as “The Long-Winded Lady”. It’s through reading some of her work (novellas, articles and essays), that Kate begins to mirror specific qualities about Maeve. She doesn’t do this consciously, she naturally starts to emulate Maeve’s confidence and self reliance. She then begins to find strength in how to articulate her new way of thinking about single-hood when she starts reading Neith Boyce’s work. Surprisingly, when you Google Neith, you get very little information, but a more specific search with a term I learned in Kate’s book, known as “Bachelor Girl” produced an article that Kate herself wrote about Neith in the New York Observer titled, “She Was All That: This Single Chick Broke the Mold“. She shares that as early as 1898, Neith had no ceilings,

I was born a bachelor, but of course several years elapsed … before my predestination to this career became obvious. Up to that time people acknowledged threatening indications by calling me queer, while elderly persons who wished to be disagreeable said that I was independent. [Their] prediction … has so far been justified. I did not marry. The alternative of course was a profession.

I’m only giving you a quick glance at two of the women that started to help formulate new ideas about the definition of the word “spinster”. She of course gives much more details in her book and continues her understanding by adapting policies from Charlotte Perkins Gilman (author of one of my favourite books, The Yellow Wallpaper), poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and novelist Edith Wharten.

Every one’s path is a different path, everyone has to find their own icons and their own inspiration, but the ideas and principles that Kate Bolick examines in her memoir, Spinster, make a very solid case about why everyone should reevaluate the message we’re sending when we label someone a spinster. What if it didn’t mean loneliness, cats and tv dinners? What if it meant time, what if it meant exploration and most importantly, what if it meant happiness?

For the first time in a long time, Kate Bolick’s memoir helped me to focus on the pleasures of what it means to be single. When I meet someone who’s the right fit, it’ll be great, I’m sure of it. But for right now, I think I’ll go sing Taylor Swift at the top of my lungs, make hot chocolate for one and watch Gilmore Girls for the 700th time.

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7 thoughts on “Why I’m No Longer Scared of the Term “Spinster”

  1. The Paperback Princess says:

    Good! I’m glad! “Spinster” is an offensive term that way that it’s currently packaged. As IF a woman needs to be married to be a whole person. Being single isn’t a life failure. It’s deciding that you aren’t going to waste your time waiting around for something that may or may not happen. Men don’t get labelled with derogatory terms when they choose to remain single. It’s seen as a choice, not as something that happens *to* them. So you go be fabulous with Taylor and do whatever you want for you!

  2. Steph VanderMeulen says:

    I’m quite sure that someone must have told you by now that while being hitched or at least in a relationship can be indeed great, those of us who are not “spinsters” and are even with wonderful partners do get so jealous now and then (even often!) of what it means to be single. Here’s to hot chocolate, Gilmour Girls, singing at the top of your lungs, and buying that $100+ new handbag that you don’t have to ask anyone about!!

    Also, I totally second The Paperback Princess! 🙂

  3. Naomi says:

    This book really has me intrigued for the very fact that spinsterhood is too late for me. I want to read about what it would be like, because I’ll never know for myself. It’s true what Steph says above that those of us who are not spinsters sometimes wish we were. In fact, the main reason I wouldn’t read this book, is because I’m afraid it will make me too envious. 🙂
    Just think – you can go to the bathroom in peace!
    (P.S. I do love my family.)

  4. tanya (52 books or bust) says:

    I heard Bolick on the radio last week and she actually made me wish I was a spinster.It’s a term that needs to be reclaimed and should be empowering – especially in this day in age when women have more choices available to them.

  5. Chelsey says:

    Amen sister!! I’m so glad you loved this too. And trust me, you are definitely not the only one belting out Taylor Swift at the top of her lungs. (I occasionally accompany my shows with dance moves!)
    Love how much you talk about the actual term Spinster. I didn’t think much of it while I read but had tons of people ask why it was named something that certain women may be offended by. I took it as an edgy way to combat an old, out of date term, but I much prefer the elegance you describe it with here :). Wonderful review, as always!

  6. Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors says:

    Nice post! I always substitute “single person” for “spinster” anyway! Why fault a person for remaining single. I think there are many of us who feel life must be more enjoyable and less hassled in many ways as a single person. Yet the reality seems to be that most of us prefer to be in a long-term cohabitating relationship. I ask myself at least once a day if I am better off in my daily life with my partner or not, and only a few days within the past 15 years was that answer ever not an immediate and absolute “yes”! So we each make choices, and I refuse to judge others’ choices as good/bad, right/wrong, etc. I just hope everyone is happy with those choices. BTW, we have 5 cats, so if anything would ever happen to my husband, well…I would DEFINITELY be classified as a “spinster,” I feel certain! Or at least a “crazy cat lady”! But let other apply labels when they feel the need, I work hard not to do that!

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