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Spinsters Always Were – And Still Are – Important To Human Families

It can be fun watching the hip, right on and entirely up to date reinventing concepts known to human society for millennia. That we’ve all known about this since whenever seems to have passed them by. Thus they invent some new word for something entirely commonplace.

One such being this idea that an unmarried, childless woman in her 40s has not wasted her life. Well, no, of course she hasn’t. Each of our lives is for us to live as we wish and desire, we do only get this one shot at it. Further, it’s entirely true that one or another path taken means that thousands of other potential ones are closed off. Having a child means one is not childless, not having a child means one is, sure. But then taking French at college means one isn’t taking physics too. There are always opportunity costs.

All of which makes this at Salon something to wonder at:

Women over 40 who are single and child-free and living a full and fulfilling life might as well not exist, according to pop culture. Depictions of them are few and far between, as Glynnis MacNicol discovered when she went looking for stories that reflected her life, so she decided to write her own. Her new memoir “No One Tells You This” — published with her selfie for a cover image, a power move if I’ve ever seen one — is a witty, insightful and at times emotionally raw chronicle of the year she turned 40 and rejected the pressures, subtle and direct, that her life should feel incomplete, or that her story wasn’t a story because it wasn’t following a woman’s expected path.

Throughout the book, MacNicol shows all of the ways in which her freedom makes her not superfluous, as our culture’s tired clichés would have us all believe — “Single women on the screen are almost always inept or selfish,” she writes — but rather indispensable to her family and friends, as her mother’s health declines, her sister and her business partner have babies, and her tight-knit group of friends’ lives change for better and worse, too.

The same freedom that helps her be highly present in her loved ones’ lives also allows her to take international travel writing assignments, spend a month on a ranch in Wyoming, and take herself out to dinner alone whenever she damn well pleases.

This was so common that we’ve a word for it, “spinster.” A useful rule of thumb being that some 20% of the female population in any age would have this status. One of the larger reasons being that a family might well discourage the youngest daughter from anything even resembling courtship so that there was one available to take care of that extended family in times of need.

To repeat, Ms MacNichol has the absolute right to run her life as she pleases and we all indeed do hope that it makes her happy. But the idea that spinsterdom is anything new is just ludicrous.

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5 years ago

Salon is simply repeating the canard that I cannot exist unless all the world can see me. We need African Americans in television sit-coms — no, now we need homosexuals and cross-dressers, with maybe a gawky fortysomething virgin male mixed in.

Many “spinsters,” having made their own decisions, have no need to see themselves portrayed in a positive manner on TV. MacNicol presents not her freedom but her need for reinforcement, advocacy, and recruitment of others to make the decision she has made. She is not free at all.

5 years ago

Sounds like she’s not really happy about being a spinster and is just trying to justify where she is in life by claiming she’s special or unique in some way

5 years ago

“One of the larger reasons being that a family might well discourage the youngest daughter from anything even resembling courtship so that there was one available to take care of that extended family in times of need.”
More inevitable than that. With men tending to marry older and die younger than women, and especially likely to die young of violence or industrial accidents a couple of hundred years back – a large population of spinsters was a statistical inevitibility, not just a social option.

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