What Is a “Spinster?” Welcome…


What is a “spinster?” There are a lot of varied opinions, amongst the people I ask. The opinions range from “prude,” “inexperienced with men,” “unwanted,” “defective,” and all the way around. According to a Google search, it’s, “an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.” a quick look at the online Urban Dictionary states, “Old unmarried woman. Not necessarily a virgin.” Then there’s this gem from vocabulary.com:

Spinster originally meant “a spinner of thread,” and as that was a job typically done by unmarried women, it came to have the meaning — even in legal documents — of “single woman.” Another term for spinster is the equally old-fashioned sounding old maid. Either way, it means a woman who never got married. Spinster is not a word you should call anyone: it reduces single women to one detail about their lives.

We can all agree that the main definition would be an older, unmarried, and childless woman. This is not to include a divorced woman, as she would be a “divorcee.” The definition is not of much concern, and would typically go into the “who cares” category. Unfortunately, it’s the implicit bias that causes the rub. Literature and society are at no shortage of older, unmarried women who are independent, inspiring, and strong. Just do a search of any of those women, and you’ll see that the rumors and theories of them being homosexual are not far behind in those searches (simply because society needs an explanation as to why a woman would be a spinster). It’s worth noting that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being homosexual. It’s no different than someone being a brunette or being tall. However, you wouldn’t look at someone and say, “Look at that unmarried, childless, older woman…she must be a brunette.” See how utterly ridiculous that sounds? 

What is implicit bias? According to the Kirwan Institute (http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/)

 …Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

How does this translate into every day life? You may not think you’re discriminating, but sometimes…It just happens without you even realizing. I have a friend who is a Jack Daniels Squire. In order to become a squire, you have to be nominated by another squire. He was randomly pulled from a tour of the distillery and nominated by our tour guide. In the two years since his own induction, my friend has nominated numerous male friends (some who are not even really fans), but no female friends. One might explain this by saying that he doesn’t know that many women who are fans of Jack Daniels. However, I am actually a stockholder, I own various bottles of Jack Daniels, have repeatedly gone on the tour (even with him), own more JD swag, and I am just as big of a fan as he is. That said, he has never even asked if I even wanted the nomination. When I mentioned it to him, he said, “I didn’t know you wanted to be one.” And there it is, that nasty little implicit bias where, my being a “chick” supposedly eliminated my desire to be a part of the organization, where his non-fan male friends would want to be. It wasn’t a malicious judgement, but it was a judgment. He did not leave me out to be nasty or intentionally exclusionary, but that assumption that I would be disinterested in something considered “male,” was an example of preconceived notions about me, based on my gender. 

How does this parlay into being a spinster? Well, being an older, childless, unmarried woman carries with it the “joy” of A LOT of preconceived notions and biases. Many are subconscious, many are blatant. What is certain is that it is one of the last remaining types discrimination that society deems to be “okay.” Much like “dumb blonde” jokes (come on, they’re “just jokes,” right?), these notions, media promotions, and attitudes bleed into everyday life.

And this is what Spinister is all about. It is an abolishment of those preconceived notions and implicit biases. It’s a discussion about what life is like to be older, unmarried, and childless in this generation. It’s a redefinition of the term, spinster, to show that it truly should mean strong, independent, and free-willed. Welcome to the conversation.

About the Author

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Many ideas and images exist about women who are over 40 years of age, and unmarried. Most of these images and ideas are unfortunate, damaging, and wrong. This needs to change. These notions need to be destroyed, and new ones heralded. Positive images of unmarried women, over 40, need to be lifted, welcomed, and praised.

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