Victoria Stokes reckons it’s high time we retire the lonely old spinster stereotype.
‘Sure at this rate I’m probably going to die alone with my cats AHAHAHAHA.’ I’m regaling pals with tales of my #SingleGirlLife, as is customary for any woman past a certain age who’s been single for a specified period of time, and I’ve reached the ‘I’m destined to be a lonely, old spinster’ portion of the conversation.
I don’t know why I do it. To ease the awkwardness they’re feeling that’s evident from the pitying looks on their faces? Or to ease my own? Either way I’ve gone deep into the hole of anticipating spinsterhood, painting a vivid picture of myself wearing moth-eaten clothes, rocking madcap hair and rounding up my small family of cats for feeding time.
When I paint this picture to my coupled up friends they laugh along at the image, secure in the knowledge that they are safe from such an eventuality; my single friends simply give me a knowing look. One that says ‘Oh, I hear your sister. I’ve already started my collection of cat toys’. They’ve been guilty of the freakouts, and they’ve made the spinster joke too, and though they laugh, their panic reveals a deeply rooted fear: one of ending up alone.
But why is that fate such a terrible one? And why is it such a particularly awful thing for a woman to remain single, and not so much of a big deal for a man? Search for examples of how we view spinsterhood and you don’t have to look too far to see how female singledom has been used as a pathetic trope in pop culture. Bridget Jones isn’t just single in her 30s, she’s tragically single in her 30s. Even in Sex And The City, a show that’s supposed to celebrate the fabulousness of four women, the pressure to settle down and marry is palpable, not forgetting that at 41 Carrie marries Big, a man who has, for the most part, treated her like dirt for more than a decade. Sure, she’s settled for less, but at least she’s married and not alone, right?
Compare that to how we consider bachelors and you might picture some tanned 50 something silver fox cruising along in his sports car, or partying on some yacht with a gaggle of skinny models on his arm (Hi, Leonardo Di Caprio.) Truth is, we feel perfectly comfortable with the idea of the confirmed bachelor, and entirely alarmed at the thought of a woman never having found love. We assume that there must be something inherently wrong with women who don’t settle down, while men are bestowed the title of ‘playboy’. We pity one and praise the other.
Even the inimitable, highly successful and outrageously beautiful Amal Clooney has fallen victim to spinster fear. During a speech given at an American Film Institute gala in June she joked about how, before meeting her now-husband George Clooney, she had resigned herself to becoming a spinster. “I met George when I was 35, and starting to become quite resigned to the idea that I was going to be a spinster,” she explained. Let us remind ourselves that this is a woman who travels the globe working as a highly respected International Human Rights Lawyer. She’s hardly destined for the fate of ‘crazy cat lady’.
The idea of female singlehood has always been one that’s been culturally uncomfortable; I don’t need to bore you by regurgitating tales of how Ireland has historically treated unmarried women. Interestingly, however, there are now, more unmarried women in this country than ever before. Census figures released on International Women’s Day this year, showed that of the 2, 407, 437 women living in Ireland, 1, 236, 634 were single. For the maths-illiterate, that’s some 51 percent. Spinsters, it seems, are a growing demographic.
And yet, a 2010 study carried out by University Of Missouri-Columbia found that although the number of single women in their mid 30s and beyond has increased, the stigma associated with being single – as anyone who has ever encountered a prying aunt at a family wedding knows – has not diminished. By and large, women are still expected to follow a particular trajectory, one that involves a husband, and more often than not, kids.
But could the wave of public opinion be changing, albeit slowly? The idea that being single over the age of 30 means you’re withering in solitude is one that’s starting to lose any real authenticity. The concept of the tragic singleton wailing away to Whitney Houston, glass of wine in hand, on a lonely winter’s night is no longer one we’re buying into. Instead, we’re seeing women carve out their own destinies, pave out established careers, gain their own financial security and live perfectly fulfilled, happy lives without a significant other on their arm. In STELLAR over the past number of months, we’ve met women who’ve secured mortgages as single first time buyers, and even started families, without needing a partner in tow.
Perhaps the first step in redefining the word spinster – and finally letting that crazy cat lady stereotype die a death – is to abandon the idea that there’s something fundamentally wrong with women who don’t settle down. In the book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, author Sara Eckel makes the point that being single has nothing to with being too clingy, too picky, too intimidating, too whatever, it is instead because you simply haven’t met the right person yet – or – shock horror – because you don’t want to. There is of course nothing wrong with wanting to find your person and get married and settle down, just as there is nothing wrong with choosing to remain single. But what is wrong, is assuming that spinsterhood is akin to being flawed. Marriage, for some women, for whatever reason, is just something that never happened.
So going forward let us instead look to the women who have bucked social convention and used their spinsterhood to achieve great things. Let us congratulate them on never having settled for less just for a tick on the cultural checklist, and let’s give them our respect instead of our pity. Maybe, from here on out, we should embrace the term bachelorette instead of spinster, because if men can live quite happily single, then so can we. And besides, what’s so wrong with having cats anyway?
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