Why I dare to call myself a spinster (by Donna Ward)
I’ve been waiting a while to share today’s offering with you. It’s by Donna Ward, an Australian writer, editor and publisher who speaks and writes both on being single and also being childless. Her first book She I Dare Not Name: A spinster's meditations on life is out in the UK on Thursday. I’m honoured to be able to celebrate the UK launch in The Single Supplement today!
I was kindly sent a copy of the book which I’m really enjoying so far. It’s beautifully written. I love how it’s not just a memoir, and a moving on at that, but also a call to action or manifesto even. I also love that she rightly points out that feminism forgets single women which is to the detriment of all women. I’ve been thinking about this for some time and am going to put pen to paper and share my thoughts soon.
I hope you enjoy today’s newsletter and will consider buying Donna’s book. You can pre-order it now.
Paying subscribers, watch out for an exclusive email tomorrow with some extra wisdom from Donna and what I’ve been listening to this week. Don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t already so you don’t miss out!
Have a good week,
Why I dare to call myself a spinster
By Donna Ward
Mid-winter. Melbourne. I’m in a café with my friend. She is a book designer and I have written a book. A whole book. Seventy-eight thousand words—not that I’m counting.
I want my friend to open it, see her name in it, but she can’t get past the title. She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster’s Meditations on Life. She shudders slightly and whispers, Spinster. I know images are flashing through her. She looks up and says, Such a powerful word.
I realise my title is braver than I.
When I set out to write the book I was single, the word, spinster, an archaic synonym, hated, discarded for the stigma stuck to it. I was single, not particularly proud, but a legitimate woman. Half way through my reading and research I discovered my life didn’t resemble that of any single person I knew.
In my late thirties I lived a continent away from my family. Dad, already dead, and Mum gravely ill, I confronted the prospect I was not on track for a family of my own. I would never sit at the head of a long garden table, piled with festive food, and miscellaneous children sneaking cake and sips of wine. There would be no handy son or son-in-law to fix things around my house for free, no relief from the single supplement, no family rebate or tax deductions, no dedicated family member to help me navigate old age. And I found friendship was put on hold, interrupted in the wake of family making.
Bolted to my path, I stood before a towering igneous cliff graffitied with questions. Will I be a single parent? How do I parent another woman’s children if I love their father and he loves me? Will I manage on a single income in a dual income economy—a woman’s income at that? Back in the 1990s, I didn’t see the questions at the top. And they were beyond imagination. Will I manage extensive periodic lockdowns where I am unable to share the weight of this solitary life among friends? Who will call the ambulance if I am feint and coughing blood? And what, if food is rationed, what, when the floods and fires come?
There is a myth which fogs the minds of politicians, social planners, and ordinary people—being single is a transitional state. Bachelor or bachelorette, divorcee or separated will find their person. Even a widow can couple again, and a single parent, by choice or otherwise, can partner. The pea soup nature of this fog is clear when we remember that the myth spins a belief that, by the very lack of any relationship or parental status, those who never couple and or have children are unlovable and incapable of love. They are an irrelevant minority of the psychologically damaged, socially defiant, or sexually deviant. Little wonder they are absent from policy making, let alone pandemic and disaster planning.
Among the querulous questions on that cliff was a sentence. The personal is political. The title Shulamith Firestone gave Carol Hanisch’s essay in, Notes from the Second Year: Women’s Liberation (1970). ‘…personal problems are political problems,’ Hanisch wrote. ‘There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.’
Feminism paved the way for me to vote, be educated, earn a living, refuse inappropriate or, quite frankly, inadequate offers of coupling, decide against having children I couldn’t raise alone. But feminist scholarship, shrouded in pea soup, barely sees my life. It says nothing on managing solitude and the stigma of a life lived alone—the invisibility of it. Feminist rhetoric assumes that to be woman is to be mother, that solitude is glorious, that all women have careers not jobs, and careers satisfy for a lifetime. Feminism assumes there is no problem in search of a solution here.
But, I live this life, and others live it too. Our personal is political.
I want to burn-off that fog, engender a visceral awareness of this life. I want people to shudder. So I dare call myself, spinster, to differentiate this life from others, expose our collective problems, summon solidarity and, above all, beckon change.
Donna Ward is the publisher at Inkerman & Blunt. She founded indigo, the journal of Western Australian creative writing. Her prose can be found in respected journals and anthologies nationally, internationally and online. Now retired, she has past lives as a psychotherapist and social worker. She worked in her own private practice, in welfare management and social policy development. She, I Dare Not Name: A Spinster's Meditations on Life, is Donna's first book. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and check out her website here.
Things you should check out
I Became a Cat Lady During the Pandemic and It’s Pretty Cool, Actually – As a cat lover and hater of the cat lady trope, I LOVED this piece. Give it a read even if you don’t like cats - it deals with the way we internalise single stigma!
“We’ve been groomed to believe being single is wrong. It’s not”: why we need to rethink singledom – This by Shani Silver is spot on. And here’s another piece by her below:
Shani Silver is tired of the narrative around singlehood. Read an extract from her book 'A Single Revolution' – My copy of Shani’s book arrived this week and from the quick flick through I’ve had, it looks amazing. Read this extract if you want to try before you buy.
Life after loneliness: ‘At school, I was incredibly isolated – then I learned to build deep, thriving friendships’ – Lucy Webster, who is single, writes about the importance of reaching out to friends.
The high cost (and growing appeal) of single living – Interesting piece in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which points out a third of European Union households are occupied by single people without any children.
Why do so many of us ‘consent’ to sex we don't actually want? – As Rachel points out in this brilliant piece our sexual culture desperately needs to change.
"Watching Netflix's Maid made me appreciate my single mum so much more" – This writer reflects on why the portrayal of single motherhood is so important (and makes me want to watch Maid!)
Dear Tiff: How do I rebuild my social life after a break up? – The first agony aunt column from Tiffany Philippou is a good one!
After My Breakup, I Looked For Comfort In The Kitchen – This is a lovely read that I’ve only just come across about the writer learning how empowering cooking for yourself can be.
I Get Overly Attached In Relationships. Can I Learn To Change That? – Good little follow up to my newsletter last week on attachment styles. Would add that therapy helps a lot!
Luton mum joins campaign for single people to help fostering crisis – Ever since I interviewed a single foster carer, I’ve been considering looking into it. This article points out that a lot of people don’t realise that single people can become foster carers.
Single people are worse off financially, study shows – Tell us something we don’t know! (But is about new Pew research!)
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, where I spend most of my time! I did this intro for my new followers this week, which is a good place to start:
Words I love
People ask if I will be so choosy that I end up alone. Well, we are all alone, ultimately. If I compromise too much in a relationship, then I am hiding so much of who I am that I am still on my own.
– Grace Jones in her autobiography, I'll Never Write My Memoirs (Thanks to Charmaine for posting this in the Facebook group.)
For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you particularly liked this edition, you can buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
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