Fibers to be spun are bound to a distaff held in her left hand. Long before the Industrial Age , "spinster" denoted girls and women who spun wool. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, spinning was "commonly done by unmarried women, hence the word came to denote" an unmarried woman in legal documents from the s to the early s, and "by was being used generically for 'woman still unmarried and beyond the usual age for it' ".
A woman who spins, or whose occupation is to spin. An unmarried or single woman. During that century middle-class spinsters, as well as their married peers, took ideals of love and marriage very seriously, and They remained unmarried not because of individual shortcomings but because they didn't find the one "who could be all things to the heart". Marry to escape the ridicule of being called an old maid? How dare you, then, pervert the most sacred institution of the Almighty, by becoming the wife of a man for whom you can feel no emotions of love, or respect even?
Current use[ edit ] The Oxford American English Dictionary defines spinster as "an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage".
A usage note goes on to say that this sense "is It implies negative qualities such as being fussy or undesirable". Also included is a sense of the word used specifically in a legal context: The title "spinster" has been embraced by feminists like Sheila Jeffreys , whose book The Spinster and Her Enemies defines spinsters simply as women who have chosen to reject sexual relationships with men.
We think we know what the wife is up to and what the mother is up to but the single woman is mysterious. I like that mystery. So the term is a useful way to hold onto the idea of autonomy that can get so easily lost inside of marriage or motherhood. Writer and spinster Louisa May Alcott famously wrote that "liberty is a better husband than love to many of us".
Psychologist Erik Erikson postulated that during young adulthood ages 18 to 39 , individuals experience an inner conflict between a desire for intimacy i. According to Adrienne Rich , "Women have married because it was necessary, in order to economically, in order to have children who would not suffer economic deprivation or social ostracism, in order to remain respectable, in order to do what was expected of women because coming out of 'abnormal' childhoods they wanted to feel 'normal', and because heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure, duty, and fulfillment".
They are the "aanissat" in Arabic, "spinsters" or "old maids" in English, "vieilles filles" in French, "zitelle" in Italian, "alte Jungfer" in German, or "dakhtar torsheedeh" in Persian. There is also a philanthropic group of women between the ages of 21 and 35, called the Spinsters of San Francisco, who organize events. In the classic Now, Voyager , Bette Davis portrayed Charlotte Vale, an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is dominated by her dictatorial mother, an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman's complete lack of self-confidence.
Bette Davis played another spinster named Charlotte in Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte The fictional character Bridget Jones often refers to herself as a spinster in the film Bridget Jones's Diary The documentary Cat Ladies spins a tale of four spinsters whose lives have become dedicated to their cats. Literature[ edit ] In both The Taming of the Shrew early s and Much Ado About Nothing late s , William Shakespeare referred to a contemporary saying that it was the fate of women who died unmarried to lead apes into hell.
By the time of the British Regency , "ape leader" had become a slang term for "old maid". It is often used in that context in Regency romances and other literature set in that period.
This stereotype is played out in William Faulkner 's classic short story " A Rose for Emily " , in which Emily's father is confident that no man is worthy of his daughter's hand in marriage. Other stereotypes include women who were relegated to lifetime roles as family caretaker for their family of origin  or for a married sibling's children, "poor relations" who would work "to earn their keep" as nannies or unpaid domestics.
In the Charles Dickens ' classic Great Expectations , the primary antagonist is Miss Havisham , a spinster embittered by being defrauded and abandoned on her wedding day; an event that shaped the rest of her life, and by extension, those around her.
Another stereotype of the spinster that has appeared in literature is the quick-witted and sometimes quick-tempered independent woman, who has remained unmarried by choice, as in "Spinster Thurber's Carpet" , Pauline Phelps 's popular short story and play about an unmarried woman who decides during the Revolutionary War that she'd rather have a carpet than a husband. Bob Dylan 's song " The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll " tells the true story of a murder at a spinsters' ball in Baltimore in The country song " Delta Dawn ", made famous by Tanya Tucker , overviews the plight of a woman focused on a single lost love, destined to go unmarried unless the lover returns.
Lemon, a something single woman whose relationships never seem to work out, has unrealistically high expectations for a male partner: