Victoria feminists were asked to send answers to “why am I a spinster?” into a magazine - here’s what happened…
Spinster. What does that word mean in 2019?
Well, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “An unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage.” Hmm, let’s just park the fact that it suggests there is a “usual age for marriage” for a second while we unpack this.
Originally, it was used in the 17th century as the official legal description of an unmarried woman. Today, it is used as a derogatory term, alluding to the stereotype of a woman beyond her thirties who is unmarried and doesn’t have children.
The male equivalent of spinster is… oh, there isn’t one. Bachelor is perhaps the closest thing, which is defined as: “A man who is not and has never been married.” Notice how, unsurprisingly, age and the number of children he has doesn’t even come into it here.
But, the dictionary does address how outdated the idea of spinsterhood is, adding: “The development of the word spinster is a good example of the way in which a word acquires strong connotations to the extent that it can no longer be used in a neutral sense.”
Imagine, then, how much worse the stigma must have been during the Victorian era when women had very few rights. But judging by letters discovered by a historian – they didn’t have time for the word either.
Victorian pop culture historian Dr Bob Nicholson shared some hilarious responses that were sent into the magazine Tit-Bits in 1889, when women were asked the question: why am I a spinster?
Nicholson shared them on Twitter, and here are a few of the highlights.
“Because men, like three-cornered tarts, are deceitful. They are very pleasing to the eye, but on closer acquaintanceship prove hollow and stale, consisting chiefly of puff, with a minimum of sweetness and an unconquerable propensity to disagree with one,” wrote Miss Emaline Lawrence.
“Because I do not care to enlarge my menagerie of pets, and I find the animal man less docile than a dog, less affectionate than a cat and less amusing than a monkey,” said Annie Thompson.
“Like the wild mustang of the prairie that roams unfettered, tossing his head in utter disdain at the approach of the lasso which, is once round his neck, proclaims him captive, so I find it more delightful to tread on the verge of freedom and captivity than to allow the snarer to cast around me the matrimonial lasso,” shared Sarah Kennerly.
“My reason for being a spinster is answered in a quotation of the Taming of the Shrew: “Of all the men alive I never yet beheld that special face which I could fancy more than any other,” added Lizzie Moore.
We can’t help but wonder if the answers to the question would be very similar if it were asked today.