Listen to Anne Widdecombe’s programme on Spinsters in Popular Culture for Radio Four BBC iPlayer - From Jean Brodie to Carrie Bradshaw: Spinsters in Popular Culture (available on the iplayer until 10th March). If you can get past the slightly maddening timbre of Widdecombe’s voice, you will find many treasures here.
Money quote: ‘The spinster is supposed to be a monument to regret.’
I am a spinster, and I feel neither monumental nor regretful. But what does make me crazy is that I am expected to defend and explain my decision not to marry, while those who rush through a whirlwind of romance and dance up the aisle in a large white dress get presents and flowers.
It drives me nuts that marriage is considered the default mode for all successful females, that without it they have somehow failed.
It sends me bonkers that pledging yourself to another single human is considered so much in the natural order of things that no one ever asks, ‘Have you actually thought through the ramifications of spending fifty years of your life with a man who likes watching Top Gear on a Sunday night?’.
It still makes my feminist heart beat with fury that the marriage ceremony involves one man giving one woman to another man, as if we are all in the male gift. And it makes my head spin off with frustration that any woman who questions marriage is dismissed as a cynic, or a freak, or a lesbian, or all three.
Don’t even start me on the false dichotomy. The idea goes that if a woman should choose not to marry she is not only definitively odd, but that she is somehow against marriage altogether; she is beadily judging all those who have chosen it, and is busy finding them wanting. It becomes us versus them, the bitter singletons ranged against the smug marrieds. Films and books and magazines and newspapers love spinning this idiot canard into entire industries, and repeat it so often that it burrows into the female subconscious like a universal truth instead of an entire wrong construction. (Imagine if whole classes of men were divided into husbands and bachelors, riven with conflict and mutual suspicion; it’s too bizarre to contemplate.)
I don’t want to get married, because it’s not my thing. I do reject the lazy idea that matrimony is the absolute single solution to a woman’s problems, the celestial highway to enduring joy, the one-way ticket to never being miserable again. I think some people are built for it and some are not. I think not doing it is not a failure, but a rational choice. I think you can be more lonely in a sad marriage than you will ever be on your own.
I look at the good marriages, and I know a few – the ones where there is affection, good jokes, sympathy and understanding, and a little crazy dose of what-the-fuck every once in a while – and I watch them in awe and wonder. I can not want to emulate them, but I can admire them, all the same.