Making a Life of One's Own
"Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence."
A bold, original, moving book that will inspire fanatical devotion and ignite debate.
“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.
This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.
Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives—a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor.
Spinster was such an unexpected surprise for me! The author, Kate Bolick, is a very talented writer and I wasn't prepared for that. Perhaps it was the subject of the book or the cover that had me thinking this would be a girly empowering book written by a NYC socialite. Totally wrong. Kate Bolick grew up in New England, and she really knows how to describe the area. She talks about finding her love by reading about love (or lack of) among some of her most cherished writers/poets. Each chapter flips back and forth between her own life, the life of one of her idols and some very intriguing facts about marriage, women, expectations and traditions. This format made for a very smooth reading experience, it broke up the monotony felt with that pattern quite well. Just as I was getting tired of hearing about her love life, she switches gears and goes back to a strong female writer that broke boundaries of her time. Really fantastic.
Let me start with complaining how much Kate has increased my to-read list. She name drops and gives such a glorified background on many talented female authors that it was near impossible to not want to add them. I've decided to create a goodreads list of all the titles I highlighted while reading, feel free to add to that list (if you've read it). Just click that link and check out the list, you'll understand what I'm talking about. The history she shares about oppression, coercion and brainwashing that happens when dealing with marriage and children is stupefying. I couldn't believe that during the depression, companies were encouraged to fire the female workers to hire males, "By 1932, married women were prohibited by law from working in twenty-six states". Looking back, it makes sense but doesn't make it right. Taken slightly further, society viewed menstruation as so debilitating that it held women back from working full-time, "therefore rendering them undeserving of full wages." There is some great history here of women rising in the workforce after some terrible setbacks.
The history isn't all about marriage though, she covers motherhood and the pressure women go through to have kids. "Throughout the 1600's & 1700's, it was common for a woman to give birth nine months after her wedding and continue on every two years, until she reached the end of her fertility or died (whichever came first)." What I truly found fascinating was her insight into how our culture uses reproduction to tie a woman into thinking a certain way. A man grows up without that pressure. Kate even asks the question of what it would be like for a girl if we grew up like a boy, "with marriage an abstract, someday thought, a thing to think about when she became an adult, a thing she could do, or not do, depending?" I would LOVE to see a world that treated us equally in that way. YES, women are given the miracle of birth, of carrying a child... but there is so much sacrifice to be had there. Our minds get trapped into the thought of life having no other meaning besides this. "Rare is she who doesn't at least occasionally succumb to the nagging fear that if she remains childless, she'll live to regret it." I feel this way all the time. I'm happily coupled with my long time "life-partner" boyfriend and extremely happy. We don't need a giant wedding or kids to make us happy or fulfilled. Why then do I still feel that pressure? Not only among our parents and family but inside myself as well? It's a terrible feeling and completely unfair because it is very one sided. Kate Bolick truly hit the nail on the head when it comes to the pressure women have to deal with. Her ideas to overcome this and create a "new" thinking on relationships and coupling are very modern and appealing. I stand behind her 100%.
I could go on and on about this book, I have piles of notes. I want to share something that Kate says that really stuck with me. This is less about marriage, equality and forward thinking but relates to a memory I had as a child, one that was brought to mind by her own description of her childhood. She is talking about growing up in New England and how being in her room reading was a comfort, "For me it was being alone up in that bedroom, reading or lazing about, one ear forever tuned to the orchestra of family life." THIS! This was my childhood. I remember reading books in my bedroom to the background noise (downstairs, below me) of my family chattering on, muffled voices with no meaning. This was the soundtrack to my childhood reading, what was yours?
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