shoulda put a ring on it, shoulda signed a contract, shoulda just kept your head down and worked, etc.
May 23, 2015 § 8 Comments
I had an idea of turning this blog around, as it were, come 2015 — it would be the diary of the angry Tamil spinster, or something. Her eternal disquiet. 2015 came and I spent a lot of time of twitter, faving tweets, retweeting tweets, wondering why bother to write anything. Thus far, I’m still wondering: why bother to write? And have not yet found an answer that is sufficient to make it worthwhile (not for myself, but for others.) Related: why should others read me, or how does my writing contribute to anything, if at all? More important than “why bother to write”.
I’ve started to identify so much as “spinster” in my head, first as a joke, but now as reality, because I think back to how we were made to be afraid of being the unmarried 30-something woman taking care of her elderly mother when were in our teens, and thus encouraged to study hard and look pretty to avert this fate, and how I have arrived at this fate not through conscious choice but a series of decisions based on facts of my life that were beyond my immediate control. Is this what they call agency? Surely the spinster, being in the position she is, should be the most anti-capitalist of them all.
I read Kate Bolick’s Spinster expecting to feel some kinship with it, moments where the writer stares into the abyss of utter aloneness and I stare along with her. Instead, it’s about a pretty woman who is plenty sought-after by men and attends lots of literary parties and can never walk down the street without seeming like she winds up on a date. (This woman is Bolick, to be clear.) There are bits in-between about women from her past who have acted as her awakeners; all of them white, most of them pretty and sought-after by men in the same way, and in a creepy way, all very pale-skinned and eroticised because of this white skin (her descriptions of how Edna St. Vincent Millay was desired by men, for example, works in this creepy way … creepy because desire-for-white-women is always taken for granted.)
This book, as Jessa Crispin writes, also vexed me. At one point, when tracing the life of one of her awakeners, Maeve Brennan, and noting that she did actually end up living the spinster nightmare — that of a “bag lady” — Bolick wonders, “What did it mean that this was the woman I’d aspired to be?” Maybe some spinsters end up as “bag ladies” because of their position in society, alienated, precarious, and unwanted — how are they to thrive under the brutal conditions of capitalism? But in case the cover of Spinster wasn’t already a clue, Bolick’s book is for the shiny and striving. In identifying with Brennan but cringing at the bag lady, Bolick can’t see what she won’t see. All you need to do is awaken the neoliberal soul and be productively employed. Bonus: if you’re pretty and can get a lot of dates, you can only worry about your strange desire to be alone without actually living the alienation that aloneness prescribes in a capitalist society.
The face of the new spinster movement or whatever, as determined by the Publishing World (i.e. New York), is pretty and white, so the rest of us will have to gather under a different banner, I guess. Hag? Bag lady? Take your pick. Like wage labour, the ability to make a choice between being undesirable and unproductive, or being desirable and productive, is a sign of agency. The choice is yours ladies! Will you work to improve your look, lean in, and make an effort? If you do, you deserve to exist.
People are afraid of being single forever. I bring that subject a lot, because I’m surrounded by ugly neurotic guys (I love my friends, but no woman’s going to choose them). They always attack it aggressively and throw the word depression around. Some people just don’t want to have a partner. Some people aren’t sexually attractive enough. No one’s gonna die of lack of sex.
Write because writing helps us organize our thoughts. Put them up on the net so people will respond. Discussion of ideas is pure pleasure.
The social pressure to pair up and reproduce is unnecessary, and even harmful in a few different ways.
I’m not at all convinced this has anything to do with capitalism. Any society is bound to produce a pecking order, and to use power to satisfy desires. Money just happens to be our current representation of power.
I second JarBrain’s comments on writing, and add that I’m subscribed because I disagree with you. I’m looking for a more complete perspective on reality. As I’m a male libertarian, you seem to have a good chance of helping with that, if only by showing me opinions that I’ll never agree with. (Opinions are part of reality too!)
woww, unabashed young pretty white women sex tourism ‘vay-cays’ to latin america touchdown dancing in ‘Spinster’?! and thanks for writing this, because i hear you.
No, sorry for the confusion–it’s not sex tourism, she’s writing about the freedom to travel to the tropics to have sex with a boyfriend who is there on a work assignment, etc. I don’t want to misrepresent Bolick on that front! The reason I used this excerpt is just to highlight the gulf between this experience and the experiences of the “spinsters” Saba Mahmood meets in Egypt, for example, for whom kinship ties are crucial but is fraught with so much baggage simply because they’re unmarried. Problem with Bolick’s book and others of its ilk (if there are books like this, or maybe thinkpieces of this nature) is its utter insularity and the universalising of the middle-class white American woman’s experience. It’s a massively exhausting book, in that respect.
Subashini, You bring a valuable and important voice to this mostly male, mostly white choir. I forgot and start singing their tune believing it to be pleasant to my ears. You help me remember my true song. Also, you are funny and transcendent in your responses to unabashed ugliness and vitriol. I dig it.
sheila jeffrey’s book ‘the spinster and her enemies’ is really good.
[…] Ramchandran being wonderful on Jessa Crispin’s Dead Ladies Project and, relatedly, Subashini Navaratnam on spinsterhood and, relatedly, Crispin herself on Kate Bolick’s […]