I think at this point in my life, the projections I have to deal with as an older, childless, single woman are often worse than the actuality of living as one.
My roommate, for instance, has shown a tendency to befriend over-forty, single, childless women. I have wondered about this proclivity. Given his ageism, might he believe that such women have nothing else going on in their lives so they will indulge him? It’s highly ironic if so, as I’m out every night with classes and activities while he’s on the sofa.
More on stereotypes:
Another aspect of the spinster stereotype is the relegation of the individual to the role of caretaker. Since unmarried women stayed at home, they were expected to take care of elderly or ill relatives, selflessly devoting their time and energies to them. And why not, since they had no life of their own.
Peach (1998) says that when women have not been biological mothers, they are expected to fulfill the role of “social mothers.” Since a spinster has no children of her own, society expects her to step in and fulfill a generic mothering role when called upon – it’s her duty. This societal duty is clearly depicted in Now Voyager when Charlotte takes on the responsibility for caring for the unwanted child of her lover, a man she can never marry. Neither the child’s psychiatrist nor the natural mother has been successful caring for her, so it becomes Charlotte’s duty to step in and be the social mother. We are left to conclude that Charlotte’s ultimate self-sacrifice of caring for this unwanted child is a noble, and perhaps expected, thing to do since she has no child or husband of her own to care for.
This role of social mother is also portrayed in Summertime (1955) between Katherine Hepburn and the homeless local boy who tags along in the guise of being her protector and guide. The boy represents what is missing in her life and when he disappears at one point in the film, she is worried about him. Her care and motherly concern for this street child fills society’s expectation of her as a social mother.
In The Woman Alone, O’Brien (1973) addresses society’s fear that spinsters might just find their unmarried role satisfying, and that they might be able to feel complete without marriage and motherhood:
“Underlying all the criticisms and attacks on women along through history has been the uneasy fear that women who seek alternatives to marriage and motherhood might very well find them satisfying. The images of themselves that women have been presented with (and helped perpetuate) are intended to discourage or intimidate. And even though as a nation we are committing ourselves to cutting back the birth rate, women who do not marry pose questions about the structure of society. Those questions are difficult to articulate, because they are so deeply rooted in our anxieties about what we are. If women are allowed to flee on their broomsticks, couldn’t they possibly destroy all that has been so carefully put together by men?” (p. 74).
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