Wednesday, October 01, 2008

In Search of Cinematic Spinsters and Unmarried Women

I never intended to be a Spinster. I thought that I would get married I never for a second thought of myself in the image of an "Old Maid." Hair in a bun, sucked up cheeks and bifocals. I'm older and a wee bit wiser. I have removed the last of the illusions of finding Mr. Right or "the one and only." I have even moved pass finding a somebody to love. I accept that it may or may not happen. In any case, I am done collection frog memories.

Cultural Sanctioned Images of Spinsters

When I started thinking about my concepts of spinsterhood I had a lot of powerful images and media messages that flooded my consciousness. Spinsters are old and ugly and they turn mean or unstable without a man.

My mind can see cartoons with the Sea Hag and Alice the Goon as spinster role models. The many variations of the shushing sexually repressed librarian. The Jane Austin books that put the word out that you better hook up with someone or you might have to depend on the kindness of flipped out relatives or dark, powerful but aloof men.

I'm thinking there has got to be a positive spinster image somewhere in my mind. Here is an example with Bette Davis in " Um, for those that haven't seen the movie it is a wonderful film but to tell more would spoil it. But the way she looked in that scene? Spinsterville.

From the theater there is that poor soul in Tennessee William's Summer and Smoke, Rosalind Russell in the movie Picnic where she practically begs a guy to marry her to keep her from being one of the "unwanted." and a boat load of Katherine Hepburn movies that start her off as a spinster but some how she gets hooked up with her unexpected man by the end of the movie. Sometimes he will even let her be what she dreams of, so long as she make room for him.

A Little History & Positive Cultural Images of Spinsters?

I needed help to understand what was going on. I found an article by Deborah J. Mustard, California State University Los Angeles entitle: Spinster: An Evolving Stereotype Revealed Through Film. It was originally written for the Journal of Media Psychology Winter 2000. She did a good job of giving me a context to understand why I was having so much trouble being able to visually positive images of unmarried women.
"Modern American culture has raised generations of women who believed that their true and most important role in society was to get married and have children. Anything short of this role was considered abnormal, unfulfilling, and suspect. This female stereotype has been exploited and perpetuated by some key films in the late 40’s and early 50’s. But more recently we have seen a shift in the cultural view of the spinster. The erosion of the traditional nuclear family, as well as a larger range of acceptable life choices, has caused our perceptions of unmarried women to change.

The film industry has reflected this shift with updated stereotypes that depict this cultural trend. The shift in the way we perceive spinsters is the subject of current academic research which shows that a person’s perception of particular societal roles influences the amount of stress or depression they experience when in that specific role. Further, although the way our culture perceives spinsters and the way the film industry portrays them may be evolving, we still are still left with a negative stereotype."
Film and theater reflected the culture identities and society themes that came from religion, from paternal institutions and from women themselves. Having a husband and family (if you wanted that) was desirable, it is desirable if that is what you want. Really, not knocking happy families. Need more of them.

But if you didn't want that lifestyle, if you wanted to pursue a career or an adventure or you just needed solitude in your life it took a lot of moxie for women to get around that huge cultural imprint. So are there any positive movie images of Spinsters?

Well, kinda. Rachel, Rachel from 1968 about a 35 year old school teacher in a small town that has choose the way she wants to live her life.

In 1978 there was An Unmarried Woman who, technically is not a spinster but does have to recreate her life after her husband drops her for another woman 

More contemporary in 2008 is a movie called "Single, A Documentary Film" that talks about recognizing that millions of us will not be married.

Yo, What About Bloggers Eh?
Another Working Mom did a review of three movies with spinster-ish themes.

There are vast number of women bloggers reclaiming the "S-word" and holding it as a badge of honor. The Spinster Girl's Guide to Life on navigating this world coming into view. One way is by telling your unfiltered story.

Over at the Women's History Project blog  there is an brief interview with Charles J. Shields of a biography of To Kill A Mocking Bird's Harper Lee. What do we know of her life?  Well she lives it on her terms, in her own self determined privacy. She may or may not be a Spinster.
SueBob Davis At Red Stapler has a few words to say about the men she has known and how she managed not to get married.

So what movies or plays have you seen that culturally influenced your thought about being single or married or any permutation in-between?

Originally posted at BlogHer.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the link love. It was fun to go back and see what I said about being a spinster.