A poem entitled "It won't be my fault if I die an Old Maid", containing the lines "Remember no thought to a girl is so dread / As the terrible one—I may die an Old Maid."

A spinster, or old maid, is an older, childless woman who has never been married.

For a woman to be identified as a spinster, age is critical. A "spinster" is not simply a "single" woman, but a woman who has not formed a human pair bond (i.e., a bond that leads to childbirth) by the time she is approaching or has reached menopause and the end of her reproductive lifespan.[1]

"If someone is a spinster, by implication she is not eligible (to marry); she has had her chance, and been passed by," explains Robin Lakoff in Language and Woman's Place. "Hence, a girl of twenty cannot be properly called a spinster: she still has a chance to be married."[2]

"In modern everyday English," the New Oxford American Dictionary says, "spinster cannot be used to mean simply ‘unmarried woman’; it is now always a derogatory term, referring or alluding to a stereotype of an older woman who is unmarried, childless, prissy, and repressed."[1] The title "spinster" has nevertheless been embraced by feminists like Sheila Jeffreys, whose 1985 book The Spinster and Her Enemies defines spinsters simply as women who have chosen to reject sexual relationships with men.[3]


Early uses

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the term "originated in a town just east of Edinburgh, Scotland called Tranent."[1]

The term originally identified girls and women who spun wool. In medieval times, this was one of the few livelihoods available to a woman in order to live independently of a male wage. During the Elizabethan era, spinster came to indicate a woman or girl of marriageable age who was unwilling or unable to marry. "Spinster" also evolved into a legal term to describe an unmarried woman, commonly heard in the banns of marriage of the Church of England when the prospective bride is formally described as a "spinster of this parish".[4]

By the 19th century, the term evolved to mean women who were so finicky, that they refused to marry. During that century "middle-class spinsters, as well as their married peers, took ideals of love and marriage very seriously, and ... spinsterhood was indeed often a consequence of their adherence to those ideals. ... They remained unmarried not because of individual shortcomings but because they didn't find the one 'who could be all things to the heart.'"[5]

During that same century, one editorial in the fashion publication Peterson's Magazine encouraged women to remain choosy in selecting a mate — even at the price of never marrying. The editorial, titled "Honorable Often to Be an Old Maid," advised women: "Marry for a home! Marry to escape the ridicule of being called an old maid? How dare you, then, pervert the most sacred institution of the Almighty, by becoming the wife of a man for whom you can feel no emotions of love, or respect even?"[6]

Social stigma

Surveys indicate that modern spinsters feel a social stigma attached to their status, and a sense of both heightened visibility and invisibility. "Heightened visibility came from feelings of exposure, and invisibility came from assumptions made by others."[7]

Women may not pair bond for a variety of reasons, including the available pool of men, which can decrease dramatically during wartime. For instance, the First World War prevented a generation of women from experiencing romance and marriage, or having children.[8] The image of the old spinster with a fading photo of her dead World War I soldier boyfriend on her fireplace mantel was common in films of the 1950s and 1960s. Likewise, in the American classic novel Gone with the Wind about the Civil War, numerous references are made to grieving fiancées, women who were "wanted, if not wed," and to the shortage of single, able-bodied (and thus "marriageable") men at war's end.

In peacetime societies with wide opportunities for romance, marriage and children, there are other reasons that seemingly available women remain single as they approach old age.

Psychologist Erik Erikson postulated that during young adulthood (ages 18 to 35), individuals experience an inner conflict between a desire for intimacy (i.e., a committed relationship leading to a human pair bond) and a desire for isolation (i.e., fear of commitment).[9]

Popular culture

Spinsters have been the focus of attention from the media and mainstream culture for centuries.

For instance, the 2009 documentary Cat Ladies tells the stories of four spinsters whose lives have become dedicated to their cats.[10] Many classic and modern films have depicted stereotypical spinster characters. The fictional character Bridget Jones often refers to herself as a spinster in the film Bridget Jones' Diary. In the classic "Now, Voyager" (1942), Bette Davis portrayed Charlotte Vale, an unattractive, overweight, repressed spinster whose life is dominated by her dictatorial mother, an aristocratic Boston dowager whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to the woman's complete lack of self-confidence. She played another spinster named Charlotte in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Katharine Hepburn specialized in playing spinsters in the 1950s such as Rosie in The African Queen (1951), Jane Hudson in Summertime (1955), and Lizzie in The Rainmaker (1956). A common theme in the fiction writings of author/poet Sandra Cisneros is marital disillusionment; she has written the poem "Old Maids" (1994). Paul McCartney composed a hit song "Eleanor Rigby" in 1966 about the loneliness and death of a spinster.

One stereotype of spinsters that appears frequently in literature is that they are downtrodden or spineless women who were victims of an oppressive parent. This stereotype is played out in the classic short story "A Rose for Emily", in which Emily's father is confident that no man is worthy of his daughter's hand in marriage. Other stereotypes include women who were relegated to lifetime roles as family caretaker for their family of origin or for a married sibling's children, "poor relations" who would work "to earn their keep" as nannies or unpaid domestics.

In both The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare referred to a contemporary saying that it was the fate of women who died unmarried to lead apes into hell. By the time of the British Regency, "ape leader" had become a slang term for "old maid". It is often used in that context in Regency romances and other literature set in that period.

The book Washington Square and The Heiress have an old maid heroine who ultimately chooses to remain a spinster and embraces the freedom of not having to enter marriage.

In Australia, parties are held for young single people to meet and socialize (particularly in the rural areas). These events are known as Bachelor and Spinster Balls or colloquially 'B and S Balls.' Balls in which women ask men to attend are known as Sadie Hawkins dances in the United States. The Bob Dylan song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" tells the true story of a murder at a Spinsters' Ball in Baltimore in 1963.

Unpopped popcorn kernels have been dubbed "old maids" in popular slang, since just as unmarried women that don't have children, they do not "pop.".[11]

Famous spinsters

Susan Boyle, a Britain's Got Talent contestant was referred to as a spinster throughout the competition. Part of Boyle's massive appeal has been the difference between her allegedly-impressive talent and her "never been kissed" and "spinster" labels.

Other famous spinsters include Susan B. Anthony, Ann Coulter, Florence King, Condoleezza Rice, Maureen Dowd, Holly Hallstrom, Lizzie Borden, Emily Dickinson, Florence Nightingale, Queen Elizabeth I, actresses Frances Bavier, Ann B. Davis, Diane Keaton, Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo, and novelists Harper Lee, Louisa May Alcott, Emily Bronte, Willa Cather, and Jane Austen.

See also


  1. ^ a b c New Oxford American Dictionary: 'spinster'.
  2. ^ Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place. New York: Harper and Row.
  3. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila. The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880-1930. 1985.
  4. ^ Marriage service rubric in The Book of Common Prayer
  5. ^ Zsuzsa Berend: 'The Best Or None!' Spinsterhood In Nineteenth-Century New England. Summer, 2000, Journal of Social History
  6. ^ Zsuzsa Berend: 'The Best Or None!' Spinsterhood In Nineteenth-Century New England. Summer, 2000, Journal of Social History
  7. ^ LiveScience: 'Single Women Still Feel Spinster Stigma, Study Finds'. March, 2010, LiveScience.
  8. ^ Nicholson, Virginia. Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War. 2007.
  9. ^ Harder, Arlene. The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson (2009).
  10. ^ http://catladiesdoc.com/
  11. ^ Slang dictionary definition Slang City

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

См. также в других словарях:

  • Spinster — Spin ster, n. [Spin + ster.] 1. A woman who spins, or whose occupation is to spin. [1913 Webster] She spake to spinster to spin it out. Piers Plowman. [1913 Webster] The spinsters and the knitters in the sun. Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. A man who… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • spinster — mid 14c., female spinner of thread, from M.E. spinnen (see SPIN (Cf. spin)) + stere, feminine suffix. Spinning commonly done by unmarried women, hence the word came to denote an unmarried woman in legal documents from 1600s to early 1900s, and by …   Etymology dictionary

  • Spinster — (engl., »Spinnerin«), lediges Frauenzimmer, »alte Jungfer« …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • spinster — meaning an unmarried woman, has overtones that vary from disapproving to offensive, unlike bachelor which still tends to have positive and even romantic associations. Both words have been replaced by single [person] in the official wording of… …   Modern English usage

  • spinster — ► NOUN chiefly derogatory ▪ an unmarried woman, typically an older woman beyond the usual age for marriage. DERIVATIVES spinsterhood noun spinsterish adjective. ORIGIN originally in the sense «woman who spins» …   English terms dictionary

  • spinster — [spin′stər] n. [ME < spinnen, to SPIN + STER] 1. a woman who spins thread or yarn 2. a) a woman who is not married, divorced, or widowed (used esp. in legal documents) b) a middle aged or older woman who has never married spinsterhood n …   English World dictionary

  • spinster — UK [ˈspɪnstə(r)] / US [ˈspɪnstər] noun [countable] Word forms spinster : singular spinster plural spinsters old fashioned an insulting word for a woman who is not married and is past the age when women usually get married …   English dictionary

  • spinster — noun Spinster is used before these nouns: ↑aunt …   Collocations dictionary

  • spinster — spin|ster [ˈspınstə US ər] n old fashioned [Date: 1600 1700; Origin: spinster woman who spins (14 20 centuries), from spin] an unmarried woman, usually one who is no longer young and seems unlikely to marry …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • spinster — [[t]spɪ̱nstə(r)[/t]] spinsters N COUNT A spinster is a woman who has never been married, especially an old or middle aged woman. [OLD FASHIONED] …   English dictionary

Поделиться ссылкой на выделенное

Прямая ссылка:
Нажмите правой клавишей мыши и выберите «Копировать ссылку»