In Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick dives into her desire for for a life that transcends marriage and allows her to flourish on her own terms. I must confess that I relate to Kate Bolick’s sentiments almost absolutely; I wrote this review in a grateful and delighted state.
When I was in fifth grade, I made a big decision: I would not become a mother or wife — but my own person. Even at a young age, I felt aware of how easy it was to lose one’s singularity while tangled in the societal demands attached to womanhood. Once I became swallowed by the needs of others, it would be harder to maintain my own life — I thought it would be easier to leave the model of marriage and motherhood behind than to try to wrestle it into a more balanced proportion. When puberty kicked in, my center of gravity shifted toward the aspired status of girlfriend and a life lived in a supporting role. But my deeper longing to be my own woman and my own kind of woman never faded.
For me, Spinster is a revelation. Bolick helped me to traverse the wide ocean between my two desires, giving me the words to digest how and why I felt pulled in opposing directions from such a young age. Her writing expresses the need for oneness in a world that prefers coupledom and the difficulty this yearning presents for women. I often found myself reading sentences, paragraphs, or full pages of Spinster to my boyfriend of three years — ironic, I know. Her perspective illuminated and nourished my inner spinster, who was grateful for a newfound awareness. Miraculously, Bolick not only leads us to question our inherited roles as women, she brings us to a resolution in a masterful and unexpected way.
Bolick’s decision to find wholeness in herself rather than a “better half” is illuminating, in great part, because of the lives she shares with us. She deftly weaves the stories of her five awakeners — Edna Millay, Maeve Brennan, Neith Boyce, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman — as well as that of her mother into a spirited narrative. One of the most remarkable aspects of Spinster is how Bolick found belonging in women writers who lived generations before us. This relationship calls to question the modernity of our world — yes, some institutions have changed, but has society changed with them?
As Bolick asks at the end of Spinster:
Are women people yet? By which I mean: Are we finally ready for a young woman to set out on the long road of her as a human being who inhabits but isn’t limited by her gender? We’ve been evolving toward this new question ever since America was founded, albeit excruciatingly slowly and with many stops and starts along the way. Until the answer is an undeniable yes, a girl actually can’t grow up like a boy, free to consider the long scope of her life as her own distinct self.
Our inner spinsters empower us to ask the question, “What does it mean to live your life?” For those of us who feel we need to choose between the myriad of conflicting expectations placed upon women — professional, mother, wife — Bolick suggests that the solution may be close at hand. By embodying one more role, the spinster, we call all of our other duties to serve of ourselves and that life worth living.