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Stories, One of Spinsterhood

November 22, 2008

I hate noisy passengers on flights. I flew in from out of town yesterday and there were three particularly obnoxious white middle class men on my flight, 1 of whom, thankfully, was seated away from the others, in business class. The other 2 were seated separately but, unfortunately, each within 2 seats of me, in economy. They shouted to each other over my head about how they needed to go where there might be “classy, good-looking women.” I presume they also meant for these women to be loose. I imagined the Cialis sitting in the carry-on bags of the 55-year-old men. The woman sitting next to the one directly behind me piped up happily, with a slight smugness in her voice for knowing our destination city, “You need to go to [Fancy Part of Town].”

“[Fancy Part of Town]?” the man sitting behind me crooned, interested.

Oh, was the woman encouraged by this. “Yeah,” she said, after a satisfied pause, obviously proud of herself for being able to be of service to the man, “but you have to have money down there.” I cringed inwardly at her “faux pas.” See, even though I was not raised middle class, I can pass. And one integral part of passing for middle class is never to talk about money. Well, certainly it’s best just to never talk about money until you learn the particular circumstances under which it is considered OK, or even expected, that you talk about it. Ha.

But, then, the middle class man made a faux pas of his own. “Oh, money’s not an issue, honey — AIN’T THAT RIGHT, JIMMY!” He began shouting again over the top of my head to his buddy sitting in the row just diagonal to mine. “HEY – DADDY-O! YOU HEAR THIS GIRL DOWN HERE? SHE SAYS YOU HAVE TO HAVE MONEY TO GO TO [FANCY PART OF TOWN]. LET’S GO TO [FANCY PART OF TOWN].”

“WHO’S THAT CALLING ME DADDY BACK THERE? WHEN I TURN AROUND IT BETTER BE A GOOD-LOOKING WOMAN! HELL YEAH, LET’S GO TO [FANCY PART OF TOWN]”!

Oh, my god. On and on and on they went. The man behind me went back to his inside voice and asked the woman if she wanted to go hang out with them in [Fancy Part of Town], bring a couple of her friends. There would need to be three of them. She turned briefly to her boyfriend and told him not to be mad, then giggled. “Oh, no, you won’t have me down there in [Fancy Part of Town], but you’ll find the women you’re looking for down there.”

There I was, feeling for some reason like a trussed turkey with little white caps on the drumsticks in my new clearance-rack suit, and I just couldn’t stand it. The man behind me ended up going to get a handful of business-class cookies from the missing stooge in the front of the plane. He brought them back all, “MAN, THESE ARE THE BEST COOKIES I’VE EVER HAD. HERE, JIMMY, TAKE ONE OF THESE, MAN. AIN’T THAT GOOD? TAKE A FEW OF ‘EM.” I mean, all the way down the aisle of the plane, he bragged about his business-class cookies. I was really glad the flight was relatively short.

While I was away, I was presented with several opportunities to declare my dedicated spinsterhood. Not in the pining away, oh-woe-is-me sense, but in a dedicated, devoted, enthusiastic sense. People were so baffled! The first occurred when someone asked me what I was reading and I told him I was reading The Spinster and her Enemies. “What is that, like The Scarlet Letter?”

And I told him it wasn’t fiction, that it was a history of the spinster by Sheila Jeffreys and that since I was a dedicated spinster myself, I figured I ought to know who meant me harm. There wasn’t any reason to tell him, though, that the people Sheila Jeffreys warned about were exactly the people I suspected I need to beware of in the first place. His eyes widened in horror. “No,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his wrist, “Don’t say that.”

Whoa! I’d never had someone attempt to silence me so directly! “Well, I will say it,” I told him. “I insist on living a man-free life. I’m not waiting on Mr. Right.”

I’m a dedicated spinster. It’s what I want and I revel in it. He wasn’t the only person dismayed by my happy spinsterhood, either. When, later, somebody asked if I had a special someone (for purposes of finding out whether I might be available for her son – yeccccchhhhh), she too was not happy to learn that I wasn’t interested in men. She looked at me askance, wondering whether I meant that I was a lesbian. I didn’t bother to clarify because it doesn’t really matter, in my opinion. A woman unavailable to men is a woman unavailable to men.

Of course, a woman available to men is a woman available to men, too. Which is to say that it doesn’t matter what a woman’s particular “sexuality” is if she’s available to men. Which is why there are plenty of lesbian women being prostituted to men and by men, for example. A woman’s preferences have very little to do with political implications in male supremacy. But I digress.

What’s interesting to me about this automatic rejection of spinsterhood, of the spinster herself, is that according to Sheila Jeffreys, western society once took the view of the spinster that I do – that it didn’t really matter what a woman’s sexual preferences might have been if she wasn’t of service to men. There was no lesbian stereotype, and there was no real social opprobrium for close, physically intimate female friendships. Women were economically dependent enough on men that men didn’t have to worry at all that a woman might leave him for another woman. How on earth would two women make it together, just them alone, in a world in which women weren’t allowed to work, for example? Under such circumstances, women’s intimate friendships were even seen as practice for the love and devotion they would eventually shower on men and were thus considered a service to males!

Boy, is it hard to get out of this white male supremacist web. Absolutely everything a woman can do will be construed as being to a man’s, or all men’s, benefit. I’m glad to be home. I’m worn out. I think I’m going back to bed.

8 Comments
  1. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    November 22, 2008 8:02 pm

    Let me start by first saying, —-LMAO at you sitting there in your clearance rack suit. Oh, not laughing at you, but laughing at the identifying sensation that comes with reading that line. I don’t think the word is superiority, but there is something that must describe the self-satisfying feeling of being aware of one’s surroundings, including what part that person plays and how and why and what it took to put said person (myself) into those surroundings (the beg, borrowing, and stealing to get the money, clothes and shoes to make a trip, even a business trip).

    I did not grow up middle class and often miss many of their little nuances that help them identify each of as a member of their ilk, but I too know not to talk about money, not in public anyway.

    What if these men wives are usually the ones to shore up the middle class image for them, and they think it is okay to rave about business class cookies and talk all loud, because they feel entitled to it, like appropriating raunch culture. Since they don’t actually have to live that life daily, as in, a cookie (was it a gourmet cookie? lol) being a real treat, they get to benefit from playing the role of a hick that would embarrass himself over a business class cookie. It is all about the play-acting you know. One can afford to play act when they are not bogged down with the trifles of every day life of the struggling classes. And in my opinion play-acting is a different concept than escapism.

    Yes, yes, the old spinster, how dare you own it, and not cry over it. That one man sounded like he wanted to say, “there, there, my little rose, you are still young, there is still time to hope.”

  2. Chris permalink
    November 23, 2008 12:55 pm

    How embarrassing, the Air Marshall should have shot them to put them out of their “obnoxious traveling mid-level salesman” caricature misery. I picture these guys acting like Herb Tarlek from the show WKRP In Cinncinati. Hell, he was ridiculously outdated back then.

  3. MargaretJamison permalink
    November 24, 2008 8:36 pm

    Thanks for the comments, y’all. Kitty, I actually have to laugh at *myself* sitting there in my clearance rack suit annoyed with people acting like “hicks” when they (or their wives) probably bought their clothes/luggage/shoes at the MSRP. The whole slum-it-up-as-a-hick-for-a-day thing really bothered me, but it never occurred to me that they were undermining an image their wives probably did most of the work to maintain.

    The distastefulness of the “slum-it-up” thing, though, applies to all hierarchies, in my opinion. No, it is never OK for an upper-class person to dress up as/pretend to be/mock the lower classes. No, it is never OK for a male person to dress up as/pretend to be/mock a female person. No, it is never OK for a white person to dress up as/pretend to be/mock the nonwhite (or for the nonblack to do so to the black, since I think black people are the most racially maligned group). It’s not OK for the physically able to dress up as/pretend to be/mock the disabled. None of these things will EVER be OK until people aren’t oppressed on these bases. And, of course, the people on the lower halves of those hierarchies are too busy trying to look as though they AREN’T feminine/female/nonwhite/black/poor/disabled/etc, out of consideration for their *livelihood*, to ever engage in the slum-it-up play-acting themselves.

    I can’t believe I recognize the WKRP reference. Yes, they were exactly like Herb Tarlek, only older. And more loser-ly.

    Margie

  4. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    November 24, 2008 10:21 pm

    Of course there is a possibility he (they) were not acting, but I doubt it. For two reasons, first, I have met men like him. I remember riding with two men going somewhere and the one man insisted that we drive by his house to show us “how white trash lives.” He knows damn well there was nothing outwardly to suggest that his house or yard would be considered “white trash.” It is like getting a reverse compliment and the benefit of racking up self-depreciating points. If he says he is “white trash,” the visual evidence will be clear that he is not “white trash” therefore that little hurdle is now behind him and he can move on to showing what a great man he is, because non-great men don’t self-depreciate. Fake humility is learned early by the middle classes. Only “white trash” with money would flaunt out right. Second, the middle classes (and of course the upper classes) with the help of all of its surrogates have already properly shamed the lower classes for being a member of the lower classes, therefore, that member would not dare exhibit the tell-tale signs (as you noted, busy trying not to be……). There is always the possibility that the “hick” could actually be a genuine “hick,” but I doubt that too, because, it is my opinion, that the genuine “hick” would not be so stereotypically middle class.

  5. Anna Belle permalink
    November 25, 2008 3:27 am

    Wow, what a beautiful and funny piece of writing. I like your wry wit, and I love the little touches that allow me to identify, like passing. I would never have thought to apply that term, but it’s what I (and apparently you and kitty!)do. I teach working class and poor people, and I’m constantly telling them that they can fake feeling comfortable in new situations until they do. Many of these folks have never been around people of a different class, except for their teachers in school. I remember when that was my only past too, and how terrified I was I’d be found out. I did not know not to talk about money back then. Heck, I’m not very good at censoring myself about much now.

  6. Anna Belle permalink
    November 25, 2008 3:28 am

    PS: Thanks for turning me on to the concept of Dedicated Spinsterhood. I love it!

  7. MargaretJamison permalink
    November 26, 2008 12:59 pm

    I don’t for a second believe that man was really from the lower classes at all. I felt like it was a complete mocking of the lower classes, like white people condescendingly trying to give black people fist bumps (I see it all the time. I wan to run toward these white people screaming “Noooooooooo” every time I see it), or men condescendingly saying “You go girl!” You know what I mean?

    I think that’s so cool, Anna Belle, that you teach your students to fake it until they make it 😛 I never thought about putting it in those terms, but that really distills it into plain language without insulting anyone’s intelligence. People understand that you’re asking them to hold a part of themselves back when you tell them they have to adopt certain markers of (white) middle-class-ness, so you may as well be up front and just say “fake it.”

    I’m glad you like the idea of dedicated spinsterhood, too, especially given the less than enthusiastic responses I’ve gotten so far. I’m positive I didn’t come up with the concept out of my own gray mind (though I’m not sure where I got it), but I’m happy to be able to pass it along to someone who appreciates it.

  8. undercoverpunk permalink
    April 3, 2009 1:41 pm

    Passing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Hmmm, I was born & raised middle class, but my mother had no bones about talking money. She’s like an open book. She tells practically everything. Maybe that refusal to follow social etiquette makes us NOT middle class….? So is it money or behavior that constitutes “class”? I always thought people with money were relatively obnoxious and not usually very “classy” at all. Elitism is not class! At least not in my book. And self-depreciation is a sign of (the upper/middle) class too? Whoa.

    Anyways, MSRP is for fools and tools. That’s what I always say. Nothing thrills me like a good deal, I tell ya. It gives me great satisfaction to pay mere fractions of what the manufacturer or retailer expected consumers to pay. Bwahahaha!

    I should put Dedicated Spinsterhood on my reading list, eh? Thanks for the tip, MJ! And love this story!!

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