Sarah Seltzer on Spinsters

Recently, I joined a Facebook group of women discussing writing residencies and became fascinated by the voraciousness with which many of the members were clamoring for a week or two without their families and friends. For many contemporary women, the fantasy of solitude…still manifests as a longing for a physical separation, a room of their own. It’s not because all husbands and children are tyrants (though some may be), but because saying no is easier when some outside force does it for you. This contemporary feminist quandary has manifested frequently in literary culture this year, whether it’s in memoirs and novels about women leaving society behind entirely or even the heated debate about “sponsored writers,” which asks whether it’s fair to use a patriarchal means (a husband with a large income) to achieve the feminist goal of time and space to create.

 And yet whenever I think along these lines and decide to go rent a room in a monastery, I am reminded of Toni Morrison, who often notes that motherhood, that supposed creativity-killer, actually transformed her into a writer. “My sons needed me to be real, to know what I was doing, you know?” she has said. “I didn’t write anything before I had them. They gave me that.” The truth is, the major dilemma that underscores the dichotomies of marriage vs. single life, kids vs. childlessness, is a much larger question: how do you build a complete self in a world that wants to see you as merged with or subsumed by other people?

From Sarah M. Seltzer, “Why We Should All Be Spinsters: Writers Take on a New Feminine Mystique,”, April 14, 2015.