A compelling memoir about the single life and the courage to live alone in a world made for couples and families.
TWO MILLION Australians currently live alone"an extraordinary figure.
Astonishing. Luminous. A book about being human.
She I Dare Not Name, is a collection of fiercely intelligent, deeply intimate, lyrical reflections on the life of a woman who stands on the threshold of two millennia. Both manifesto and confession, this moving memoir explores the meaning and purpose Donna Ward discovered in a life lived entirely without a partner and children.
The book describes what it is like to live on the edge of a world built in the shape of couples and families. Rippling through these pages is the way a spinster"or a bachelor, or any of us for that matter"contends with the prejudice and stigma of being different.
With courage and astounding honesty Donna uncovers the challenge of living with more solitude than anticipated and what it is like to walk the road through midlife and beyond alone. And she reveals how she found home and discovered herself within it.
Funny, sharp, wise and wry, She I Dare Not Name shows how reading saved this spinster's life, how friends and writing and walking brought a contentment and sense of achievement she never thought possible.
Donna Ward is the publisher at Inkerman & Blunt. She founded indigo, the journal of Western Australian writing. Her prose can be found in respected journals and anthologies nationally, internationally and online. She has past lives as a psychotherapist and as a social worker. She worked in her own private practice, in welfare management and social policy development. She, I Dare Not Name: A Spinster's Meditations on Life, is Donna's first book.
She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster's Meditations on Life
Allen & Unwin
Author: Donna Ward
Question: What inspired you to write She I Dare Not Name?
Donna Ward: Back in the seventies, when I was in my twenties, I was influenced profoundly by the feminist notion that a woman must marry, or couple, well, or not at all. I believed, as most still do, that a woman must couple for love, and love alone.
Back in the eighties, when I was in my late thirties, all my friends were getting married while I played musical chairs with men that were either not the marrying kind, were not my marrying kind. As gatherings of my friends increasingly focussed on weddings, christenings, and renovations, I realized settling down was about more than whether the right one came along. Coupling of any kind was a social imperative and without it I would never be a fully fledged citizen of my own society"a society built on the basic unit of the family. And, it didn't matter what shape that family took, so long as children were involved. Though couples without children were definitely more legitimate than a person who had never established a significant partnership or had a child.
Back in 2012 a number of close friends of mine, shared with me stories of their daughters who were in their late thirties and had not yet found their person"a person with whom to settle down and make a family.
In 2016 Rebecca Traister wrote a book, All the Single Ladies. It annoyed the hell out of me. I write about why in She I Dare Not Name. But soon after that I was lunching with a friend who said, Donna, I think you should write a book. I accused her of casting a curse on me, since I know how hard it is to write a book. Then she said, Well, if you were going to write a book, what would it be about?
Well, I said, There's the problem. It's too dark. No one would read it. It would be about a middle aged never married childless woman. It would be about depression, despair and loneliness, about learning to keep company with solitude, about finding meaning and purpose in a life without family. It would be about the difficulties of friendship, about the flaws in social research and feminism's failure when it comes to women like me. It would be about how public policy fails single people. It would be about stigma and prejudice.
My friend leant over the table and said, I would read that book.
Question: How do you hope the collection reclaims the word spinster?
Donna Ward: I began writing this book as a single woman and came out a spinster. Big tip. Don't write a book. You never know what will happen to you.
But seriously, reclaiming the word spinster suggests I have polished it into something positive. And originally, back in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the word was positive. Spinsters were considered young, beautiful working women. A real catch. That was when Queen Elizabeth I reigned. But after she died and the conservative King James I came to the throne, the word spinster became tainted, and spinsters past a certain age were despised as a burden on their family.
That's around three hundred and fifty years of stigma, right there. The word was so hated that when the second wave of the feminist revolution rolled in, the word spinster, but not bachelor, was excised from our vernacular, though not our dictionaries. Even the United Kingdom's Civil Partnership Act 2004, identified ¬those who were not married as single. In fact, data gatherers in academia and census bureaus in some countries, still officially consider people in a de facto relationship as single, because they had not been formally married in a church.
Deciding the word spinster"or bachelor for that matter"is synonymous with the word single, everything written on the subject, and every piece of research into the subject is contaminated by an unwitting assumption that a person who has lived an entire live alone is the same as a bachelor or bachelorette who will soon be coupled with children, or the same as a divorced, separated or widowed person who once was coupled and most likely has children in their lives. All these people with differing marital status, live remarkably different lives.
The truth is, I do not like the word anymore than anyone else, but it is the only word in the English language that accurately describes my life. I use it to make clear to everyone that as much as we would like to think spinsters and continuing bachelors are a thing of the past, we still live and have lived in society all along. I use it to encourage census bureaus and academics to review their data collection and research processes, in the hope that they distinguish between the different lives lumped into the category 'single', and offer respectful, unbiased reflections for those who live this life.
I use the word, spinster, because these days, there are skyrocketing numbers of people living this life and they are doing it without well researched, discerning literature to guide them through these dangerous times.
Question: How did you create your own sense of contentment and achievement?
Donna Ward: Life is a curious adventure, sometimes there is contentment, sometimes there isn't. Sometimes achievement comes, sometimes it doesn't. The challenge is to respond to your life as best you can. Be kind and generous. Act with mercy and with grace. Sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes I'm not. The trick is to forgive your failings, because forgiving your failings teaches you how to forgive the failings of others.
Behind this question is the assumption that without being coupled, without the luck of having children, a person is unlikely to find contentment and achievement. It is a mythology that family making automatically ensures these things. This question is the expression of the prejudice against those who have not had the opportunity, or the inclination to form a family.
Given the current divorce and separation rates in Western society, it seems almost half of us do not find contentment or a sense of achievement in family making. Sure, there are moments when a parent, separated or not, feels an intense sense of contentment and achievement when at Christmas, or at a school play, they look at their partner, or ex-partner in a moment of amicability, and says, We did this, you and I. We raised this brilliant child.
But this is a certain kind of achievement, a certain kind of contentment. Life is so much more complex than that, and there are moments of contentment and achievement throughout.
Personally, I think contentment and achievement only arrives with age. For me, I look back on my life and say, I did this. I never expected to live each one of these days, these years, these decades all by myself. But here I am, and here we are. And I don't reckon I've done too shabby a job of it.
So, in answer to this question, I found contentment and achievement the way most of us do. I lived each day as it came, made the best decisions as I could, was as kind and gracious as I could be, and forgave my indiscretions and those of others.
Question: What's the main message you hope readers take from She I Dare Not Name?
Donna Ward: All of us are touched by stigma and prejudice, by the judgement that we are not good enough, not perfect enough to be full citizens of our society. Some carry rank and severe prejudice throughout their lives. They are not the right gender, the right race, the right religion, their sexuality is unacceptable, their bodies too dysfunctional to be first class citizens.
The prejudice around our marital status and parenthood is slight compared to these. But it is a prejudice the spinster, and continuing bachelor must live daily.
I hope this book shines a light on this prejudice so every person who finds themselves living life alone is empowered to live every minute without having to spend energy on explaining themselves. I hope this book releases them from having to justify to others, their colleagues, friends and family, why they chose this life, if choose it they did. I hope it releases those who did not choose this life from explaining why every decision they made lead them here, and not to the life they imagined.
I believe that whether or not we partner and make a family is a matter of fate. I consider fate to be a mysterious mixture of psychological and sociological pressures. Whatever the case, I believe fate delivers love, coupling, family making, and brings on separation and divorce in exactly the way it delivers the multitude of ways we live"exactly the way it delivers spinsterhood.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
She I Dare Not Name: A Spinster's Meditations on Life
Allen & Unwin
Author: Donna Ward