A spinster and a slattern

That could be the start of a joke: a spinster and a slattern walk into a bar …

According to the OED, the word spinster

…is always a derogatory term referring or alluding to a stereotype of an older woman who is unmarried, childless, prissy and repressed.

Well. Let’s see:

  • I’m unmarried (aka single, but let’s be all judgy about what’s normal and what’s un-normal)
  • I’m childless (which of course presumes childiness as the norm)
  • My nickname at grad school was Miss Priss (it was used “lovingly”, but still)
  • I am without a doubt repressed as any number of therapists would confirm if they were given to using that language to rather than about their patients.

Four out of four. I always did like to do well on tests.

A slattern is “a dirty, untidy woman”. Today I cleaned my house for the first time in several months. Yes, that’s right, months. I have done token wiping of surfaces when things got desperate but I haven’t had the energy to clean properly until today.

I am not a fully fledged slattern. I’m more of a slattern-about-home. I do shower daily and launder my clothes regularly, I brush my hair, trim my nails, keep up appearances. It’s on the home front where appearances fall over a bit. Mind you, my definition of slatternly is still on the neat-freak side of some of my friends.

Interestingly there are no equivalent words for men. Bachelor has an entirely different connotation of course, and I can’t think of a word with similar derogatory overtones for a dirty, untidy man. Unless — husband? Going by complaints from married friends the vast majority of husbands seem to be dirty of habit and chronically untidy.

There’s probably not a lot that can be done to redeem the word slattern. But spinster used to declaim with honour that a woman worked to support herself in a trade (spinning). Spinning isn’t my trade but I definitely work to support myself.

It’s always a shame when a good word goes bad. It’s too bad there’s no positive word to sum up a single woman living alone and earning her own living. We need one.

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