26 September 2023

She I Dare Not Name

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Donna Ward, Allen & Unwin, $29.99.

Here’s a persuasive memoir about the ‘single’ life and the courage to live alone in a world made for couples and families. The spinster’s meditations on life are amazing, intense and all about being human.

Donna felt she would write a story about 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”.

‘Spinster’ is the unnamed subject of She I Dare Not Name. Truthfully, Ward does not like the word anymore than anyone else, but it is the only word in the English language that accurately describes her 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.”

Life is a curious adventure. Sometimes there’s contentment and at other times there’s achievement. A question around the state of mind is the “expression of the prejudice against those who have not had the opportunity, or the inclination to form a family”.

There is no guarantee that accomplishment and satisfaction will eventuate – every time. The challenge is to respond to your life as best you can. Be kind and generous. Act with grace and mercy.

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