• Tuula Gordon
Part of the Women in Society book series (WOSO)


Single women have been stereotyped as old maids who were unable to ‘get a man’, and as modern city singles who have not wanted a man These stereotypes form a ‘fiction’ of single women, which shapes the reality that heterogeneous single women have to contend with. The two stereotypes represent continuities and changes in the position of women without male partners. Historically, in cultural representations, women have been defined in relation to men. Men provide the norm, the normal, the absolute; they are ‘true’ autonomous individuals. Women are, in this framework, ‘the other’ (De Beauvoir, 1972). Romantic love, partnership, marriage and motherhood form the cultural context of women and resonate in representations of them. They form a framework within which personal lives and subjectivities are constructed. Locating themselves outside families provides opportunities for women, but also places them in a contradictory and difficult position. Historically women alone have been placed along the continuum of nun/prostitute (Chisholm, 1987); yet it is possible that single women today have more independent possibilities in the context of diversification of family forms, and increased flexibility in the social construction of gender. I have attempted to explore whether single women are ‘marginal’; if so, how is their marginality constructed, maintained and challenged? I shall focus on both the possibilities and the limitations single women experience in organising their lives.


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  1. 1.
    Thomas Bulfinch (1981) Myths of Greece and Rome, Penguin, Harmondsworth.Google Scholar

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© Tuula Gordon 1994

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  • Tuula Gordon

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