The stereotype that it is a woman’s duty and place in society to “settle down” and have children is one that has been ingrained into the expectations of cultures all over the world for generations. A quick glance into history shows us how monarchies and dynasties rose and fell seemingly based on a woman’s ability to bear children (specifically sons), with kings and emperors taking new wives when no children resulted from those unions.
But all of that is in the past, right?
After all, we’re in the 21st century. Women make up just about half of the workforce in both the U.S. and Canada, and there are more women taking high-profile leadership roles across the world.
And yet there is still a deeply rooted societal pressure for women to have children. When the conversation turns to a woman without children – especially a single woman – there seems to be an immediate sense of pity. She must be disappointed. She must be worried about her “biological clock.” She must feel empty and lonely. If a woman says she has chosen not to have children, it’s assumed she’s masking her true feelings, or bitter and jealous of others or, for some reason, selfish because she is embracing a life she has chosen.
Spinster with Chelsea Peretti (Brooklyn 99) tackles this stereotype with humor and honesty. After getting dumped on her 39th birthday by a boyfriend she didn’t really like anyway, Gabby reenters the dating world with the guidance of her married sister Amanda (Susan Kent) and divorced brother Alex (David Rossetti). Hoping to engage Gabby with a new circle of friends, Amanda includes her in dinner parties and clothing swaps, where the conversation is all but guaranteed to circle around to marriage and children. Gabby hilariously responds to the assumptions that there is something missing in her life with the classic delivery and confidence we’d expect from Brooklyn 99’s ‘Gina’. But underneath the wit is a woman seeking what her life could mean should she whole-heartedly choose to break the status quo.
When her brother Alex first asks her to spend an evening a week with his daughter Adele (Nadia Tonen), Gabby wonders what on earth she is going to do with her adolescent niece. As she tries to come up with fun, adventurous things to do, Gabby learns Adele could use a lesson or two in speaking up for what she wants. As she encourages Adele and grows attached to their time together, Gabby learns that same language. She puts aside the search for a man and instead explores a life long dream of transforming her catering business into her own restaurant. Her companions in this? Rescue dog “Trudy,” and her independent neighbor/world traveler/professor Pia (Trina Corkum). It takes risk, defiance, ambition, and a little start-up cash/“non-wedding” money from dad Jack (Bill Carr), but Gabby presses forward in realization of who she is and what she wants.
While there are a few moments where the acting feels somewhat forced and awkward (Gabby and Amanda’s sleepover, the post Valentine’s Day date), I found this film to be absolutely delightful and relevant. I was worried near the end that the entire movie would be ruined when Gabby meets the seemingly “perfect” man, but was relieved by the final direction. It would have undermined the entire narrative of Gabby’s journey had it gone the way I feared.
Spinster is the type of movie whose commentary on today’s issues is both fun and necessary. When we use film to illustrate the harm (no matter how unintended) that stereotypical expectations can cause, we have the opportunity to reach a variety of audiences and engage them in a train of thought that otherwise would have passed them by. Even for me, a working, married mother of four, I find this movie empowering. It’s ok to be a woman and stand up and speak up for what I want. It’s also vital for all of us to sit down and listen to the desires and ambitions of others whose goals in life may be different than our own. Our value isn’t tied to marriage and/or children. Our value lies in being. And when someone chooses a path that is unexpected or outside of the status quo, we are our best selves when we support and applaud them into the next season of their life, without projecting our own assumptions of “happiness” on them. Spinster articulates this remarkably well.
Spinster is available on VOD on Friday, August 7th, 2020.
For audio of our interview with director Andrea Dorfman, click here.