A Week in Asexual Characters – The Spinster (Denise Jalbert)
It is framed as talking about aromanticism, since the Spinster is a Baker Thief character, a novel with an aro lead, but this old crone stereotype is very much an ace thing too, and Denise Jalbert is both aro and ace.
So, on with the post!
Spinsters are older ladies (although depending on historical context, “older” can be quite young still) who have gone unmarried for too long. They have no children and often stay at home, doing god-knows-what. In many ways, Spinsters are an old cat lady stereotypes, but the cats aren’t required, and spinsters have been alone most of their lives. They are grouchy, cannot be trusted, and often considered witches or at the very least a bad influence on proper young ladies.
Historically, we suspect that a lot of the women described as spinsters were queer, either lesbians, asexual, or aromantic. In fiction, these are quite definitely slanted towards aromantic. Spinsters don’t want a husband, or love of any kind. They are content to live alone–by which I mean apart from society, too. I’ve often remarked on how aro characters tend to be the ugly, unlovable ones who only reluctantly interact with society, and Spinsters fall into that. They are childless, loveless, and will die alone and miserable.
I mean. There is a webseries called Spinster, and its tagline is literally “Gorgeous? Still Single? Wow. There must be something wrong with her.” Because what are women for, if not sex and romance?
This is all, of course, utter bullshit. But I distinctly remember wondering as a kid if my childless aunt (who was single at the time) was truly happy, because she looked like it, and if she could be then perhaps I could be happy even if I didn’t want romance. As a kid. Fiction needs more role models of women who are older, single, and happy. Who chose this and enjoy it fully. And I wanted Claude, Baker Thief’s MC, to have that too.
Baker Thief’s spinster character, Denise Jalbert, came to me during thinky-thoughts about women in politics. Society is unforgiving to childless women, and politics often involve bringing spouse and children on stage to show what a Good Family Person you are. Having this suburban white family is like a badge of good character, and I couldn’t help but wonder how that would impact an aroace woman politician who didn’t want a family. What if someone called her a Spinster, and she said so what?
Here is an excerpt of how that mostly came out:
Mairesse Jalbert was rarely called by her proper name outside of official spaces, and sometimes even within them. Inhabitants of Val-de-mer’s nine quartiers had long since adopted her nickname as an affectionate term: she was the Spinster, dubbed this way by political opponents eager to paint her as an old crooked lady without husband or children and, as such, unworthy of trust. It hadn’t worked—or rather, Denise Jalbert had made it work… in her favour.
Campaigning on imagery of social security web and capturing corrupted parasites, Denise Jalbert had proved lone spiders could benefit many. It had taken countless knitting circles and a stubborn pride in herself, but her message resonated loud and clear. Her web was benevolent; her lack of family proof that a woman’s worth was not defined by children or partner. She had won her elections in a landslide and never lost since.
Sometimes you write side characters and fall in love with them. The Spinster is that for me. She’s a crafty old woman, yes, but her Slytherin-skills are used for the benefit of all. She’s single, happy, and awesome. And it was very important to me to make it explicit that this single status people tried to use against her was in direct connection with her aroaceness, and to set her up as a role model.
To Claude, however, she would always remain Denise, the old family friend who stayed home playing games of bluff to until unholy hours with his parents and the lady who hid maple candies in a small pouch and subtly dropped it when his father wasn’t looking. He had been a teenager during the elections–old enough to understand why they tried to paint Denise Jalbert’s single status as a mark against her humanity and to cheer on her victory. She had taught him aromanticism was no hindrance to full and happy lives, that he should be proud of himself and even flaunt it if others tried to diminish him for it. No matter what happened tonight, Claude would always be thankful for the path she had forged.
While Denise Jalbert is definitely a side character in Baker Thief, she will without a doubt become a central piece of my storytelling in this universe (starting with book 2). I know the next one features a character questioning her place on the aromantic spectrum, and it’ll be exciting to know she has a public role model, in addition to an aromantic friend, to help her through.