Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The trouble with wife

Of all the terms we have for our beloveds, wife is not sitting well with me.

Fiancee felt so glamorous. It implied limitless potential. It was redolent of endless rounds of chic parties, cocktail dresses, and Audrey Hepburn's effortless grace and style.

Wife brings all that glamorous potential down to the ground with a thud. Pot roasts. Vacuuming.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled beyond belief to be Eric's spouse. His life partner. His companion. Even his muse or 'better half.' I just don't want to be a wife.

I brought this up at a party with some recently married friends.

Me: Is anyone else having trouble with the word wife?
Woman #1: Yeah, it's an ugly word. Like 'moist.'
Me: Moist?
Woman #1: Yeah grimaces ] moist, wife. Ugh. Those words don't role off the tongue. Not like husband.
Man #1: "Moist wife" - that's just how I like her to be. heh heh.
Woman #2: Wife might be ok. Just wait 'til you're a Mom.

I know that there's a move to 'reclaim' wife. Good. We should do that. In the meantime, I think I'd rather be a partner or a spouse.

Husband is awesome. During our reception, I was running around, inquiring of every guest: "Have you seen my HUSBAND?" So fun.

But 'wife', in my mind, is too much tied to confining, 1950s-style images, of the loss of idealism and creativity so brilliantly captured in Revolutionary Road. I feel like I might suddenly become invisible. Wife seems so tied up with essentialized images of 'how women are' and 'what women should be': endlessly caring, subverting their needs to those of their families, putting their dreams and goals on hold to nurture those of others.

Is anyone else having trouble with the term wife?


Anonymous said...

::raises hand::

I agree completely. Rightly or wrongly, "wife" seems to carry all sorts of Mad Men-era connotations -- wives do the cooking and the shopping and the housekeeping and expect jewelry for Christmas. I love calling Econo Man my husband, but I feel weird about "wife" sometimes.

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

i never thought of "wife" being more 1950s than "husband" until all of these reclaiming wife discussions. to me, they were always equal and opposite terms for a partnership. it kind of reminds me of how as a kid i thought everyone was equal until, as i grew up, the world told me it wasn't so.

Born to be Mrs. Beever said...

I agree with Julia. I don't have any problems with the word at all. Call me a traditionalist...I think of wife in terms of a partner in a lifelong committed relationship. To me, it's the 'people' in the marriage that make the words icky...if a husband puts stupid sterotypical roles on his wife, then he is a 'bad' husband. And if a wife thinks she is only able to stay at home and cook and clean and has to live up to bad stereotypes, then she isn't doing us other 'wives' justice by her lack of self confidence and drive. I believe that in any given relationship, the people are what matter, not the terms that others try to define them by. :)

Cori Jessy- August and After said...

I agree with Julia also, but the stereotype that is assumed of some relationships does also bother me a bit. Or maybe it's just because I feel to young to be a wife married to a husband. Regardless, when I think of who's wife I am I'm totally fine with it. As long as he doesn't start calling me "the wife" {that's a whole different story}. I'm all for reclaiming the word wife. But to hear my husband call me his little wifey, I'll admit I love it.

Kelley at My Island Wedding said...

wife didn't bother me as much as when i became the "house wife!"

on our insurance applications my job description became "home maker."

oh wow.

wife and mom have it's good points, even if not immediately evident. just don't fall into the sterotype!

Congrats by the way.

One Barefoot Bride said...

What's most fascinating to me is that I had no negative opinions of the word 'wife' (that I knew of) until I became one. Suddenly, adding 'wife' to my repetoire of self-definition felt like wearing a shirt that didn't fit right and had a scratchy tag at the neck. Maybe I'll grow into it?

@ Julia, I think my chafing at 'wife' is parallel to your thought that everyone was equal until the world started telling you that they weren't.

Around the same time I became a wife, I also experienced sexism in ways that I hadn't before (not sure whether these are related or not), and I started to understand again how far we still have to go for equality for everyone.

Clearly, "wife" and "mother" and "homemaker" have lots of positive aspects, and are *incredibly* important roles in our society. What's hitting me with more clarity now is how they are sometime devalued or overlooked for all the benefit these roles bring to society.

One Barefoot Bride said...

Oh, and thanks, Kelley! :)

Eco Yogini said...

I agree with you Barefoot- blegh "wife". I don't want to be a wife... not any little bitty bit.

maybe just privately with Andrew, but publicly... "the missus" or "the wife".... right.

I like "the love of his life" :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I've never enjoyed any relationship lables- girl/boyfriend, fiancee, wife. My family teases me about the first time I told them that "I had a 'hisname.'" Somehow the labels just put little box of expectations around who we were, and I just wanted to continue being him and me. Of course introducing someone as "my 'hisname'" doesn't really clear everything up for anyone seeking to understand the exact nature of the relationship, but it certainly conveys that we're a pair and it still allows us to retain our identities sans prescribed role. And besides, if someone needs help figuring out that our relationship is a married one... well, isn't that what those rings are all about? :)

One Barefoot Bride said...

Anon, I love it! That's exactly how I've always referred to Mr. Barefoot - "my Mr. Barefoot" - because, as you say, none of the labels do justice to the complexities and magic of a relationship. I confess, though, that such an introduction was usually the result of stumbling into it: "This is my... ah... boyf... ah... fian... ah, my Mr. Barefoot."

S L Kim said...

Hey OBB!

Interesting discussion. I'll bite. I understand your squeamishness about all the sexist connotations and assumptions that can go along with "wife," but I never had a problem with the word or the role, and your post made me think about why.

Maybe it's because by the time C and I tied the knot, we had already established the dynamics of our relationship--mutually supportive equal partnership, etc.--and marriage just seemed like a further affirmation of that. Of course becoming "husband and wife" does change things (otherwise, why bother?), but I think the stereotypes have more to do with how others perceive us than how we perceive ourselves in the relationship. I look at it this way: there are trade-offs whenever you decide to participate in a traditional institution like marriage; each couple can try to remake the institution on their own terms and if enough people do remake it in progressive ways, then there's more room for diversity. But you can also never entirely escape or do away with the weight of tradition, for good or for ill. (Early on in our marriage, we noticed that saying "I'm waiting for my wife," or "I'll have to discuss it with my husband" gave us a legitimacy that "girlfriend" or "boyfriend" didn't carry; being perceived as a team or unit has its advantages.) So when C introduces me as his wife, maybe some people will think I'm THAT kind of wife, but I just have to decide not to care about those people.

I'm rambling on, but I guess I don't think of myself as "a wife"; I think of myself as C's wife, and that makes me happy, and I think makes all the difference. OK, I'm done!

Sadie said...

I also flinch at "wife" - the mountain man has reduced it to wifelet, which makes it less painful or serious. I will sometimes call him "husband man" with similar tongue-in-cheek implications. Being Mrs RS (due to the schoolkids calling him Mr RS), also helps us not take ourselves too seriously, because we say it to be ridiculous.
I'm also known as "the management" when himself is being consulted on phonecalls for schedules or opinions... so any potential diminuitive is prevented.
Just wait 'til someone talks about his "lovely wife" near you, and you'll glow. I promise. It will disgust you that you respond so well, but it will happen.

elizabeth said...

Too true, Sadie! On vacay just now, Eric struck up a conversation with folks at the next dinner table, while I was off at the buffet. Later in the evening, the woman leaned over and said "Your wife has lovely hair," and I just grinned with glee - focused entirely on the "lovely" and not at all on the "wife" (though I did think it was odd to be addressed in the third person when I was sitting right there!)