The Word Wife
Here’s an unpopular opinion: I really like the word wife.
This is what I imagine the word wife conjures up in people’s minds, today, in 2018, when the word is largely, and rapidly, becoming redundant: a woman in an apron or something that no normal human wears, a woman hovering near an oven because something scrumptious is most definitely not getting burnt within, a woman who wakes up smiling and dons a house coat (no matter how old she is), a woman who generally has a bit of a forgettable personality and doesn’t have opinions around her husband.
Or at least, that’s what I think people are picturing when they make that little almost undetectable facial expression at the sound of the dreaded four letter word. You know the one I mean.
I’m almost embarrassed to call myself one, a wife. And yet, like I said, unpopular opinion: I do really like the word.
The word wife has become something of a dirty word, a word that no self respecting modern female really wants to associate herself with. You can be a partner, but please don’t be a wife. You can be a fiance, but let’s draw the line at wife. You should be proud to become a mom one day, but there’s nothing to be proud of for demoting yourself to a being a mere wife.
Congratulations to the modern world on perpetuating, and misrepresenting, one of the oldest stereotypes ever, and helping… exactly no one in the process.
The world these days, is hard to keep up with.
There is a lot of change (not enough, I know, but still we’re all just human), and it’s a lot to keep up with, a lot to keep on top of, a lot to change your opinions about. And it gets scarier and scarier to have an unpopular opinion.
Especially one you can’t shake. And I can’t shake this one: I like the word wife.
Now obviously, I see the merits of the word partner. I am clearly speaking only of heteronormative relationships because that’s my personal experience. But within the confines of such, I would always opt for the word wife over the word partner. To me being a wife has nothing to do with wearing an apron, or a house coat or cooking up a frenzy. Although honestly have you seen aprons these days, and really when they’re that cute there should be no shame, and can you blame anyone for buying one with the matching oven glove to boot? You wear that apron if you want to wear that apron.
A wife doesn’t have to be something old fashioned, misogynistic, controlling, or submissive. A wife doesn’t have to mean any of those things. That one associates these less than ideal ideals with the word, doesn’t mean they’re an inherent part of being a wife, or in other words, the female half of what we deem a traditional relationship, if we’re being purely technical.
When, why, and where did we decide that wife was a word that we didn’t want to associate ourselves with?
I like the word wife just as I like the word mother. And we don’t see anyone suggesting we take the word mother out of the dictionary and replace it with something more modern, less offensive, more equal to men, because father just doesn’t hold the same weight does it? And that doesn’t appear to be an issue for anyone (except the guy who came on This Morning complaining about cereal boxes, he has taken huge issue with a lot of things and make no mistake about it).
Why can’t we make space for new kinds of relationships and partnerships, new terms and descriptives to those who with to adopt them, and still give ‘wives’ enough respect to not morph them into a caricature?
The phrases Stepford Wife and 1950s housewife get bandied around so much, you almost get the idea that there is something absolutely vile about the idea of a woman taking care of a home, making a freshly prepared meal, or actually you know, ironing their sheets. Ironing your sheets is purportedly actually really good for your mental well being, and a bit of a treat, but you wouldn’t think so to hear it.
These homely actions are scorned, ridiculed, and belittled, and then outsourced to someone who comes in once a week if you can afford it, because at the end of the day, many people do want a wife, if wife translates to a comfortable home.
It’s funny how the word wife is totally acceptable if you’re talking about a work wife, the new modern spin on the increasingly reviled tradition. What if the girl who sits next to you at work and returns all your eye rolls, took offense to being called a work wife? No thank you, I am a work partner, this isn’t a Doris Day movie. That would be deemed ridiculous, and rightly so.
But I think there is a lot of value to be gleaned from the exaggerated image of a docile 1950s housewife with a house dress on, beating the sugar and butter by hand, nary a KitchenAid in sight. I am by no means championing gender stereotypes or a lack of opportunity and expansion for women’s place in society, I am simply saying that wives who like to do traditionally wifely things demand a bit of respect too.
Beating sugar and butter by hand is no mean task let me tell you. Neither is grating a hunk of hard cheese.
Making a home (let’s not even talk about the dreaded term, home maker incase anyone reads it and combusts) is not as easy as one may imagine. Yes, alright, it’s not a high powered ‘job in the city’, but it also never stops. Cooking and cleaning are tiresome, need care, and are a job that is never actually done. Laundry is excruciatingly boring, needs a degree of well honed skill, and really can’t be ignored for long.
A clean kitchen is where health begins and a clean bathroom is pretty much essential to feel like a functioning human being. These things don’t do themselves.
And yet the domestic realm, the realm of the imaginary and farcical 1950s housewife, is seen as a place of less than. Less important than anywhere else, less worthy of praise or recognition or pride. We don’t want to be wives and home makers, we want to be partners, and cleaning the sink sure isn’t my responsibility because what joy is there from knowing you can a clean sink, right?
I find that taking care of a house, or a home rather, is actually a really important and really fulfilling duty, and maybe I’m old fashioned, but I am perfectly happy to do the majority of the work around our little home.
Maybe children will change my mind on this a little, maybe the absolutely manic life that comes with keeping other humans alive will sway how I feel about the home life division of labor. But at the moment, apart from cleaning the drains because the idea actually makes me physically ill, I have no problem doing all the housework. At all.
And I really want to do it well.
I also want to feel like answering the question ‘What do you do?’ with the answer ‘I’m just a housewife’ can be replaced with the answer that is more fitting and more respectful of the self, of ‘I’m a housewife.’ Not just because there shouldn’t be any just about it.
But perhaps that’s a high hope in 2018 where the career woman who has it all is the only one who garners any real attention and consideration, and even then, not nearly enough.
But also, in the age of mine is better than yours feminism and the womxn, I still find myself holding the unpopular opinion that I like the word wife and whatever misjudged connotations it holds. And I’m not about to change my mind.