Why I’ve Learned To Hate The Word “Wife”

I hate the word wife
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I hate the word “wife” and I’m not even married yet.

I’m not even sure if I want to get married.

Because the whole wearing a white dress, allowing my father to give me away as if I’m his property, and setting foot in a church thing doesn’t appeal to my feminist beliefs.

I’ve been with my partner Sam for over four years now.

We’ve talked about marriage, and civil partnership, and legalising our love so we’re both protected for when we have kids.

But I just don’t know whether marriage is right for me, knowing what I know today.

Part of me wants nothing to do with a patriarchal tradition invented to control women; while the other part of me would love to reclaim the word marriage, and infuse it with my own meaning.

And the word wife? I’m pretty certain that’s not a label I have any interest in wearing.

Why I learned to hate the word “wife”

Where the word “wife” originates from

If we trace the word “wife” back, it originates from an Old English word for “woman,” implying that a woman’s sole job in her life is to be someone’s wife. You’re not your own person. You exist as an extension of someone else—that someone else being a man.

What about the word “husband?” In Old English terms, it translated to “head of household.”

When a woman married a man, she lost all her rights. Everything she owned would now belong to her husband—including any land and property. And her husband had complete control over her, which also meant he was legally able to beat and rape her. Because she was now his property.

In a typical marriage ceremony, the couple will be pronounced as “man and wife” not husband and wife. Implying that the man remains exactly as he has always been, while the woman’s title changes to describe her relationship to him.

And have you noticed how the woman is always mentioned after the man? The man comes first, and this seems to transcend all cultures and modern religions.

For example, the Japanese word for wife is okusan, which translates to “person in the back;” while the word for husband goshujin means “master.” And while most people have since abandoned those words, it’s difficult to ignore their root meanings and intentions.

The word “wife” didn’t serve my mum

I think one of the main reasons why the word “wife” doesn’t sit well with me comes from watching my mum while growing up.

She constantly allowed my dad to shout at her, and talk down to her. She let him handle all the finances. Her life was spent having us, raising us, and devoting all her time and energy to us. She waited on my dad and two brothers—doing all the cooking, ironing, washing, and almost all the cleaning—often while juggling a part or full time job too.

The word ‘wife’ gives me a queasy feeling. I just don’t identify with the obedient, apron-wearing, laundry-folding lady that I picture when I hear that word.

Amanda Montell

I think her inner patriarch made her believe that was all she was there for. That was meant to be her role in life. So she derived her value and worth from it.

And I didn’t escape. She believed that I wouldn’t be worth anything if I lived my life single and childless.

At 24, she told me to be careful I didn’t get left on the shelf, and that it was too late, and I’d missed the boat already. It didn’t matter how well my career was going, or whatever else was happening in my life; what mattered most was I was single, and that was a problem.

She watched her mum taking on the same role, giving her the same horrendous advice which she then handed down to me, and history repeated itself.

But I’ll be damned if I allow that toxic cycle to continue through me. This is where it ends.

I see myself as Sam’s equal

Sam and I are true equals in our relationship, and that’s the way both of us want it.

There’s no uncomfortable power dynamic. We both love and respect each other, and value the other’s opinions. We aren’t afraid to call each other out. And we recognise that we each have our own strengths and weaknesses that we bring to our partnership; and there’s room for both of us to shine.

It’s like yin and yang; the masculine and feminine. A healthy, strong relationship is born from both in equal measure. But we do need both—in ourselves, and our relationships—to flourish.

We are partners. And for me, the word wife doesn’t embody that. 

I have no problem with any woman choosing to get married, and be called a wife, on her own terms. It’s important that we all make our own decisions, and ones that feel true and aligned for us.

The funny thing is, if you’d asked me ten years ago, there was nothing more I wanted than to settle down, get married, and be someone’s wife. I thought my career would just be a stop gap before having kids. Because I didn’t know what I know now. I was a different woman. Most of my opinions and values has been inherited, and weren’t truly my own.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but you only know what you know. Lucky for me, I didn’t meet someone when I was younger and rush in to marriage; despite the pressure my mother put on me. Because undoubtedly, I’d either be divorced, or stuck in an unhappy relationship because I was too scared to admit defeat.

I hate the word wife, so I’m trying out these words instead

Partner is the most obvious choice over wife, but as many people say, it does have an official, business-like feel to it that doesn’t sit quite right.

I like soul partner, because it’s much deeper and personal. And that’s what Sam feels like to me. I think that’s the key—you have to choose a word that feels right for you and your relationship. Because everyone is different.

Spouse, person, anam cara (soul friend), homie, equal, soul mate, lobster, lover, match, ride or die. 

If you hate the word wife like I do, then try on some different words and see how they feel.

Give an old word a new, updated meaning. Create a new word.

Because how you feel every day of your life matters more than upholding archaic traditions that were created for you.

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