Real Married: Redefining Wife

There’s not much to say to introduce this, except stand on my office chair, punch the air and go “Hell Yes!”.  Esme segues effortlessly from losing weight for her wedding to re-defining what “wife” means, and THAT is why I love her column, her brain, and why I’m so glad she’s writing for us.  Take it away, Esme:   

I am a newly-wed. I’m newly-wed in every sense: my wedding was just four months ago, my ring is still shiny and obviously a different colour to my engagement ring, saying ‘husband’ gives me that ridiculous grin, I’m struggling through getting my name changed on everything, we haven’t even thought about our wedding photo-album, we’re still sporting our honeymoon tans (in that we’re as pale as we were on the last day of two weeks in the sun) and – in the spirit of being honest – we can’t keep our hands off each other.

But am I a wife yet? I love it when Tom calls me ‘wifey’ (it’s the compliment to ‘hubby’, don’t you know?), but whenever asks how I’m enjoying being a wife, something jars. I think it’s got to be the negative association, right? I mean, being a wife means cleaning, cooking, your career coming second, popping out babies and fixing your hair before your husband comes home from his big important job in the city, ‘but don’t try and explain it to me, darling, I won’t understand. Another gin and tonic?’. That’s never going to be my life because my husband believes in equality (he’s proud to call himself a feminist) and our marriage is going to be about making decisions that are the best for our family, not because society tells us to make them.

What do I call myself, then? I’m married and I’m Mrs W (although I don’t think I’m ever going to like receiving post addressed to Mr and Mrs Tom Wilks. Er, hello? I took his surname, not his first name!), and I’m more than happy to be called a newly-wed.

So, does this mean that I’m not ready to be a wife? You could argue that’s the case, but I would say that it’s no bad thing that I haven’t got everything perfect in our marriage – we’re still learning, still growing closer and becoming better partners to each other. One thing’s for sure – I don’t want to be a wife until that word means being one half of a mutually supportive couple, doing the same things I did before I came a Mrs but with the knowledge that I have someone right next to me on every stage of the journey pushing to be the best person I can be.
Let’s redefine the word wife. We can proudly declare that we’re happily married, in a world where you ‘ball and chain’ and ‘trouble and strife’ are considered appropriate synonyms for wife.

Categories: Marriage, Politics and Feminism, Real Married
12 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted February 22, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    High five, Esme! Totally agree. The thing that I HATE is when you see on TV someone describe their wife as "The Mrs", usually accompanied by a disparaging look and a shrug, as if to say "Women. Can't live with them, can't kill them." And to some people we literally are "The Mrs" – Tom's still Mr Tom Wilks on envelopes, and the only indication of your existence is a half-hearted "& Mrs", like some sort of afterthought, as opposed to a WHOLE PERSON who is an equal partner in a relationship.

    I have read some people who refuse to use the terms husband and wife, and continue to use partner until the traditional terms lose their patriarchal overtones. But frankly, I don't see how their meaning will ever change if people like us don't reclaim it and proudly declare ourselves wives, on our own terms.

  2. Esme
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Hear hear!

  3. Anonymous
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Perhaps I live in a rose tinted, feminism isn't a dirty word, world, but I feel "wife" lost those connotations a long time ago and I am proud to call myself my husband's wife exactly for the reasons you attribute to the word at the end of your piece. I know in some parts of society wife still means cooking, cleaning and popping out sprogs while he's down the pub (Big Fat Gypsy Weddings anyone?) but I honestly don't feel this form of the word impacts on my form of wifage at all. If it does, they are very quickly put in their place. "Ball and chain", "trouble and strife" are simply so ridiculous that I can't take offence at them, instead pity the poor person who has said them and really means them.
    Being referred to as Mrs Husband's Full Name would be very annoying, but I kept my surname, so it simply doesn't happen.

  4. Fee
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    At the moment, due to some career re-shuffling that I am in the process of, I am a full on cooking and cleaning wife, with my husband paying the mortgage. This is not the usual situation in our house and is only temporary but I am constantly getting snide comments along the lines of 'So, you thought you'd be a kept woman now you're married?'. More often than not, these are from other women.

    I am absolutely not a 'kept woman', I'm simply trying to go a different way in my career. And my husband absolutely does not expect me to be some sort of domestic slave – I do it because at the moment, I have time and I….erm…. actually enjoy cleaning. Loser alert.

    But what if I was doing this long term out of choice?

    Esme – I love this post and think you are spot on
    as usual! I have no doubt you are an advocate of choice – this is my moan against the 'mean girls' out there!

  5. Becca
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Maybe its me but I honestly don't mind the idea of being "Mrs R (we have the same initial) TBTMMO" or even "Mr and Mrs Rupert Bear" and as traditional etiquette goes, address all my cards as "Mr and Mrs Joe Blogs".

    I don't take any feminist overtones from it at all and am confident as a person (75% of the time) to be happy to know I'm a whole person by myself, whatever I am called, and so what if a card is addressed in a traditional format.

    I cannot wait to be "a wife" and I can't see that our household roles will change as a result. We already have a cleaner (Lavina the cleaner – LOVE IT) and it solves the arguments as to who will do what in the house, particularly those jobs I hate like cleaning the oven and fridge. Cleaners are BRILLIANT but then that probably has feminist undertones too.

  6. Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I don't really want to be Mrs G Surname, but then I am totally happy to take his surname in the first place, which in itself has feminist issues surrounding it. In the end I think it boils down to doing whatever you are comfortable with, and what makes you happy. And having the freedom to do that without being judged.

    Fee, I feel your pain. I'm being supported by G while I do my masters, and I hate the snarky comments.

    K x

  7. Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Good post, thanks Esme!

    I have to agree with Anon though that I haven't really experienced any of the stereotypical connotations associated with the word "wife" – either before or in the two and a half years we've been married. That might be slightly influenced by working in a creative, predominantly female, industry, or by the fact that I kept my surname, though. I love referring to M as my husband (the novelty still hasn't worn off two and a bit years on…), and I love hearing him call me his wife.

    The only time I've had a less negative experience was when I was on a research trip in Laos two years ago and I met a young (male) backpacker during dinner one night. After asking me what I was doing, and then clocking my wedding ring, he said "what does your husband think of his wife doing this?". Erm, aside from the fact that it's absolutely none of your business, if he was anything less than encouraging about what I had chosen to do with my life, then I probably wouldn't be married to him. I'm not sure what jarred the most – the fact that the same question wouldn't be asked of a man, or the fact that it was being asked in the first place, and by a young man at that (who really should've known better). God knows how people will react if/when I carry on doing things like that once we've had children…


  8. Esme
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi lovelies, thanks for your comments. It's got me thinking about this again (I wrote it a couple of months ago when I was feeling particularly un-'wife'like) and you've all made some excellent points.

    Anon – hopefully you're right and it has lost all negative connotations. I certainly feel that I've been treated differently now I'm married (maybe it's because I'm quite young?) and, from some people, there is an 'expection' shall we say…

    Fee – I can't believe people would suggest that! Is it anyone's business if you *were* a kept woman? I think it's awful that women who find themselves or choose to be in a stereotypical role are criticised – surely the whole point of feminisim is to be able to make a choice? And at the end of the day, you should make those choices with your partner coming to a conclusion that's right for your family.

    Becca – it's great that you won't mind about that. I suppose it's my feminist upbringing that wants to shout 'how about Mrs & Mr??!!'. I really hope marriage simply strengthens the bond you already have – it has done for us.

    Katielease – I was also happy to take Tom's surname, but that doesn't make me a bad feminist. It just means that I wanted to have the same name as him and I like his more than mine!

    Emma – that is incredible! I think that's what I mean about the bad reactions to the word 'wife'. But then again, I bet that guy would have said something about 'women of your age' or similar if you weren't married! Sounds like a lovely guy!


  9. Posted February 22, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Love this post, Esme! I love being able to call M my husband and him calling me his wife, but when I read the line about people asking if you're enjoying being a wife and that jarring with you I wanted to join Anna in shouting, "Hell, yes!" I can't decide if I'm just reading people's intentions wrong or if they actually mean it in a certain way, but it bugs me too! My husband's mother talked about me to someone the other day as "my son's wife". This brought up the same rage as letters being sent to Mr & Mrs Joe Bloggs. I'm suddenly now just an extra, an addition to one person rather than the two people we were before we got married. Perhaps we're just overly sensitive to this now that we are married?

    I find the Mr & Mrs Joe Bloggs thing incredibly annoying seen as I haven't actually changed my name, but everyone just assumes I have. I had to (embarrasingly) send a birthday cheque back to someone because they wrote it to me with my husband's surname without checking whether I'd changed my name to that!

    And Kirsty, don't even get me started on "The Mrs" or "the wife"! Why did these people bother getting married if they hate their partners so much to refer to them in that way??? It is also something that is very hard for us to stop happening seen as it happens whilst we're not around! :)

    Great topic for discussion!


  10. Anonymous
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    @Jenny, re: 'my son's wife'.

    My father-in-law does this ALL. THE. TIME. Not only when describing me to someone, but when I'm physically sat right in front of him. I am honestly (dead to rights truth here) not sure if the man actually knows my first name.
    I know this is partly because of his culture (read: not English), but it completely infuriates me.

    I wonder what he'd think if he knew that 'the wife' didn't change her surname either. Because whoopsie, we plum forgot to mention that to him.

  11. Mahj
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I'd like to join in the high fiving of Esme too!


  12. Posted February 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Yes yes yes.

    I think it's because I'm his wife. It's not without the ownership. I'm happy to be "wife" – I am not owned by anyone.

    Let's reclaim!

    But I dislike partner more – I am not a cowboy.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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