Sunday, 24 February 2008

The ‘Modern’ Wife.

I recently read an academic article on domestic violence, which stated:
‘even for working women, self-respect, identity, and sense of value are still rooted in most cases, is [sic] their role of as wife and mother’.
And I wondered is this still true. Now I am not a mother, but I am a wife and a working woman. It made me wonder what part of my identity comes from being a wife. As a historian, when I think of what qualities mark out a wife, I think obedience to one’s spouse, service to one’s spouse and family, and good housewifery, none of which excluded the working wife. Yet, I am very uncomfortable with using any of those qualities to define my identity.

I try to keep our house clean and tidy, but, like many working women, I find this is not always the reality. But, I don’t think this is solely my responsibility. If our house is dirty, I don’t blame myself. I see this as a joint failure by me and my husband, and a failure that is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I sometimes worry that people will judge me if our house is untidy, but, to be honest, I just find this irritating and sexist, rather than motivating. I certainly don’t see it as a failure on my part, but rather a failure by society. Similarly, I don’t believe in being obedient to my husband and I don’t think it is my role to serve him. He is my equal and our marriage is something we negotiate together.

Yet, I like being married and, in that sense, I like being a wife. So, it occurred to me to ask, what does it mean to be a wife today? When I tell people I am married, what am I trying to say? For me, telling people I am married is saying that the decisions that I make are not just about what is good for me. It is saying that my life involves negotiation and that I need to make choices that are good for both me and my husband; that my decisions are not entirely selfish, but not uninterested either. Telling people that I am a wife is about saying that sometimes I have other commitments and responsibilities that are important to me. It is also about saying that I will put my relationship first, but that does not mean that I am not committed to the other things in my life. It is not about sacrifice. I expect my husband to make the same compromises that I do and to be part of the negotiation. I expect him to be flexible towards my other commitments as I am to his. I also expect him to put our relationship first.

So is being a wife central to my identity? It is certainly central to understanding the decisions that I make, so, in that sense, yes. But do I see being a wife as making me different or special from non-married women, or having particular social characteristics? Not so much. Would my life be different if I wasn’t married? Certainly.

Is being a 'wife' at the root of my self-esteem or sense of value? I really don’t know. I am sure that much of my self-esteem comes from having someone to support and encourage me. I am sure that being loved makes me feel valued. Would my self-esteem be lower if I wasn’t married? I don’t think so. I have other people in my life who also love and support me. I have achievements which I am proud of. Is being a wife something that I am proud of? Not particularly, but only because I don’t really see it as an achievement, but rather a state of being. I am not ’proud’ that I am a woman, but I wouldn’t want to be a man.

So is my identity and value still rooted in my role as a wife? I guess it depends on how you define ‘wife’, how you define ‘identity’ and ‘value’, and how you define ‘rooted’. Am I married? Yes.

ETA: Another important part of a wife's identity that just occurred to me would be her provisioning role, whether that is through bringing home a wage or otherwise through her labour. This is something that I do take pride in, although I am not sure that this is unique to being a wife or a woman.


pba said...


ive thought about your offer to just talk through comments and i realised it was worth a shot - you won't hurt me like some i have known

My parents are very religious and anti-abortion - and are pressuring me over my more progressive beliefs - i am frightened but do not know what to do

they jumped on me after i tried to gently bring up that i questioned the beliefs - religious and political - that they had brought me up with - both of them took it very badly - most people stereotypically associate such attitudes with the father but my mother can be just as bad

This sort of thing has happened not long ago - when i tried to bring up the possibility of wearing pants to a school dance - pretty much my whole family turned on me

Feminist Avatar said...

You are in a difficult situation, but one that is common to many young people.

Many people find that they have different values from their parents. This is not the end of the world although it may feel like it! Your parents have rights to their beliefs, just as you do to yours. Until you are old enough to leave home, you will have to compromise with your parents and that may mean respecting their beliefs.

I am worried that you are frightened. While your parents have a right to their beliefs, this shouldn't mean hurting you or forcing you to do things that will have a long-term impact on your life, such as things that would effect your physical or psychological safety. I don't know anything about your background, but if you feel in danger then is there someone or some agency you can contact?

You shouldn't be pressured into changing your beliefs, but you should realise that you may not be able to change your parents' minds. This might mean trying not argue too much with your parents, especially while you are still living with them.

If you think your parents are open to discussion, you could try explaining to them that you have different beliefs from them, and if things come up in conversation you could present your side of things. But this is not always appropriate and you know your parents better than anyone!

The best advice I can give you for now is to try to learn as much as you can about the things you think are important. That way you can make good arguments and defend your beliefs. Second, pick your battles. That means don't argue wth your parents about the unimportant stuff so that when you have something important to fight for, they know you are serious.

pba said...

I am frightened sometimes

i dont feel i can talk to someone official - they would just listen to my parents and not me - i did try to tell someone once - they didnt believe me - theres no point in doing something that doesnt work

a lot of stuff has happened to me growing up - being young being female and being my background means that no one will believe you or help you i think

about the dance - i tried to bring up that it was ok to wear pants and i didnt feel comfy with what they wanted - they turned on me - specially insisting that i wear a ladies dress or gown - even mum joined in

Feminist Avatar said...

Lots of women find that they are not believed when they tell their stories. It's because the world would rather think that they were lying than believe that so many girls and women face abuse. If it helps, there are plenty of women out there, including me, who will believe you.

I would like to tell you that everybody will believe your story, but as you have found out, this is not always the case. You could try looking for self-help groups or agencies on the internet for women who have gone through similar experiences. They will be able to give you better advice than I can.

Many women are brought up by very controlling parents. It is often difficult for parents to understand that their children are able to make their own decisions, especially because it is their job to protect them and sometimes being protecting can be confused with controlling. Your parents probably thought that wearing pants to the dance would end up in you being teased or, perhaps, they had bigger objections, such as they disapprove of women wearing trousers for religious reasons.

Maybe you could ask them why they thought it was important that you not wear pants. If you know why, it will hep you understand your parent's behaviour and maybe even help you come up with a convincing argument to get your own way. It will also help you distinguish between when your parents are trying to protect you and when they are trying to control you. This is important because sometimes parents are just trying to keep you safe. Remember parents are human too and they make mistakes.

If possible, try to stick in at school because an education can open many doors to you in the future and can allow you to escape controlling parents. I know it is difficult to see beyond the present, but sometimes looking to the future is what keeps people in bad situations going.

If you are still being physically hurt or otherwise abused, you need to tell someone. I know this is hard, but if they don't listen, tell someone else and keep trying. Try to pick someone neutral and responsible such as a teacher or even a religious leader that you trust. If you can, write down when things happen and what exactly happened. If it is relevant, you could also try taking pictures of any injuries. This sort of thing helps give you evidence when you tell someone.

I hope this helps. I know that it is easy to give advice, but never easy to live in these situations!