Feminist Book Club August 2014: The Meaning of Wife


August 2014 Book Club Selection:

The Meaning of Wife

 Author/Editor: Anne Kingston

Purchased: Unknown

In continuing with Half-Way’s ‘summer wedding’ obsession, this month’s book club selection is Anne Kingston’s examination of the landscape of modern “wifehood.”

Kingston’s book certainly does have some downfalls.  Academically speaking, her research could be much more robust without sacrificing the more casual readers.  Stylistically, Kingston suffers from a ‘hear me roar’ monologuing . . . the kind where, paragraphs after she’s made her point, she’s still writing — but adding nothing further to the conversation.

Which is not to say The Meaning of Wife is without its selling points.

Tidbits of wifely trivia are much appreciated, even by the most seasoned of feminist readers.  I laughed out loud when I read the following, from the chapter entitled, “The Wife Gap:”

One psychological profile of Communist behavior read by both President Eisenhower and FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover during this period explained that “the tendency seems to be that in Communist marriages the wife is the more dominant partner.”

When the book opens with a comparison between coverture, “the common law that dictated that a wife’s identity be legally subsumed by her husband’s,” and modern-day romance novel tropes, you know that this author has something valuable to say.

And when Kingston talks about nostalgia for the “1960s housewife,” her prose, and analysis, is dead-on:

. . . a nostalgia for a way of life many women born after 1960 had never known, which made it the most potent form of nostalgia possible.new-girl-screencap

The biggest problem with books like The Wife Gap as well as the more recently bestselling Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection is that their authors assume that all modern, feminist women have career foremost on their brains.  Hence their difficulties in trying to ‘have it all’ — with the ‘all’ implicitly signifying a top-shelf career and a nuclear family.

As Kingston phrases it, when speaking of Candice Olson (née Carpenter), the co-founder and CEO of the website iVillage:

The new Mrs. Olson even admitted to having a blissful moment while washing her husband’s socks, one that forced her to ponder the generational differences between her and her mother.  ‘I realized my mother used to wash socks and think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’  One difference between Olson and her mother, however, was that Olson did the laundry secure in the knowledge that she didn’t have to.

But it’s not actually about how much our internal feminism rankles when we perform a task that would be considered ‘feminine’ or ‘domestic’ — and don’t resent it or, worse yet, actually enjoy it it’s about overcoming our obsession with analyzing how our life choices are perceived by others.

For some of us, myself included, our feminist dream is not having to work.  No matter how ‘retro’ it sounds, what would make us really happy would be having unlimited disposable income and the expansive free-time to pursue the myriad of different things that we feel passionate about — which, for the most part, exist solely in the world of volunteer and/or extremely low-paying positions.  But, amongst other third-wave feminists, admitting that we would love a ‘house husband’ or a family member to keep us in books and plane tickets is akin to shouting out a racial slur in a crowded grocery store.pinterest-art

We feel lazy, or ‘kept,’ or underachieving . . . even though we are positive, when we are so rarely sure of anything in our lives, that climbing the career ladder would make us profoundly unhappy.  But what can we do but move forward — making the choices that are right for us and trying to ignore the voices invading our heads.

Weigh in, “Half-Way” readers!  Have you felt a tension between your feminist values and your life choices?  How are you navigating modern-day “wifehood?”

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