The Meaning of Wife

A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century

Anne Kingston

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

"One part The Beauty Myth . . . and one part Backlash"*--a provocative exploration of who and what a wife really is.

There is a wife crisis in North America, a brewing storm of conflicting forces swirling around what it means to be a wife at the beginning of the 21st Century. The word is so fraught with ambiguity that it has become a litmus test, eliciting from women emotions ranging from longing to antipathy, anxiety to derision. This crisis is at the heart of Anne Kingston's The Meaning of Wife.

Delving into the complex, troubling, and sometimes humorous contradictions, illusions, and realities of contemporary wifehood, Kingston takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the wedding industrial complex, which elevates the bride to a potent consumer icon; through the recent romanticization of domesticity; and across the conflicted terrain of wifely sexuality. She looks at "wife backlash," and the new wave of neo-traditionalism that urges women to marry before their "best-before" dates expire; explores the apotheosis of abused wives and the strange celebration of wives who kill; and muses on the fact that Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart, two of the world's wealthiest and most influential women, are both non-wives whose success has hinged on thier understanding of wives. The result is an entertaining mix of social, sexual, historical, and economic commentary that is bound to stir debate even as it reframes our view of both women and marriage.


Read an Excerpt

The Meaning of Wife
Chapter 1The Wife GapWife. Four letters. One syllable. Simple, or so it seems. Yet this common word has become one of the most complex signifiers in the English language, weighted by past definitions, blurred by personal biases. The associations it elicits are bipolar in their scope: by the beginning of the twenty-first century, wife was variously presented as the source of female damnation or salvation, enchantment or disenchantment, captivity or rescue. Take your pick. Evidence can be marshaled to support either case. The truth exists in neither.At one extreme, the role


Praise for The Meaning of Wife

"Smart and sophisticated . . . Kingston's radar is, as always, acute . . . Here's one title the neighbourhood book clubs absolutely do not want to wait for in paperback." --Toronto Star

"Fascinating . . . With considerable intelligence and objectivity, Kingston provides a historic perspective that elicits anger, sorrow and belly laughs . . . Wife raises important questions.
--Elizabeth Simpson, The Globe and Mail.

"Kingston is a sharp writer with an engaging style, and she smartly avoids both right- and left-wing dogmatism . . . The Meaning of Wife . . . proves through-provoking . . . zoom[ing] in on all the right questions."--Catherine Tunnacliffe, Eye Weekly

"The word 'wife' has defined women for untold generations, but who is defining the word itself? Kingston has amassed a wealth of sociological research and tempered it with a wry wit to produce a compelling analysis of the forces behind the marriage message." --Suzanne Braun Levine, former editor of Ms. and author of Father Courage: What Happens When Men Put Family First and Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood

"Billion dollar wedding industry notwithstanding, it appears that as women get more rights, both women and men need a wife and fewer people want to be one. With insight and humor Anne Kingston analyzes the wife, and reveals the many inequalities that still face women." --Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, co-authors of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide to Feminist Activism

"Kingston has written that rarest of books--a work of trenchant social analysis that is also compulsively readable and culturally hip." --Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. and author of Three Daughters

"Every wife, former wife, and wife-to-be--every woman, period--should read this impeccably researched, important, and enlightening book about what the "w" word means today. Kudos and gratitude to Anne Kingston." --Cathi Hanauer, editor of The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage and author of My Sister's Bones

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  • Anne Kingston

  • Anne Kingston's writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Saturday Night, Toronto Life and The Chicago Sun-Times Magazine. She is a columnist for the National Post, where she writes on social and cultural issues.



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The Meaning of Wife

A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century

Anne Kingston