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The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-first Century Hardcover – February 10, 2005

23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Despite its occasionally academic tone, this encyclopedic examination of wifedom should trump wedding magazines on the list of required reading for prospective brides. Canadian journalist Kingston's behind-the-scenes tour of not-always-holy matrimony begins with a visit to the inner sanctum of Vera Wang's exclusive Madison Avenue bridal boutique and ends with an analysis of how much a wife is worth in economic terms. Along the way, she shines her spotlight on the bedroom, several real-world first wives' clubs, Carrie Bradshaw's single-girl lair and the worlds of women who have killed or maimed abusive husbands. (Naturally, Lorena Bobbitt figures prominently.) While Kingston writes, "For all the crowing that marriage is in crisis, the institution still remains the preferred way to cement love," she also notes that a "strong marriage is an advantageous incubator in which to raise children" and "a source of varying degrees of economic support," and some readers might wonder if they're romantic fools for wondering how true love factors into the equation. But Kingston asks some important questions—How does marriage affect a woman's sense of self? Is it possible to place a dollar value on a mother's work? How is our idea of the wife shaped over the decades?—and challenges a new generation of brides to come up with their own creative answers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374205108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374205102
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,195,709 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A. Zenkner on December 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a newly-wed, always independent female, my first year of marriage has met confusion over new roles, career goals and what my new title of "wife" really implied. I turned somewhat to rebellion - as did my husband in his new title, with all it's implications of "breadwinner" - I do not want the traditional house wife role. I never played that role in the five years we lived together prior to the wedding ring and all of a sudden that ring, which is supposed to represent the unity and fairytale love we are bombarded with daily, became what I had always thought of as a ridiculous metaphor for marriage: a ball and chain. I felt trapped.

The reason I am writing this now, is not because I had some self-awakening and suddenly came into my own as a wifely figure. I did not follow my wild daydream of suddenly, and with no real plan, driving into the sunset toward "liberty." I did not go file for divorce, which is the popular and easy thing to do. I simply read a book. "The Meaning of Wife," by Anne Kingston, is an eye-opening page turner, which confronts social patterns, ideologies, and generalizations of what it means to not only be a wife, but a woman in Western Society.

While reading this book, I was forced to confront some of my own pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a wife, mother, career woman, domestic, caretaker, [...]. It also helped me to realize that in some of my ideals I have been unfair to the person I chose to make my partner for life, and vice versa.

I am amazed by Kingston's ability to present different perspectives and surprised by her ability to resolve many issues. She does not represent a feminist hard-line but takes a logical stance that does not slap either sex across the face with shame.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Antimony3 on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book. The book explores the role of the wife in society from a historical perspective and does a very good job illustrating how tht role has changed over time. I think I found the book interesting because I was able to compare my views on wifedom and marriage to the views my mom has. I have to say that being a 30 year old woman in 2005 that my perspective on my life as it relates to marriage is dramatically different than the perspective my mother had when she married my father. Back in the 1960's, there weren't the career options that exist today. There were very clearly defined roles and expectations. I think that after having read this book I can still see how society is relucutant to rid itself of those same roles - they are merely masked or contorted so that they appear different. Women today are told they "can have it all" and back then it was "this is all you get". Well, women really can't have it all and that is presenting a host of new issues for them to deal with. The reference material in this book is very good and numerous examples were selected to support each theory presented. A very interesting read for both married and unmarried individuals. I would also recommend this book as a book club selection because I can definitely see women talking about this in depth - from the heart.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Sabrina's Mom on November 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Kingston's book begins with a description of Prince Charles' and Princess Di's wedding and sort of stays there. She spends a great deal of time focusing on the upper classes, whether royalty, celebrities, politicians or CEOs. Ignored, or perhaps forgotten, are those whose weddings cost less than $50,000, who do not have a choice about working or staying home, who get married at City Hall, and who cannot squeeze every dime out of the ex--because he doesn't have that much more himself. Ignored also are issues such as the effect of parenthood on a marriage, same-sex marriages (even lesbians do laundry), and the role that religion has played in marriage.
Kingston's book not only focuses on the upper echelons, but the most extreme marraiges. Her chapter on divorce, for example, portrays women who just about break the law getting back at their ex-husbands.
If you are an average woman who took two weeks off her job for her honeymoon, pick something else.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on June 4, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well into the nineteenth century, a wife was subsumed within a husband's legal standing and control, quite literally an existence not far from slavery. In the twentieth century, fueled by the high percentage of women entering the workforce and the women's movement over the last forty years, the concept of being a wife, both socially and legally, has undergone considerable examination and change. This book is a wide-ranging look at different aspects of being a wife or the contemplation of such.

The author makes clear that the meaning of wife is inseparable from images of women from a variety of sources, including corporate advertising, movies, books, etc. A comprehensive bridal industry has emerged that emphasizes the perfect, elaborate wedding as being the foremost aspect of a marriage, shoving long-term, wifely realities to the background - the escapist wedding of Princess Diana being the epitome of that notion. In addition, wives can now supposedly rise beyond mundane drudgery by becoming domestic experts as directed by Martha Stewart and the like - a Superwife.

The author notes a curious reversal of sentiments among highly educated younger women, who are more and more eschewing independent careers advocated by feminism to become wives. There are any numbers of books and consultants to give advice to make that happen while the "clock is ticking." On the other hand, there is a discernible rise in women remaining single in the western world. While there is the pull of marital domesticity, the terms are now different. Women have achieved the wherewithal, both psychologically and legally, to be assertive concerning such matters as sexual satisfaction, infidelity, abuse, and divorce settlements.
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