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on December 7, 2006
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. She was able to show all sides of a debate in each chapter, and then resolved with solutions that make the reader think, "Now why didn't I think of that. It is so simple, so obvious."

I strongly believe that this book is not only a read for women, but men as well. As I said before, it is not a feminist manuscript meant to belittle men, but a bold confrontation of the roles assigned both sexes in Western Society. It focuses on the role of the wife, but in doing so, confronts the roles of the Husband.

Believe it or not the only feminist book I have read in my life is, "Communion," by Bell Hooks. This was a book I loved but had contradicting feelings about. It makes grand points of what it means to "Commune" with another, but showed little resolve toward such communion. One of my favorite quotes came from this book, "To exist in a state of communion is to be aware of the nature of existence." (Susan Griffin) However, it was not until reading, "The Meaning of Wife," that I truly began to confront and make peace with my existence as a female and all the roles I play as an individual and as a partner in a communion I chose.
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on August 11, 2005
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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on November 28, 2007
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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VINE VOICEon June 4, 2008
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.

There is no doubt that the book is geared to women of the upper middle class, highly educated and consumers of various media depicting roles for women. One suspects that for those women whose job is an absolute necessity, that choosing to stay at home after becoming a lawyer or investing time to make special decorations for the perfect dinner party is hardly understandable or pertinent.

There are a lot of considerations and views concerning the role of individuals in a marriage or whether to remain single. There remains a "wife gap" in trying to reconcile all of the aspects. The book does a fair job at examining some of the terrain. The author does ultimately admit that there is "no singular meaning of wife." So be warned, the matter remains complicated even after reading this book.
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on August 14, 2006
I'm wholeheartedly disappointed to see that some reviewers have perceived the author to have a "chip on her shoulder" simply because she presents some facts on how society has perceived women who occupy the role of wife. This is a thought-provoking look at the history of how wives are perceived(and yes, let's take our blinders off people, because in one way or another, pop culture affects how we define ourselves, and it sure as heck is affecting our children!). The research is original and fascinating. I am not opposed to marriage and hope to get married one day; furthermore, I was not at all offended by the tone of the book and did not feel that Kingston was trying to discourage anyone from getting married. Instead, she seems to challenge us to define ourselves beyond restrictive labels. For those who are moaning that the book lacks a thesis, I believe it lies in the proof that she gives over and over throughout the book: not all women are the same and to lump them all in one category (ie. "the vindictive other woman", "the helpless battered woman", "the sad, single girl with her cats", "the sassy single girl with her Manolo Blahniks", etc.) has dangerous social consequences.
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on April 26, 2004
I don't want to get married. I thought this book would be an explanation into how I feel. It turned out to be so much more, it does not bash marriage as I originally thought it would. The book is a great read right until the end, so rare in non-fiction. It has many historical facts that are fascinating! Great book, I will read it again and again.
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on November 29, 2007
It is to bad some reviewers think Anne has a chip on her shoulder. It seems when women "net" out and describe reality from a different viewpoint, males seem to take the position that women are upset, have chips or are angry. This is a great book and one that gets you thinking about marriage. Some items you might agree or disagree but it will leave you with a well rounded perspective on the topic. Highly recommended
Michael Coogan
Co-Author Know Your Pig - Playful Relationship Advice for Understanding your Man(Pig)
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on July 21, 2008
In her book A History of the Wife, Marilyn Yalom traces the history and changing roles women have had in marriage from early history through the women's liberation movement. The Meaning of Wife picks up where that excellent book ends. It is clear from the cover of this book (a woman's left hand, flipping off the reader-with a perfectly manicured and wedding band-clad ring finger) that this is a book for a generation of women who are both used to confrontation and longing for tradition. It is this dichotomy in their lives that fuels the book.

As women are working outside the home more, demanding more equitable treatment, and becoming market forces, they are also struggling to define what being a wife actually means to them. Kingston examines that many facets of wifeliness that seem to prevail: helpmeet, virgin, Cinderella (equally entranced by the wedding dress as she is of scented toilet bowl cleaner), victim of abuse, shrew, spinster (or unwife), or supporting actress.

The main struggle for women now isn't whether or not to get married. Kingston is no Steinem and doesn't suggest that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle (though she is unmarried). She acknowledges that women want to be wives and mothers. The problem is that they don't have role models. They have seen their mothers struggle to get out of the kitchen and are in no great rush to get back into it. Their icons growing up on TV were single women, Superwomen who could do it all by themselves. Popular culture, in the form of advertising, movies, books, news media, and television, is the most common source of clues to how women seek to describe themselves.

Their icons now are very different. They see the brides, the yearning for marriage and a fairy tale wedding. Kingston excels and describing the marketing behind this notion (and I love that this industry now has an insidious name: the wedding industrial complex). But once the marriage happens, there are a few very different ideas of what a married woman is. They see the happy homemaker. Though most have absolutely no desire to be homemakers, they still feel the pressure to have a well-kept home. A certain amount of bliss is marketed along with cleaning products. Or they are seen as the victim of love-the battered wife (an excellent chapter on the presentation of domestic abuse is given, including how it both infantilizes women and takes them back to Victorian times when women were seen to only follow their wombs, rather than brains, in decision making).

The main theme of this book is that there is not and cannot be one script for how to be a wife, just as there is no one role for husband. This is a well-written, researched, and balanced look at what marriage means now, not just wife. It isn't a reactionary or staunchly second-wave feminist look at marriage; Kingston respects marriage and the desire to be married.

Excellent to read alongside A History of the Wife,The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Womenand Selling Anxiety: How the News Media Scare Women.
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on July 15, 2006
I have to agree with the review by Someone's Mom. While this book does provide many interesting and valid points - some which I agree with, some I do not - I feel this book is not focused enough and lacks an overall thesis. The author states many 'facts' and points that seemed to backed up very little other than personal views or opinion (or at least they aren't explained throroughly enough for me to undertstand.) I also feel that there is too much generalization - the author does not give much credit to individual choices & feelings. I am a woman who would like to marry her partner and I feel that many of her descriptions do no apply to me at all.

So once again, I don't think that the views expressed in this book are invalid by any means, but they offer little in the way of concrete argument.
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on December 4, 2010
A great book I suspect for women of all ages, married or not, and also for any men who are curious about how their marriage or the women in their lives have been reflected (accurately or not) in the culture.

Kingston does a great job summarizing many of the changes, conflicts, progress and setbacks in the role of women in marriage and family in the last 40-50 years. I thought she made an astute and generally accurate conceptualization that there is a "wife-gap," a vacancy in the historic meaning of wife that has been filled in with (a) the wedding industrial complex, (b) the "battered wife" psychology, (c) fake "commercial wives" like Martha Stewart (is she getting female revenge on the vacuous marketplace?) and other sorts of cultural/economic/political attempts to get women back into that position and make them feel pathologized for exiting it. I think that although she's correct about these "commercial coverture" pressures on women, as well the culture believing something necessary is missing, but I think Kingston's definition of what is missing in the "gap" is not quite filled in enough, and, of course, independent of Kingston, the culture itself that is leading to the commercial coverture pressures seems to understand this "gap" even less.

I think there is a problem of inadequate parenting, which relates to needs children have for nurturing & mentoring, which gets associated with women, but I think is actually more a need a child has to know both his/her parents and be known by both of them and receive both their support in development, have those parents have adult, differentiated psychology, and having those parents function well together. In other words, it's not just a "wife-gap," it's a "husband-gap," or more accurately a "good parents gap." And it's a gap that existed when women were still in the home. Patriarchy may have helped civilize the world from chaos by establishing paternity through control of women, but it also did great psychological damage to children of both sexes, which was passed on through generations. Now that paternity can be established genetically, and women have gained many political and economic rights, we can now go much further in raising healthy boys and girls and creating a more peaceable and productive society. Although Kingston did not discuss it, the booming psychotherapy industry, support groups, even religions, etc. can attest to adults trying to repair their childhood and/or get what they needed as children from one or the other parent or both, but couldn't get at the time. Although these remedies may vary in their success, I think it is a good sign that people are least seeking help. If people can become healthy adults before they have children, including by fixing deficiencies in their own upbringing, the world will be a better place.

If readers are looking for suggestions and models for contemporary marriage and family models not based in patriarchy, but that are more egalitarian and equal, I recommend:

Strober & Mears, Getting to 50/50
Vachon & Vachon, Equally Shared Parenting
Smith, The Daddy Shift
Badalment, The Modern Dad's Dilemma
Pruett & Pruett, Partnership Parenting
Schnarch, Passionate Marriage
Coontz, How Love Conquered Marriage
Unger, Men Can

A great look at how boys and men have been hurt by patriarchy as well, and how contemporary families where fathers are directly involved with their children is helping them: is Lloyd DeMause's chapter in The Origins of War on "Why Males Are More Violent." Search it on google to find it.

The Publishers Weekly review said "readers might wonder if they're romantic fools for wondering how true love factors into the equation." They're not fools but Kingston isn't either. As a recent (late 2010) Pew Research Study in the US found, the more equal a marriage is the longer it lasts, and as Stephanie Coontz' book mentioned above says, that makes it all about love. Enduring and meaningful love for and commitment to men and children, is, here in the 21st Century, rapidly taking on a profound, strong and weighty significance it has never seen before, I suspect. Will men fight it or will they join? The world will likely look very different (and better, I suspect?) in coming years . . . .
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