“You’ll make a great wife someday”

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I was at my cousin Emily’s wedding reception, and someone spilled their drink on the dance floor. I wanted to make sure the dance floor was safe and nobody slipped on the puddle of liquor, so I asked the bartender for a rag to clean it. As I placed the cloth on the floor and quickly tried to dab the liquid up using my foot, a male voice from behind me said “You’ll make a great wife someday.”

I was taken aback to say the least. What does a woman say to that kind of statement? Thank you? Fully aware of the cultural differences involved, I simply shrugged the comment off, smiled and finished cleaning up the mess before someone got hurt.

DSC01515 (2) My placid reaction needs a bit more context in order to make sense. The wedding reception took place in my cousin’s hometown in Central Minnesota. The ceremony was beautiful and the reception was a blast; it was the perfect weekend. However, as a cultural studies enthusiast and as a semi-outsider, I could not help but observe the interesting dynamic between the different social groups involved. The guest list was huge – well over 300! Besides my boisterous family, a large part of the crowd consisted of members of the local rural community.  I appreciate these people for their hard work ethic, their genuine good will, honesty, loyalty, and much more. They are some of the most amazing people I have met. However, as an East Coast/European woman, I can only regard the culture from the outside looking in. We can get along and have fun, but ultimately, a relational barrier exists. I could not simply apply my system of values to theirs. It would be wrong. Therefore, I was not in a position to judge the comment.

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Because this was a person I respect, whose cultural references differ from mine because of geography, I let his disgruntling comment slide. I knew confrontation would not serve to solve this one instance, and it certainly would have disrupted the magic surrounding Emily and her new husband Kyle’s beautiful moment of union and happiness. Every time I visit my relatives in Minnesota, though, I discover a new aspect of the culture out there that I was not fully aware of. This time, it was marriage. Although somewhat aware of it previously, I had not quite realized just how prevalent marriage at a young age is. I had never felt like more of an outsider. Everyone my age seemed to be married or on their way to be. And here Anna shows up all single and untethered. Marriage is a concept so distant from my everyday reality, that I was slapped in the face by what nowadays in my culture is considered out of the norm.

The experience stirred up a vast array of emotions. On the one hand, I felt pure joy for the newlyweds, tolerant of the local custom, and even somewhat inadequate for my lack of significant other. On the other, I felt vehement against marriage, all of my hatred of sexism bubbling to the surface. If the man who made the comment had been someone I knew from my own community, I probably would have blown my feminist war horn and charged into battle against such a misogynistic foe. An awkward combination of acceptance and refusal.

It got me thinking, and I took apart the statement.

“You will make a great wife someday.

The certainty of the future tense imparted a sense of inescapable fate. It almost sounded like an imperative, as if I had no choice – or else I would fail as a woman. It was stated with such certainty that all other options were obsolete, and it assumed that I would tacitly comply. I will not take this “will” willingly.

“You will make a great wife someday.”

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The statement subsumed the definition of a good wife, as if it were a universally understood concept. But how does a wife qualify as good? Based on the circumstance – my cleaning the floor – the statement clearly implied that great wives are good at housework, that some sort of servile reflex distinguishes the good ones from the bad ones. And who are the bad ones? Ones who do not serve their husbands unquestioningly? Who do not take care of the cooking and the cleaning and all of the domestic chores that women have worked so hard to free themselves of? Even if wives are very active in household duties, the fact that those duties define a “good wife” riled me up.

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You will make a great wife someday.”

The word turns its ugly head and sneers at me. Is the status of wife really what is in store for me? No. What if I don’t want to be a great wife? What if, instead, I want to be an incredible woman? Or simply an incredible person? Maybe I’ll be a good wife on the side. But fulfilling my womanhood and humanity in my own way is the only kind of fulfillment I can fathom.

Perhaps I do like to clean. But in my mind, this trait is dissociated from the status of wife. I’ll just be a good person – with an immaculately clean house.

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254 thoughts on ““You’ll make a great wife someday”

  1. Pingback: Analysis of “You’ll make a great wife someday” Multimodality | English 1010

  2. Hey Anna! Well said article! The world (or at least Western Society) forgets how far women have come in the slopes of oppression, and that last photo of the “Modern Wife” you posted, certainly sums it up. What is disheartening, is as women we never really got the vote and are still categorized as being “wifey” material by many a men and women. (If the people who commented negatively to this post knew enough about gender issues and roles in society, they would have given compassion, even if they did disagree ultimately, because it shows respect for human oppression and suffering for everyone; thus a statement of wisdom rather than biased diplomacy would have been used). Originally I was not going to comment on this post, however after reading the first few comments on this article from people who lack the education and oppression of society as a whole, I do in fact feel I need to defend, because if they were not being accusatory/attacking/or trying to find error in your blog- then they would not have used key words that promote an argumentative stance. And no, I am not going educate the rest of you if you can’t figure it out for yourself. You are very diplomatic. I am so glad, someone needs to be. However as a veteran, I have had well enough of diplomacy to please when oppression to anyone is involved. Oppression is oppression, there’s little gray area left behind. I want to validate your thoughts on this, and say, that even if it was a joke- I do not approach a troubled youth on the streets and make a joke about them being homeless, I do not approach a racial minority and tell them I have a job for them scrubbing my floors. So remind me again why it is okay to joke about women doing “women’s work” i.e. cleaning the floor. I give thanks to pop television, media, educationally challenged teachers, and the rest of you (you know who you are as you will respond negatively to this commet), for making women’s behaviour a laughing joke, something to be controlled, and her labour as a duty to serve. For the comment made about “you’ll make a good husband someday” that’s equally oppressive towards men. If you disagree, then let that be between yourself and those of you who use that expression. You are undermining Anna’s experience and what happened. I have a friend who likes to refer to everything as “B**ches”. I appreciate the sense of humor, considered edgy in some social groups- however if a mutual friend comes to me and says, “Hey Helias, so-and-so just called me a B**.” Even if I am unsure on the intended cruelty or joke of the comment, I hear them out because of compassion, and oppression in any form is not right. What I hear Anna telling me, is that someone made an oppressive comment that regarded women being down on their knees, cleaning, in their best dress, and situating it as an ownership in service. Laughing does not make that funny. It doesn’t because it’s called having boundaries. I admit, it may sound funny to the general public, however typically people who laugh up oppressive comments lack the self work, growth, empathy, and ability to see outside themselves. Thanks general public for overlooking the 40% of women who will undergo domestic violence this year. When you understand suffering, you understand behaviour. You may even lack the words for it, but you get it. I think you got this one right on the nose Anna.

    If you do choose to publish this post, I would like to kindly remind everyone that spousal abuse, rape, drug use, alcohol abuse, and hate crimes- more than triple in statistics when in a country or colonial environment. That says a lot. This year 1/3 women will be raped, 1/4 are in an abusive relationship, 50,000 women will be shipped out for human trafficking from north america. Those are city stats. Says a lot about how far we have come. No joke here.

    • Thanks for sharing your view! The concrete facts you bring to the table solidify what many women perceive through experience. Piercing, accurate realities. And you’re right, other comments on the same level of stereotyping and oppression definitely would not just be dismissed as a joke. Thank you!!!

  3. I like your perspective on that one comment. Regardless of the fact it was said in a joking manner I like how you broke it down and saw the ‘inescapable fate’ in store for women even in the 21st century. I like how you portrayed that unless you are married and know how to cook and clean you have failed. Excellent ideas!

  4. Good on you for sharing this. I am a Minnesota native, but come from a long line of feminists and forward thinkers. But I have been traveling around in agricultural regions and am shocked by the assumptions made about me for traveling alone, and with no boyfriend to return to at home. From there, I usually get asked about what my dad thinks. As a 26 year old woman, my dad has very little to do with.
    Others have been extremely warm and supportive.
    It is incredibly frustrating, but it’s really edifying to know that other women encounter similar issues. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post and thanks for your comment! You are perfect the way you are, whether you eventually get married or not.

  5. I’m from MS, and in a deep-South, traditionally rooted and small town, the phrase “you will make a great wife someday” is something you may hear often. It DRIVES ME CRAZY. I do NOT think he meant it as a joke, he probably meant exactly what he was saying. In small town USA (especially in the South), getting married is the next goal/step out of high school or college. I’m 28 years old and not married, and I’m telling you, it is a societal thing where people do look down on you if you are not married (ie: what is wrong with her/him?). They either take pity on you (“don’t worry, you WILL be married someday” – another earnest-meaning phrase that comes across as an insult) or they just plain out don’t know how to identify with you. It’s like, what if I am Ok with being single and not having a family? What if I’m not lonely? What if I enjoy being able to get up at 2 am, turn the radio up super loud and dance around my house if I want to? This doesn’t seem to register with a lot of people here in our area (and of course, I’m making a generalization, it’s not EVERYONE). At this point in my life, I have friends from my youth (from school and church) who are not only married, with a baby, but also well into their second round of kids!!! It can make you “feel” like you are isolated at times. But I will say this, I have a niece and nephew who practically live at my parents’ house, and because of this, I’m out there a good bit during the week nights, helping out. Also, I am a teacher, and I interact with at least 40 or 50 students per day. I can honestly say I am by no means sitting at home at night, crying over a glass of wine and wishing I was married with children. But I think that’s probably how “some” people see me. And sorry if this is going out on a tangent! But if I was somewhere in a bigger city, (or further up North in some cases) this would not even be something I would have to even think about being insecure about. What is boils down to is purely cultural ideologies. BUT I did want to write this on here, in a rebuttal toward some earlier comments that said they didn’t think the man meant for you to take it seriously. Thanks for a great post, I enjoyed reading it!

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m glad my post spoke to you. Being a wife does not have to be the only definition of womanhood, and wives don’t have to be defined only by the fact that they are wives. Whether you are single or married or in between, your self definition should come from a variety of sources. I’m glad you have the strength and beauty to flourish in a society that does not know where to place you. ❤

    • Totally agree! Thank you for making your voice heard here, I definitely think it paves the way for women who are on the same journey, and men who are equitable and want to sincerely understand. WTG!

  6. Thank you for sharing! I often get “You speak good English”… People often make such insensitive comments. Perhaps it was meant to be a compliment but nevertheless it never fails to make me bristle to hear that. You showed how truly gracious and understanding you are by not confronting that person with an irate comment in return.

  7. Some thoughts about the subject:
    I know such comments can be irritating, but I think you should just let it go, not dwell on it. That man has probably forgotten, what he’d said to you, after 5-10 seconds. Me, after hearing such a comment, I’d probably retort with a witty response and move on.
    Everyday when I interact with people, I receive lots of ‘feedback’. Some things I’m hearing are good, some really hurt. I try not to waste my energy on those malicious, bitchy episodes, because it will only result in me feeling sad and it will affect my health and mind.
    I’m aware that people are just different – that makes our world colorful and interesting. In the end, it’s me who chooses my friends, my partner/husband, people I spend time with. If there’s no chemistry or a common basis (like mutual interests, beliefs etc.) I’d probably be polite and talk with a person for a few minutes, and that would be all. Furthermore, it’s just a party. You meet various people there – you just have to bear it for a few hours and then go home 🙂 Or avoid them and have fun anyway.
    Being more serious: In some rural parts of my country people are being more conservative. I observethat married women (especially with kids already) have somehow a higher social status that unmarried ones. It’s… unconscious, nof defined anywhere, but you can feel it. I say: OK. That may be some tradition, but I’m chosing my own way. I have only one life and I have to set my own goals which will make me happy, fulfilled and satisfied. I don’t say that I’ll never marry or never have kids. I assume things can change with time, as our perspective changes.

  8. Thank you for writing this. I think sometimes women can feel so scared to actually step out and say, wait a minute, marriage isn’t the only thing to aspire to in life. ESPECIALLY in places where marriage, and at a younger age, is seen as a cultural requirement. I live in Oklahoma, and I’ve attended numerous weddings where I felt that same kind of pressure because I was single, without even a prospect for dating, much less marriage, in sight. I don’t know if I can ever see myself getting married either, and no one seems to understand that I don’t consider that a bad thing. It feels very liberating to not expect that of myself, to not consider my life unsuccessful until I’ve found a husband. I think marriage can be very beautiful and wonderful, but I hate when people assume everyone wants it, and that they just know better when you suggest that you might not. It just helps me feel not so alone (especially when most everyone I know my age does have a serious significant other) to hear someone else express my same concerns. I respect so much your ability to be considerate of other views, because that’s something I’ve HAD to learn where I live, and I know how difficult it can be.

  9. I have to agree that it was said in ignorance, not jest. He could have said you’d make a great host/manager etc that those qualities would be good for the work place, but he saw you as wife material. That says something about the old world view still alive in this country today. No matter why or what he said, you have a right to your feelings.

  10. I went through a similar scenario back home a couple of years ago, only it was phrased, “You’ll make a great mother someday!” as if it’s a predetermined fate for all woman who can cook. I think so many people don’t think about how lines like this do matter, because it’s a reflection of how our culture still views woman. Even though we’ve done great work for feminism, compliments like these are still implying that a woman’s worth comes from mainly homemaking, child rearing, and other domestic duties. I’m glad you’ve brought this subject to light, and I hope that you’ll keep that analytical brain of yours no matter what you do. Great work!

    • The definition depends on the specific couple. As long as the couple negotiates roles and finds a formula that works for both sides, then a good wife — if indeed the couple involves a woman at all — is a woman who upholds that trust.

  11. Good read. Living in a few different regions of the country I have thought certain people were joking when they weren’t and others not joking when they said something! You just never know! Glad you gave your thoughts on this!

  12. Pingback: The Versatile Blogger | The Hungry Dog's Lair

  13. Reblogged this on weepsandsmirks and commented:
    A lot of people think that all a woman wants to ( and can ) be is a good wife. So its high time we reverse those impressions. We are here to make changes and its high time we get awarded by compliments like “You will be independent” or “You will change the world”

  14. I hear you…being an “outsider” in a small-country-town I too was taken back by those comments. I went through several stages of emotions. I have learned in certain “bubbles” things are acceptable…some “bubbles” are happy back 50yrs. It is hard around. Women have fought for so long to get “so far” and sometimes it just seems backwards. I have had many honest heart-to-heart conversations with woman in small-town communities and truth is most of the men and women I have met that have that attitude are truly unaware that much of the 1st world does not share those views and have not for 30-50yrs. The true meaning of ignorance. Interestingly too, some that are aware chose to not think about it and want to have that lifestyle. When I moved here I was the “city girl” and still probably am and people were shocked to learn that I went through post-secondary and passed grad-school with honors AND am was not a teacher or a nurse. More over, that I do not want to birth and stay home with 4 children. Even after several years of living in small-country-town I often still feel like I went to town in my Delorean. I will be posting more on this type of thing over the next couple of months myself. Happiness is an individual thing…

  15. Hmm, interesting thoughts.
    It’s just a small and probably trivial thought but I’d suggest that some people see something other than simply an obedient servile act from an instance like your cleaning up the dance floor.

    Like the part where your concern wasn’t with the mess but with the safety and continued enjoyment of everyone else.

    There’s consciousness in that. Consciousness of your environment and the well-being of people immediately in it. But more importantly, there’s more than a hint of selflessness in that, and selflessness being such a fundamental part of marriage on both sides of the gender-divide, there’s a slightly different perspective on the comment in my mind.

    But on that note, (and having browsed through a few other thoughts from a few of your commenters) I’m 20 and married from a small country town. Go figure?

    And maybe it’s not just a passing comment that you’re really highlighting, but that opening for difference in cultural diversity?

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