Are “Husband” and “Wife” Anitquated Terms?


I’m a modern woman. I’ve been married twice. The first time for 7 years and the second for thirteen and still going strong.In my quest to be a skeptical thinker, I’m trying to analyze the change in gender roles and of the terms “husband” and “wife” are still viable terms for a life partner.

In my first marriage I tried to conform to the traditional roles of husband and wife. My husband wasn’t much for conforming to the role of a provider. He didn’t go off to a regular job. But I still tried to conform to the “wife” role. I cooked. I cleaned. I took care of the household and, when they came along, the children.

When the relationship began to sour, I started hating the term “wife”. It made me feel like an indentured servant. When he wouldn’t or couldn’t get a job, I went out and earned the money at a regular job while he stayed at home and cared for the kids. So in a way I suppose I’ve never really experienced what it’s like to be a traditional wife in a long-term situation.

“Wife” seems to have developed a negative or at least neutral connotation in today’s society. Perhaps it is more specifically the term ‘housewife’. This is pure speculation, yet people are calling themselves spouses, life partners or significant others more frequently than by husband or wife.

From an etymology standpoint however, according to http://takeourword.com the word “wife”, in the English language, has no negative connotation. “In fact, wife originally meant, simply, `woman.’ It attained its `married woman’ meaning in the Old English period, however, and that meaning has remained. The ultimate source of wife is said to be unknown. Interestingly, the Old English meaning of wife, `woman,’ remains in such terms as fishwife, midwife, and old wives’ tale. Also, a woman is etymologically a `wife-man,’ that is, a `woman-person’.”.

At first glance it  would seem “wife” does not implicitly confer inferiority or servitude.

On the other hand, “husband” translates to “head of the household”. The word “head” would imply a superior standing to “wife”, who is simply a person. Even without the addition of the roles that religion places on gender, the terms “husband” and “wife” have their own baggage already.

In today’s society many households are headed up by single or divorced women. Women, and this is not news, have been taking on the traditionally male role of “husband” for a couple decades now. While the numbers are still relatively small, there are many men who stay at home and take on the traditionally female roles of the home.

What do you think? Are the terms “husband” and “wife” outdated? if yes, what should they be replaced with? If no, why should we retain titles that have lost traditional meaning in many cases?


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2 Comments

  1. Sgerbic said,

    April 8, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for making me think about this concept. I kinda like the idea of husband and wife, but maybe in a Disney kind of way. My oldest child who is 21 feels that marriage is outdated. Only some sort of legal binding should exist. I wonder if his generation is starting a new trend.

    I think words will gain or lose their meaning on their own without society actually trying.

  2. jwalker1960 said,

    April 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I think that “Spouse” is a nice gender neutral term, although it’s a bit awkward. The other problem with replacing “husband” and “wife” is that they have legal meanings, but with same-sex marriages now becoming more widespread, maybe that will have to change.


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