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The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,033 ratings  ·  110 reviews
Delving into the complex, troubling, and sometimes humorous contradictions, illusions, and realities of contemporary wifehood, this book takes the reader on a journey into the wedding industrial complex. Anne Kingston looks at "wife backlash," and the new wave of neo-traditionalism that urges women to marry young; explores the apotheosis of abused wives and the strange cel ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published February 1st 2006 by St. Martins Press-3PL (first published 2004)
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3.69  · 
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 ·  1,033 ratings  ·  110 reviews

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Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Imagine a world in which 3rd wave feminism never happened, Feminine Mystique remains the last word on women's issues, a world in which the primary question of feminism remains "Are upper-middle-class white women happy?" Because this is apparently the world the author lives in.

I'd be willing to forgive that however, because hey, I'm an upper-middle-class white woman and it is a valid question whether or not I'm happy, but the author commits my pet peeve -- observation without argument. This book
Aug 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
Man, I only got like 50 pages in and this is BO-RING. Again, no sense of humor? At all? Seriously?

The title is taken far too literally (except for the "provocative" part.) It's like a super-sized essay on how the role of "wife" has changed over the years, and the contradictory things it can mean today. Gee, thanks, I've been an alive feminist with a computer for the past twenty-odd years, I know . . . stuff. Like what you just said.

Bo to the ring.
Jun 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
I've been reading this book off and on for months now, and I finished it last night. I can't decide how I feel about it. I kind of enjoyed reading it, and yet it kind of made me angry about the way the world (Western world, at least) treats both married and single women, and the institution of the "WIFE".

It kind of made me want to get married and defy the stereotypes, and then it made me want to not get married EVER.

I will be checking out some of the sources listed in the bibliography, that's fo
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was ok
Should have been called "The meaning of white, middle-to-upper class straight American wife." Because really, who else even counts? Interesting other than that, though.
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book was awesome!

Before reading this book, I was the typical twenty something with my pinterest board titled "Someday", complete with dresses, bridesmaids gifts, and party favors. I imagined myself not having a huge wedding, but having a wedding with close friends and family. I genuinely felt like I wouldn't mind getting hitched for the rest of my life should I find the "right" person.

I was drawn to this book by the cover, and I really do judge books by their covers for better or for worse
Oct 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've picked up this book before. But because I'm surrounded by the engaged and newly-married, I felt like I should try it again.

There's this ... almost irrational anger I sometimes feel toward the wedding industry, and I've felt it ever since I registered countless brides and grooms at Williams-Sonoma. Maybe my feelings aren't irrational...

But regardless, I've never understood the advent of the bride-as-commodity, $1,000,000 wedding extravaganzas, the 'cake-must-match-the-invites-must-match-the
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wedding
Every woman should read this, married or single, because being a woman meant being a wife for much of our culture's history.

Despite the funny cover, I was worried this book would be too academic and difficult to read or that is would be prescriptive and tell me what to think, both turnoffs. While it is dense it is easy to read, and very thought-provoking without feeling heavy-handed. When you thoroughly investigate all the implications of "wife," past and present, you have a broad topic indeed!
Jun 22, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book has a lot of promise and, unfortunately, does not deliver on that promise. Kingston's project is enormous-- what does "wife" mean in the 21st century? She focuses primarily on sources in popular culture (e.g. "Time" magazine articles, editorials in "The Wall Street Journal," the TV show "Sex and the City," and many Hollywood films, etc) mixed with a little bit of academic research, mostly from the fields of sociology and anthropology. There are two problems with this approach. First, s ...more
Alex Rice
May 25, 2011 rated it liked it
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 that role has changed over time. I think I found the book interesting because I was able to compare my views on a wife and marriage to the views the author has. I have to say that being a 17 year old “man” that my perspective on my life as it relates to marriage is dramatically different than the perspective author has. The author speaks of a time ...more
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book gives an interesting historical about the role of wife over the recent years (50 or so). It was interesting to read about university presidents and how the schools started paying the wives about $65,000/year to do the stuff that the wife of a university president does. But, it's the same old story throughout the book about how the woman takes a back seat to the man's career, keeps the household running smoothly so the man can concentrate on the career that is supposed to benefit the ho ...more
Sep 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sociology
This is one of those books that when you finish it, you feel both wiser for the journey and completely sickened by what you've read. I recommend it for women, who need to get in touch with the history of female ownership throughout time, and I recommend it for men to get a sense of exactly what has been ingrained into the female psyche.

I will admit that it is at times, quite harsh, but like many books of this ilk, sometimes you have to read the extreme in order to better gauge the mainstream. To
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
I so wanted this book to be a thought-provoking, in-depth examination of what it means to be a "wife" in modern American society, but instead I found it incredibly tedious. The author requotes "woman on the street" quotes from newspaper articles in the 1990s multiple times as evidence of broad trends, which feels...lazy. It's not that I disagreed with her assessment of how fraught and constraining "wifehood" is; it's more that she could have made her points effectively in an Atlantic article, ra ...more
Mila Rossi
Oct 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
This might as well have been a dissertation, because it read like a very long research paper. If you're looking for every fact known to humans about wifely definitions, responsibilities, and expectations, then go for it. I bought this book a long time ago when I got married and expected, I don't know, the secret to eternal bliss? I couldn't get through it back then and even the second time around it wasn't any better.
Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: womens-studies
I count my blessings, so to speak, that I was born when I was and get to live in this time, in this place, when my decisions are my own and my life is mine. I can't thank my parents enough for enabling me to tell the bullshit from the worthwhile, and to have opinions of me own without falling for the 'everybody's doing it' trends and popularity contents. This book reminds me of how happy I am that I'm a stubborn, contrary bitch.
Emily Douglas
Jul 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all women
Shelves: favorites
A well-researched testament to why I find traditional marriage, wedding rings, and replacing your own name with your spouse's absurd.

Women who rarely find themselves fitting "in the box" will appreciate this book.

Women who have never stopped to question why they want the things they want (or what they're told they should want) should read this book.
Whitney Buckley
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
With women moving out of the home into the career world, the definition of wife has changed. One of the main reasons this book received three stars is it is dated. It was written in 2004, and because it uses social examples, the information is dated or hardly relevant to the new generation of wife. Seriously, the first chapter start with the author watching Princess Diane get married. Even women thirty years old weren't even born yet. There are so many other references to Hollywood's interpretat ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excuse the bullet points and fragments..

- Lively writing, not like a dull textbook. Reminded me of the assigned readings from my Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies classes from college.
- It is evident that the writer is well-read on feminist history/writing/theory while also paying close attention to current/recent events/trends/discussions. A lot of the analysis and observations are drawn from advertisements, visual media sales figures, popular culture, survey results, some anecdotes .. A goo
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As someone that is newly engaged and beginning the arduous task of planning a wedding and becoming a wife, I found this book quite fascinating. Kingston has done her homework and written an academic work but it still remains easy to read. She traces the term 'wife' throughout the ages, examining the feminist movements, delving into the social, sexual, and emotional realities in our culture forming our ideas of what it means to be a wife, to be single, and to be a woman. It's extremely hard to be ...more
Jun 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Provocative Cover, Intellectual Text

Author Anne Kingston deserves five stars-plus for her exhaustive research and objective presentation of the subject. The Meaning of Wife, which is by no means a quick or light read, is well written, engaging, thought provoking and entertaining. If you are a wife, you'll find yourself somewhere in these pages. If you're not a wife, you may recognize your mother or your friends, or the woman you call your wife.

Kingston covers all the bases, beginning with the wo
May 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to Cyndie by: Goodreads
As a total overachiever who wants to be good at everything, when I got married I kind of freaked out because I didn't know what it meant to be a "good wife" in this day in age and with my partner.

This book won't really clear it up for you, but at least you'll feel better that others and our culture and large also have a confusing relationship with the word.

The book's what you expect - it talks about what it meant to be a wife in the past and what it means today. Covers a broad range of topics
Mar 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The book is very well researched and covers a lot of interesting angles of the topic of "wife" especially various movements (1950s housewives, to 1990s shoulderpadded career women to the new concept of "trophy husbands") but the book is very dense so you cannot read it very quickly.

I was disappointed that it doesn't offer much in the way of solutions, the final chapter does some summarizing but it's too little too late. Also I feel like the book really limited itself by only covering trends of
Mar 14, 2010 rated it it was ok

Personally, I felt like this book didn't give me much new information, not sure what I was expecting. I put it down a few weeks ago and honestly didn't think I would pick it back up. But this morning I did (by accident, grabbed the wrong book but didn't want to get back out of bed) and well, I finished it.

I tend to be the person who follows this sort of topic via magazine articles, other books...and I even realized from my law school education with Family
Amy L. Campbell
Kingston looks at the institution of marriage, the role of wife, and the transition that occurs from single woman to engaged to married. There is a focus on how advertising and pop culture in the current and continued stereotype of the wife. I was a little disappointed that the author decided to use end notes rather than foot notes. I would have liked to have been able to track what information she got from where a little better. Still, not a bad read for someone considering the role of wife and ...more
Julie Baumeister
May 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, 2-stars
This book took me a while to get through; but, I should say that any book without a plot takes me a long time to read (which is why I mostly stick to fiction!). Some of the early chapters that recounted "the meaning of wife" through history were interesting. The later chapters, however, just pissed me off all the time. Why? I didn't think that this book fully addressed the modern meanings of wife. Unless, of course, your only definition of wife is a stay-at-home-mom ready to get a big divorce se ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Wives, mothers, women
Absolutely love this cover and I enjoyed holding it on the bus. The essays in this book are very well researched and written. Even though Kingston doesn't come to any conclusions about what one should or shouldn't think/do/be as a wife, she asks many thought-provoking (often rhetorical) questions. Is the power in making the choice to marry or not? To love a full-time career versus a desire to stay home and raise a family? How about being proud of being a wife and supporting the institution (and ...more
Apr 21, 2010 rated it liked it
A good book on the history of marriage and women in marriage. Not the best book to read a month before you get married (oops). A good book to read if you want to be happy being a single woman.

I wish she'd written it about six years later (it came out in 2004 or 2005) so she could talk about current trends like the whole giant families tv show thing (The Duggars, Jon + Kate et al) and Desperate Housewives. I also wish she'd gone into more depth about gay marriage and the role of women in it, othe
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fem-non-fiction
I really, really wanted to like this but I just couldn't. Myopic is the best way I can think to describe it. Completely heteronormative, middle/upper class relevant. Some historical context but mostly just chapter after chapter of pop culture reference or pop cult case review. Some decent points/funny-ish zings, sure, but it's so tone deaf I feel like I didn't learn anything. I was hoping given the length of this book that it would be a historically accurate coverage of marriage and the ideals t ...more
Apr 27, 2010 rated it liked it
A good discussion on modern women and their role in marriage. I set down the book half-way through because I was starting to feel radical/feminist/oppressed. The ideas in the book might be a bit radical, but also seeds of truth. For example, the commercial I saw a few days ago where the woman marries a man because of his awesome kitchen faucet, or how a friend's husband complains about cooking every day because he's in between jobs at the moment and his wife is taking on the role of bread winner ...more
Leah Hortin
Aug 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library
I couldn't get past the third chapter. I tried. It wasn't at all "provocative" - apprently you CANT judge a book by its cover. I was thinking it would be witty and fun. Yeah, no. It's not. I'm not much of a feminist, and I'm newly married and I just couldn't get into it. It all seemed like harsh generalizations strung along to form paragraphs that pretty much just bashed modern-women. At least that's my take. I tried to keep reading but it sat on my nightstand for weeks, untouched, so back to th ...more
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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.
“There is no singular meaning of wife. That is the point. That is its meaning. To see the wife fully through a multi-faceted lens is one of the central challenges facing society in the twenty-first century. To do this, new scripts are required that employ wife as a verb and as a gender-neutral concept. These are essential if we are to create necessary new narratives, new ways of living as women and men together.” 4 likes
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