Catherine Jackson: EarnestGirl Chronicles


Rhymes With Life

Harrison Said it Best

There was a movie I watched years ago with my boyfriend. Harrison Ford stars as a husband desperately searching the alleys and apartments of Paris with a punk ingénue for a sidekick/pawn as he tears apart the city looking for his missing wife. He’s intent, rumpled, equal parts angry and confused. He doesn’t speak French but he tries urgently to get the police to believe that his wife wouldn’t just disappear. They shrug, roll their eyes, raise their Gallic eyebrows at the pretty young thing and imply that wives do this sort of thing all the time. Especially in Paris.

{As I began to write the paragraph above I paused, fingers poised above the keyboard, tipped back my head and yelled up the stairs:

“What was that movie with Harrison Ford in Paris?”

Needing no further explanations for our now mutual vocabulary, my husband seamlessly answered: “Frantic”.}

When we saw the movie I was much closer to ingénue than I was to wife, but what struck me most about the movie was the way Harrison Ford spoke the words “my wife”. Whether he was imploring, insisting or snarling, the emphasis in that little phrase was not on the ownership implied by the word “my” but on the word “wife”. He filled the word with such value and integrity, such unshakable faith, that for the first time I heard “wife” not as the butt end of a joke, not as an apron clad cliché, but as a word that could mean an entire life to another person.

Now, yelling in an unself-conscious fashion up the stairs, I am indisputably a wife. We have indeed made a whole world together, my husband and I, and yet still I struggle with my relationship to that word and to the shadowy cultural assumptions cast when I identify myself as such.

The odd thing is, I find the word “husband” easy to say. This responsible father, committed husband, this man with whom I have chosen to share love, life, banking and dirty laundry is all comfortably contained in the word husband. We do not demean the word husband. Wives however, are easy to lampoon, to sacrifice on reality TV, commercialize with sarcastic fridge magnets.

When in doubt, I turn to the dictionary. There was no solace there.

Dictionary (Webster Encyclopedic) for wife: [A.Sax: a woman, a wife; root doubtful] a woman or female of any age who is untied to a man in wedlock. Compounds: ale-wife, fish-wife.

Dictionary (Webster’s Encyclopedic) for husband: [A.Sax the master of the house, from Icel.] the master of the house, a man joined to a woman by marriage.

Master of the house as a definition seems a tad outdated. My dictionary is dated MCMLII, so I tried the new 2007 Penguin Thesaurus, eds. Fergusson, Manser, Pickering and found:

Husband: married man, spouse, partner, mate, consort, groom, old man, other self, lord and master (lord and master?!)

Wife: spouse, mate companion, other half, better half, old woman, little woman, (wait, it gets better!) missus, ‘er indoors, bride, helpmate, squaw

Slammed the book shut. Fumed. Briefly considered designing a t-shirt with ‘ER INDOORS emblazoned across the front. Above fierce broomsticks crossed like pirate swords.

Clearly we have not yet defined the female side of the domestic equation with any dignity.

I have decided Harrison said it best: wife.

Rhymes with life.

A variation of this post first appeared at CanadaMomsBlog.

Do you struggle against the word "wife" and it's cultural weight, do you embrace it as your own, or re-define and live it in a new context? Share your thoughts in the comments below.