It has been almost one hundred years since the Women’s Bureau was established in the Department of Labor. The Bureau aimed to promote the welfare of wage-earning women and for their rights to be respected in the workforce. But this progress was simultaneously, continuously threatened by the stereotype of the “good wife.” American men were expected to yearn for (and receive) the retro misogynistic fantasy of coming home to a spotless house, good meal, and an effortlessly beautiful woman.
I once thought that this blatantly sexist expectation of women had long been retired, but a recent pop-culture fad disproved this misconception and reinforced the reality that so many men still expect their wives to cook and clean for them: Namely, the social media-based “wifey” meme.
The "wifey" fad basically consists of prolific misogynistic memes. They feature images like those of girls partying at a club, captioned with “Can’t wife these bitches,” or “Wifey material doesn’t get drunk and go out every Friday.” Plenty of people also share photos of women in their underwear scrubbing floors or cleaning dishes, captioned with “Wifey material *heart eye emojis.*”
Basically, the “wifey” is the girl who stays home, reads books, and stays sober — aside from the occasionally permitted glass of sexy red wine. She has at least a C cup — not that anyone aside from her man would know since she wears loose yet beautiful clothing and only reveals her body to him. She has a buffet of food ready for her voracious man to come home to and a talent for being able to clean up a sink full of dirty dishes without a single nag slipping from her lips. (Of course, she always looks sexy while doing these chores — she obviously doesn’t tie up her hair or wear gloves). She has a collection of classy dresses and is so naturally gorgeous that she wouldn’t dare taint her face with a streak of foundation. She does not go out with her girl friends or talk to any other guys because she is too loyal to her man. She is “shy in the streets, but sexy in the sheets.” This is Wifey.
Though sexism is as old as time, this specific fad perpetuating this stereotype likely stems from the song “Wifey” by the R&B group Next. This 2000 song features lyrics like “You’re my wifey, make me life complete, sweet, but you know when to flip it street. Freak but only when it comes to me. See that’s why you’re my wifey.” It doesn’t take much detective work to spot the sexism in these lyrics and their contribution towards today’s obsession with putting women into a virgin/whore (or wife/slut) dichotomy. Urban Dictionary's definition reinforces this by maintaining that a “wifey” is “a REAL lady, not your only but your favourite, different from them hood rat chicks; wife material.”
I first explicitly encountered Wifey in my Facebook feed this year, when one of my Facebook friends posted a slut shaming meme along with her status of: “She’s trashy, I’m wifey.” The “wifey” trend slut shames women who like to party and idealizes women who deduce themselves to their looks and their ability to do little more than household chores. It was disheartening for me to see a fellow teenage girl so blatantly rank herself above another girl based on these superficial, sexist qualities — qualities clearly based on men's standards and preferences and create an unhealthy and competitive climate in which girls feel pressured to rip themselves and each other apart to fit them.
What's more, while the trend references marriage, I've seen these same expectations prevalent in teenage dating culture. Look no further than the YouTube video “What Guys Look for in Girls,” which was created by three teen, male social media stars. Quotes from this video include “Use a little bit of makeup if you want it, but don’t overdo it…don’t draw in your eyebrows…I like a girl that’s on top of you, like yo you gotta do this…yo, a girl that can cook!...I like a girl that is like really classy during the day like with your friends but when you’re alone, she can get like a little freaky.” The kids who made this video have a fan base of mostly teenage (if not younger) girls.
Videos like these instill an outdated ideal into little girls’ minds, encouraging them to shape themselves into a mold for a man. It leads them to believe that if they are pretty enough, subservient enough, maternal enough, but also still cool enough, they will get a "happy" ending — and a happy ending according to this trend means a ring on your finger rather than any individual, personalized understanding of happiness.
I am tired of seeing little girls play Bride and of cooking being considered solely an activity for women or “mother-daughter bonding.” I am tired of girls being considered “trashy” or “slutty” for dancing how they want, singing how they want, and wearing what they want. I am tired of feeling expected to wear a onesie at a party and not dance out of a fear of repelling possible suitors — I mean, should all women just arrive at a club holding a boysenberry pie so man can assess our baking abilities (AKA our value as wives)? I am tired of men ranking women in terms of their marital worth and I am tired of seeing their attempts to do so create toxic environments of female competition.
The perfect “wifey” does not actually exist, nor should she. Women are not all contestants on The Bachelor. We are not pretty little dolls waiting for men to “wife” us. And it's up to all of us to remind the women in our lives of this as much as we can.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Media, Misogyny
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Gender bias, Discrimination, Social media