Call for Submissions: Wifey

 

We’re extending the open call! Pitches are now due Tuesday, Jan. 31—see below for details

 

Other than a man, the most legitimate thing a person can be is a wife. The government assures the wife has material rights, tax and health care benefits, and legal standing. Biopolitics bind the wife to reproduction of children, to be sure, but also to the reproduction of cultural, social, and racial norms. “Wife” is a structural position held by women, non-gender-conforming, non-binary, and intersex people. What, then, is a wifey?

While a wifey might occupy the same position as a wife, a wifey is not necessarily a wife. The word first appears in early 18th-century Scotland, referring to a small, plain, or elderly woman. However, the term wasn’t widely used until around the year 2000, when a Google Ngram shows it skyrocketing in popularity. We now hear “wifey” in rap and R&B, romance novels, and internet chatter, where a person can be “wifed up” or “wife material.” You need not be married to someone to call them your wifey—they can be your girlfriend, or your preferred romantic partner among others. 

As a diminutive pet name, modern usage still carries the sense of diminutive size or importance captured in the original Scottish sense of the word. “Wifey” is an endearment that foregrounds romantic love—the emotional connection we associate with marriage instead of the marriage itself. It’s coquettish and cute, and playfulness is key to the success of the term. While “wifey” remains a pretty patriarchal word, it retains the potential for the wife to be in on the joke. The person being referred to by this term does not need to be a conventionally wife-like figure. And yet the term is often raced and gendered in ways that highlight other wifey qualities: they are frugal, industrious, reliable, game for anything. “Wifey”’s tone is ambiguous. It allows the person who says it and the person identified the mobility to move in and out of different definitions of “wife.”

“Wifey” crystallizes a desire for romance and connection along with a qualified disavowal of the institutions of heteronormative patriarchy. “Wifey,” sometimes funny and sometimes cringe, expresses the compromises we all make in relationships when we know our choices are limited. As long as social reproduction is grounded in the institution of marriage, we need to navigate it. There is a real legitimacy that comes with being able to marry who you want to marry: “wife” is a coveted status. At the same time, we recognize our failure to extend the same legal legitimacy to relationships beyond romantic partnerships. 

Dilettante Army seeks scholarly writing for its Spring 2023 issue, Wifey. Topics might include: Lady Macbeth, the marriage plot, polyamory, kinmaking, historical queens, Margaret Thatcher, First Ladies, street fiction, Hortense Spillers, Ana Mendieta, domestic bliss, family values, l’affaire des poisons, Suzanne Césaire, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Sister Wives, social reproduction, Origins of the Family, and wife guys. 

Submission pitches should be emailed to editor Sara Clugage (sara@dilettantearmy.com) by Tuesday, January 31, 2023. Please read our submission guidelines for more information on what we publish.

Image: Thomas Gainsborough, Mr and Mrs Andrews, about 1750. Image via the National Gallery, London.