After a half century of battling for gender equality, women have been freed from the necessity of securing a husband for economic stability, sexual fulfillment, or procreation. Marriage is a choice, and increasingly women (and men) are opting out. Yet despite these changes, the cultural power of marriage has burgeoned. What was once an obligation has become an exclusive club into which heterosexual women with the right amount of self-discipline may win entry. The newly exalted professionalized wife is no longer reliant on her husband’s status or money; instead she can wield her own power provided she can successfully manage the business of being a wife.
Wife, Inc. tells a fiercely contemporary story revealing that today’s wives do not labor in kitchens or even homes. Instead, the work of wifedom occurs in online dating sites, on reality television, in social media, and on the campaign trail. Dating, marital commitment, and married life have been reconfigured. No longer the stuff of marriage vows, these realms are now controlled by brand management and marketability. To prosper, women must appear confident, empowered, and sexually savvy.
Guiding readers through the stages of the “wife-cycle,” Suzanne Leonard follows women as they date, prepare to wed, and toil as wives, using examples from popular television, film, and literature, as well as mass market news, women’s magazines, new media, and advice culture. The first major study to focus on this new definition of “working wives,” Wife, Inc. reveals how marriage occupies a newly professionalized role in the lives of American women. Being a wife is a business that takes a lot more than a vow to maintain—this book tells that story.
“Leonard explores how American women look at and experience marriage. For centuries a pragmatic economic arrangement, modern marriage has become bound up in the pursuit of happiness. . . . Yet even after getting married — which is seen as the prize at the end of the romance narrative — women often find themselves saddled with another job: the work of being a wife.”
—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“How and why do women in the twenty-first century seek and perform the role of wife? What norms and expectations define it and in what ways does it comply with and deviate from its traditional definitions? Tracking the image of the wife and the aspirant wife across multiple zones of popular culture, Suzanne Leonard’s brilliant, timely book elucidates the new stakes of wifehood in early twenty-first century culture, unpacking it as a status category, a state of risk and a mode of female labor that demands critical reflection, and the kind of fresh take that she is ideally suited to provide.”
—Diane Negra, University College Dublin
“A smart and trenchant examination of the notion of the ‘wife’ as both a popular culture phenomenon and an economic powerhouse. Suzanne Leonard has once again proved herself to be an incisive interpretative voice. Written in a clear and engaging style, Wife Inc.’s readers are in good hands as Leonard walks us through the nuances of wifedom in the twenty-first century.”
—Brenda R. Weber, editor of Reality Gendervision: Sexuality and Gender on Transatlantic Reality Television
“Slick and sophisticated, Wife Inc. is a fascinating look at the figure of the wife as a mediated phenomenon. As the first book to treat the wife as an icon of post-feminist media culture, this is an extremely timely intervention. The stakes of what Suzanne Leonard sheds light on, especially with regard to political wives, are dramatically raised in our current time. Its topicality, compounded by its engaging style, make this an exciting read for those interested in feminist and political issues in popular culture.”
—Hannah Hamad, Cardiff University
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