Why “Husband” and “Wife” Are Bad

In same-sex couples who have legally married or have otherwise committed themselves to each other it seems common for them to refer to each other as “husband” or “wife”, but I have a problem with that terminology.

The terms “husband” and “wife” are not just gendered terms, they have socially been given different meanings. There is an implication of dominance of the husband upon the wife in heterosexual couples. The terms are highly outdated in most opposite-sex couples and in all same-sex. In my opinion, if your vows do not include the words “to obey”, then the terms are outdated and represent a backward interpretation of a social construct. The terms “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” imply a certain closeness of relationship (but there is no implication of permanence)  and the terms are gendered, but they are not constructed as being unequal. Fiancé, existing as a somewhat more modern term, accomplishes the task of being non-gendered (should we expect any different from the French?) and does not have any unequal connotation. It too is limited by the fact that it does not provide for permanence, only the intention to make permanent.

The terms “husband” and “wife” are not meant as gendered equals, but instead have a strong historical and cultural meaning of imbalance, one in which the wife is property and the husband is the master of the house and the family. Modern families do not seem to have these qualities very often and as such, it seems as though a more equitable terminology would be preferred. As much as I hate the general term “partner”, in the limited socio-linguistic resources we are provided for relationships of such closeness it does seem to be the best fit.

I do not know why these types of linguistic things bother me, all language is artificial anyway and as such words can only have the meaning which is assigned to them socially. The issue for me I suppose is the fact that the socially created meaning does take on a form of reality which directly embodies the psychological representation of that meaning.