Chris Brown’s particular brand of dazzling awfulness just keeps on giving, like a deep, dirty, pore clawing spot. You know that in order to heal and be healthy you need to leave it alone and maybe throw some acid at it, but some grim, loathsome impulse within you makes you squeeze and squeeze and squeeze. “Omigod, LOOK, IT’S GREEN! IT STINKS! I’VE BEEN GOING AT IT FOR TWENTY MINUTES NOW AND IT JUST ISN’T STOPPING!” And the latest piece of oddly solid pus to emerge from the dermatological disaster of commercial radio friendly misogyny is that he’s ditched Rihanna because he doesn’t want to be “wifing” her.
There are two ways of reading this. One is that Brown imagined himself acting like that terrifying League of Gentleman character, “wifing” ladies by bowling up to them and growling “You’re my wife now!” which says as much about his laziness as his cruelty. Being a husband takes guts, responsibility and basic handwriting skills. (I believe you have to sign something in order to be legally united.) But in order to ‘wife’ someone, you don’t have to identify as a husband - you just need a loud, commanding voice and the ability to compromise another human being’s dignity entirely through coercion. We know Brown can do this - we’ve seen it.
However, there is another interpretation of the statement. Rihanna is a multimillion dollar earning megastar, flying from sellout tours to River Island pleather legging launches - she is not going to have time to take the rubbish out, pay the council tax or investigate the mysterious, multiplying entity that has taken up residence on the bathroom ceiling. As the less successful partner, presumably all the dull, domestic, taking care of business stuff fell to Brown. The “wife-ing”. So he was possibly saying, irrespective of gender, within any couple who are in a relationship for an indefinite period, there is a “husband” who gets to have whisky with the boys at the clubhouse and whose very existence depends on the successful capturing of the Sanderson account, and the “wife”, whose life is based around an unfavourable ratio of going out for fancy cocktails to scraping wet poo off a range of textured surfaces. Way to make another lady descriptor into a pejorative, Chris Brown. “Wife” is now up there with “throwing like a girl” and behaving in a “ladylike” way.
Excluding those of us with a real thing for administration and poo, presumably everyone wants to be wifed, and no-one wants to wife. But relationships don’t work that way. If a union between two people is going to work, you need to take care of each other, appreciate each other and accept you are both responsible for unclogging blocked sinks. It’s one thing for Brown to leave a relationship because he felt the division of labour was unequal. But quite another for him to imply that he was made to feel like a wife, i.e. a lesser being.
When my boyfriend makes me breakfast in bed, I don’t lie there thinking “Mmmm, I am being wifed!” as I stroke my imaginary schlong. And I’m fairly sure he fell for me because he enjoyed my company, not because he was looking for a woman - any woman - to pick up after him. No good can can come of a partnership in which one person brings all the tough qualities and relies totally on their partner for tenderness.
In the eyes of the law, many of my friends are wives. One of my sisters is a wife. My Mum is a wife. And I don’t want them to feel they have to compromise their careers or pick up more poo than their partners because Chris Brown’s casual comment suggested “wife-ing” is synonymous with drudgery.
Feminism is supposed to be great for men and women. We don’t want to force men to be our wives because we want payback for the awfulness of being a wife in centuries past. We want to celebrate a world in which no-one has to marry anyone in order to survive - it’s a choice born out of love in which both partners express that love by sharing the dull, the domestic and the disgusting. And if Chris Brown believes a wife has certain duties and finds those duties too unpalatable to carry out himself, it’s clear he has no respect for women at all. But then, we already knew that.