Existing Only in Relation to Someone Else

Disclaimer: Another post in which I might come across as an a$$hole, but it’s not on purpose.

The following is probably no news to anyone who spends time on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.). However, I’m only on (literary) Twitter (absolutely no Facebook or anything else) and am relatively new at it. Anyway, there’s this profile trend that’s honestly incomprehensible to me:

Random woman on Twitter: I am a wife, mother, daughter, friend…

Much less common, but far from absent:

Random man on Twitter: I am a husband, dad,…

I will never understand this impetus to identify yourself by what you are to other people, and especially people who have such a broad range of ages and relationships. I mean, if I were to take this to the extreme, I could totally write the following, if it weren’t for profile character limits:

I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, sister-in-law, hopefully future mother-in-law, hopefully future grandma, next-door neighbor, niece, cousin, second cousin once removed, neighbor two doors down, neighbor from the next block over, coworker, PhD advisor, former PhD advisor, former PhD advisee, blogger, reviewer of grants, most hated weekend shopper on account of taking forever to clear the register, loyal customer at employee-owned-and-operated gas stations, Amazon Prime haver, bitch who ruined someone’s college GPA, inspiring professor who sparked interest in science in someone else, filler of innumerable forms for children’s summer camps…

Seriously, though. First, women are the only ones who seem to list they are daughters and friends, even though I am pretty sure men are sons and friends just as often.

Second, being a wife or a daughter or a friend has never been a part of my identity, or at the very least not something I felt the world needed to be told. I mean, seriously. Why is being a daughter noteworthy, unless you were perhaps not a daughter at birth? Or being a friend — unless you are a terrible human being, you will have some friends. Or being a wife — maybe to some women, perhaps many women, this is an achievement, but it was never on the achievement list for me. I definitely wasn’t a little girl who dreamed of getting married; I just never thought about it until I was an adult who dated and would ask myself Would I marry this guy? only to find that the answer was no, until I met someone to whom I could say yes. Honestly, saying I’m someone’s wife (even though I am and my DH is great) makes me feel like I’m living in the 1930s. DH can say I’m his wife. I will say DH is my husband. I will absolutely not identify myself as DH’s wife. I will also not say that I am my parents’ daughter—it’s infantilizing and infuriating. Fuck that patriarchal noise.

But I am my kids’ mom and I cherish that identity; it affected me profoundly, changed everything about my world, and expanded my capacity for love in ways I could not have imagined before I had kids. Other than being a mom, being a teacher is probably the only other designation based on my relationship to other people that I could put out there as identifying. But these would go with and after scientist. And if I felt cocky, writer of short fiction would be in the mix.

So there you have it:

Xykademiqz: Academic scientist and teacher. Mom. Writer of short fiction.

And now I kind of want to remove mom because it’s too personal. And, if I am being honest, too softening. Compare how much less threatening the above is than the version below:

Xykademiqz: Academic scientist and teacher. Writer of short fiction.

Sometimes I want to be nonthreatening (like when I meet my friends’ small children). But sometimes — most to the time, actually — I want to instill terror in the hearts of my enemies. In the hearts of everyone, really.

I hate how women internalize misogyny, especially women like me, who are not stereotypically femme in their pursuits or appearance. It’s such an endless, exhausting struggle between how we see ourselves — strong, smart, competent — and how the rest of the world wants to see us and wants us to see ourselves — giving, soft, squishable.

10 comments

  1. When I thought of myself as a daughter, it was because being a daughter (the responsible adult daughter of aging parents) was hard work and I wanted to acknowledge to myself that the role was contributing to my stress level. But I don’t think I would have publicly identified myself that way, only as a sort of internal accounting.

  2. UGH! Yes to all your post, especially last paragraph!
    Btw, as a woman if you don’t have spouse or children, it creates much confusion to people on which is your identity. And even more shock to see you are actually enjoying life and not crying about it in a corner.

  3. Omg, xyk, are you me?

    Do you ever wonder, in the wee hours of the morning, that if you were more femme and self-identified as a wife, that you would have more friends? That the ladies in the PTSA would be nicer to you? That your kids would be more popular and well adjusted? That you wouldn’t drink so much and your BMI would be lower? No? It’s just me?

  4. I will identify as a mother (after “academic scientist and teacher”) but, as a single mother by choice, that’s making a statement that I made an active decision to go get the life I wanted despite not managing to find a partner and fulfill (more of) society’s expectations. One thing I will never call myself is the infantilizing “Mama.”

  5. Ohmygosh, I love this post. Especially: “But sometimes — most to the time, actually — I want to instill terror in the hearts of my enemies. In the hearts of everyone, really.” I also feel that being a mom has changed me in hugely significant ways, but I am leery of including it as part of my identity to other people.

    I also hate being identified as “wife” and essentially never introduce myself that way (though I don’t mind if my husband says “this is my wife, Socal”, and I use the converse). I recently attended a fancy event specifically to celebrate my husband and several others being granted tenure. Since I was literally only there because my husband was being feted (and because it was difficult to tell the relationships between attendees because so many spouses have different last names, myself included) I, on this one and only occasion, introduced myself to a trustee as X’s wife. Only to have the kind but prompt response be along the lines that I was surely an interesting person in my own right 🙂

  6. “I hate how women internalize misogyny, especially women like me, who are not stereotypically femme in their pursuits or appearance. It’s such an endless, exhausting struggle between how we see ourselves — strong, smart, competent — and how the rest of the world wants to see us and wants us to see ourselves — giving, soft, squishable.”

    YES. Thank you.

    I present as rather femme. For instance, I wear makeup. I wish it didn’t have any effect. I stew a small simmering pot of rage over how being presentable and young-ish makes my life easier… in some ways. I play to and against stereotypes. Senior colleagues have commented on the fact that I am petite and even look “frail” (really, a big name colleague told me this at a work dinner the other week) AND YET I regularly do xyz tough sports. Apparently they actually talk about this in the same conversations as my promotions. And Wow, I’m told, I’m so quantitative! (Yes, like everyone else who does theory in this field.) I freaking hate it.

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