In a society that is increasingly anti-marriage, it seems logical that we married women should take a stand and celebrate our roles as wives. It’s good, and godly! But defending this role should not and cannot come at the cost of disparaging all other vocations. We can be wives, mothers, and daughters, and professors, doctors, judges, and teachers. We can even be all of those things at once, but a legalistic view of the title before our last name won’t change our value in the world or who we are as Christians. And it could damage how we project Christianity to others, and how we build up young women, married or otherwise.
Because calling yourself Mrs. won’t make you a more godly wife.
In a recent article in The Federalist, the author relays a story about being a young professor teaching music history. As is proper, she went by the title “professor.” One day, a young student of hers relays he is having marital problems. He then proceeds to say that he believes his professor “understands,” you know, from that Beethoven sexy-time music she played.
Now, I wasn’t there. I didn’t see this Jake walking the author to her car. I have to take her word that the look he gave her was the type that “makes women blush,” but based on the evidence she provides, I can’t confirm the level of smolder. To be honest, it sounds like this poor kid was asking a professor he respected for advice in his marital problems. At worst, he was vaguely hitting on her, which is stupid—but also not her fault. The author assumes he was trying to profess his love for her, and her rationalizing continues:
I also mentally flogged myself for not having asked the class to call me Mrs. Schuermann from the start. If I had, then at least Jake and every other moon-eyed boy would have been reminded of my happily married status every time someone spoke my name. I made a vow from that moment on to forgo my silly professorship pride and stamp ‘Mrs.’ on every syllabus I distributed from there on out.
Blame the Bad Guy, Ladies
Let’s assume the author is correct and Jake was doing a rather obscure courting dance. She is going to blame herself? Yes, because Jake—who may or may not have been attempting to cheat on his wife—was just a “moon-eyed boy” who just straight up “forgot” his professor was also married. Oh, and that she was also his professor. Obviously, the wedding ring wasn’t enough, or the fact that she had taken her husband’s name. Yes, tragically he was deceived into thinking she was single and ready to mingle all because she made the fatal error of going by her “silly” professional academic title.
Or maybe we could start demanding that men control their lustful desires?
If the author is correct, maybe it’s Jake’s responsibility to not be a creep and to not cheat on his wife. Or maybe—as I still maintain—poor Jake just respected his professor and saw her as someone he could talk to about his marital problems. Either way, this is a really bad example of how we should expect married women to represent themselves in public.
Marriage Doesn’t Give You Grace Points
In Christianity—Praise God!—women are celebrated and honored. We are equal heirs in the promise of Heaven, and while we’re on Earth we’re not second-class citizens, either, despite what some people would have you believe. We can work outside the home (imagine that!), we can walk to the grocery store without a male escort, and we don’t have to wear a cloak-like veil to signify we belong to our husbands. We don’t have to shout it from the rooftops that we’re married and we’re Mrs. so-and-so to prevent naïve and impressionable young men from falling madly in love with us.
Look at it from another perspective. If you are checking into the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, do you want your surgeon introducing herself as Mrs. Jones? “Thanks, lady, but I’d rather have a trained physician in here to take care of my ruptured innards, if at all possible.”
Mrs. Jones can be Mrs. Jones at her church or her children’s school, if she so desires. But in the hospital, doing her job, her identity is Dr. Jones. Calling herself Mrs. when she’s really a Dr. delegitimizes her professional abilities in the eyes of her colleagues and her patients. It does not matter that she is married, or even that she has children. Those factors may affect every fiber of her being, but they don’t need broadcasted to the world while she’s slicing someone open. She is responsible to present herself as an authoritative figure with the knowledge and experience to, you know, save your life. It is not her responsibility to ward off a lusty organ transplant candidate by making him repeat “Mrs. Jones” as he drifts off into anesthesia, just to make her unavailability really soak in.
Reaching the ranks of doctor isn’t “silly,” and being called Mrs. in the operating room doesn’t get you more points with God. If this is the lesson we’re teaching young women, then shame on us. The idea that somehow married women who don’t use Mrs. in front of their last name at every opportunity are somehow inviting untoward advances is laughable. And then it’s just sad, because it encapsulates everything society thinks Christians say about female sexuality and male privilege and we (should) insist we don’t. It’s the implication that as women we shoulder the responsibility to make sure men know we’re married, we’re taken, we’re sexually unavailable, and to do this we must make sure that every time a man refers to us it is with our ring finger in his face and “Mrs.” on his lips so he knows we belong to another man. The author implies that her way of referring to herself is the best and most godly way to protect this young man from his own lusts.
We have to get away from that mindset. A man who is going to make unwanted advances on someone is going to make them whether or not she reminds him to call her Mrs. And that’s his problem.
Even a Mrs. Has an Individual Identity
From a religious perspective, there certainly is no precedent for a woman being known solely by her husband’s name. Even in the Bible, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son—not Mrs. Joseph. Is there any higher calling than the mother of our Savior? And yet she gets a name. She gets a unique identifier, apart from her husband, apart from the Christ-child himself. The disciples could have referred to her as “Jesus’ Mom” the entire time, I suppose. But they don’t. She’s Mary.
We are all called to various vocations, wife being only one. Our identity cannot be in anyone else, and trying to make your identity your husband’s is dangerous. It’s why I’m very much anti-Mrs. (Husband’s First Name) (Husband’s Last Name). When my dad pronounced us husband and wife, I had requested that we be introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Brian and Rachel Rossetti. (And he’s a traditional minister, so if that kind of “break from tradition” was poor theology he never would have let it happen.) I even made a big deal of hand-addressing our wedding invitations to that same formula, careful to include my first name.
Newsflash, Christian ladies—our identities don’t cease to exist when we get married. Many of us may change our last names in accordance with the Western tradition, ensuring the husband, wife, and children all share one family name, but that tradition’s not perfect—especially when other cultures have traditions of incorporating the wife’s name into the family name as well so her family line doesn’t disappear. But it’s a nice outward symbol to show that you two now are one flesh, one family.
But doing those things won’t make you a better wife. The minute we start telling women to call themselves Mrs. to be a good wife, or implying that going by a professional title somehow makes them a less-honorable wife, is the minute we cross over into legalism.
English Is Complicated and Imperfect
The author ends by discounting the title Ms., saying “after all, ‘Ms.’ is neither insulting nor misleading but a socially appropriate title for any woman regardless of her marital status—but the point is that it’s not the best prefix for me. It is a title of mystery. It does not tell you who I am. It only tells you what I am.”
A title can never fully capture who a person is. Doesn’t that go without saying? And do we realize that these titles are just English inventions, anyway? Many other languages don’t even have ways to distinguish older single women from older married women. I don’t really know why it’s necessary in English, either. We don’t ask men to define themselves professionally by their marital status. But that’s a topic for another day, or five.
Technically, my mother is Mrs. Greenway. Does that tell you she’s also a psychiatric nurse, with a master’s degree? And the organist at her church? And a loving mother to four children? And the wife of a pastor? She is Lynne to some, Mrs. Greenway to some, sweetie to my dad, and mom to me (mommy if I want something). That’s what we call her. Who she is can be defined by her relationship with Christ alone, not her marriage to my dad. She is a forgiven sinner and child of God. That’s who we all are as Christians, and I’m looking forward to a heaven where we won’t have to worry about titles at all.
In the meantime, we can teach our girls that being a wife is a noble vocation, but it is not the end-all, be-all of their identities. Their vocation on earth is God-given, and it is to serve their neighbor. Some do that by being doctors, professors, nurses, businesswomen, or, yes—wives and mothers. Sometimes all at once!
If you want to be called Mrs. John Jones, that’s your prerogative. But if you want to be called Mrs. Jane Jones, or (gasp) Ms. Jane Smith, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad wife. Celebrate the calling of wifehood, loving and building up your husband. Always. Remember that you are his, and he is yours. But don’t let what’s in a name define who you are in Christ.