This week, singer Ariana Grande did an interview in which the focus sadly seemed to be on her love life or rather who she was with reference to; whom she had dated, and who she was dating now. When her response to this narrow line of questioning went viral, Ariana posted a mini-essay in which she said, “I am tired of living in a world where women are mostly referred to as a man’s past, present, or future property or possession. I. Do. Not. Belong. To anyone. But myself and neither do you.”
These words sadly sum up not only how female actors and singers are contextualized or how their identities are shaped by the media, but also how in day-to-day life, our identities are constructed based on our relationships with men.
Who we are married to kicks off the debate as to whether we are a Mrs, a Miss, a Ms, or just simply Emily. And then there’s the further question as to whether we have chosen to go with tradition and forsake our father’s name in favour of our husband’s, or if we have decided to stick with the name we were born into. Both of these choices position our identity in relation to our father or our husband, rather than our own unique person. We are thereby an extension of another person rather than just being ourselves.
A vignette from a friend of mine, who happens to have a PhD: She was living alone and thereby qualified for council tax break. However, a few months into her residency she found her tax break had been rescinded and couldn’t understand why. It was only when she contacted the council that she was told the reason; she did not qualify for the tax break because she was living with a man, a doctor. At no point did the council think that it was possible that my friend could be a woman and have a doctorate. Those two concepts put together were inconceivable. The simplest explanation was that my friend was lying.
This narrative has been the dominant one in our culture for hundreds if not thousands of years, and sadly will continue be so until all of us, including the media, the government, our education establishments, begin to think outside the box and not continue to be confined to the lazy stereotype of what a woman should be. We are not who our boyfriend is or was, and we are not who are spouse is or was. We are ourselves.