Kate Miller is an “actor, dancer, singer, occasional poet, and newly minted conceptual artist,” according to a profile that ran in W magazine last year. She also goes by “RosePetalPistol.” Her “art happening” is currently on view by appointment only somewhere in Greenwich Village. She has somewhere in the realm of 8,000 followers on Instagram. And she happens to be married to former Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller, who in certain déclassé circles is significantly more famous than she is.
Now Miller has written an indignant essay for Refinery29 about media coverage of her work and her marriage to T.J.. Specifically, she has a bone to pick with a headline last week in the New York Post’s Page Six: “T.J. Miller’s wife is making a name for herself in New York.” (In theory this headline could have been meant ironically, though the fact that the Post ended up changing it seems to suggest otherwise.) It was a funny because it left her nameless even as it claimed she was making her name, and naturally the Internet took notice.
In her essay, Miller (Kate, that is) takes umbrage at how she is often defined publicly in relation to her husband, reduced to nothing more than a wife:
We’ve both gained success in large part because of kindness to others, and working to see the humanity in all. And yet by not saying anything, I'm assenting to the idea that a wife, especially a celebrity wife, doesn’t deserve politeness or respect. Too often accomplished women are defined singularly by their marriages, to the point where they are literally written off and their successes and descriptions diminished.
The headline of the essay is “Please Stop Calling Me ‘TJ Miller’s Wife,’” which, I hate to point out, does not actually include the phrase “Kate Miller.” Nevertheless, the practice of objecting to headlines for referring to a woman as so-and-so’s wife has become something of a sport in the last few years. When the Chicago Tribune identified an Olympic trap shooter only as the “wife of a Bears’ lineman” in a tweet and headline last summer, the paper had to issue a hasty apology. (The athlete was Corey Cogdell-Unrein.) When Amal Alamuddin, a human-rights attorney, married George Clooney, critics clutched their pearls over headlines that failed to name her. One site submitted a cheeky revision: “Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor.” When the Huffington Post wrote a piece praising the go-girl spoof, they, too, dropped Alamuddin along the way: “This Headline About George Clooney’s Wedding Is Just Incredible.”
The only problem is that it’s not at all clear that this phenomenon is about erasing women, but rather the stickier problem of erasing boring non-famous people. Sometimes foregrounding the bold-faced half of a couple is simply the most expeditious way to smuggle marginally interesting news about an otherwise random human into the cultural attention span. Historically, this is not even a phenomenon that has been limited to the wives of famous men. Witness what happened to artist Marco Perego when he decided to take his wife’s last name after marriage: “Zoe Saldana’s Husband Just Did Something Kickass That So Few Men Ever Do.” Being a creative person married to a much more famous creative person must be legitimately emotionally taxing. That said, to pin the frustrations of such strain on America’s headline writers is hardly fair. A headline’s job is to summarize a story’s content, but also to entice idle readers to want to know more. It’s a bit much to ask it to bring about a feminist utopia, too.