There are no defined rules on the use of the words widow and widower, yet there is an unwritten double standard. Think over time, think about the news, think about how often you hear the word “widow” for a woman who has lost her husband, and think about how little you hear the word “widower” for a man who has lost his wife. Why is that? Why does society, even in death, loss, and grieving choose to assign stigma and gender bias?
I can tell you this. Widows outnumber widowers by almost 4:1. But not purely for the reason you think. A contributing factor is because, often times, the terms widow and widower do not follow the person into remarriage. Men are, more often times than not, more likely to remarry, and remarry sooner after loss than their female counterparts. That brings the next double standard. Why is that, why are they are more likely to remarry? And why is that broadly more acceptable in society?
Have any of you seen the Netflix show called The Unicorn? I am not bashing the show, in fact, I love this show. It is very entertaining. It is about a widower with two kids and his friend circle that has taken an over-active interest in his personal life. A comedy, and a funny one at that. However, it shows a glimpse of societal truth. They call a widower a unicorn because he is a rare, and sought after find. A “single” man who has proven he can be settled and married, and committed, and more than likely has not been “playing the field.” What would that look like if the gender tables were reversed? A widow is far less of a unicorn. She is “single,” presumably older, saddled with those two children. Maybe the thought is she is looking for someone to take care of her, or she is sad, or not sad enough…
Men are expected to “get back out there,” the sooner the better, right? And women, well they are judged if they get out there too soon, or grieve in the wrong way, or not long enough, or too long, or whatever. Why all the judgement, people? Why is it different? Why should men “get back on the horse” when they may not be ready and why should women wait an “acceptable” amount of time?
Society, and even the bible call out widows as women to be pitied and taken care of, while they are “allowed” to remarry, society often feels the need to judge and scrutinize. But widowers, you are hard-pressed to find a mention of in the bible and they receive far less criticism from society as a whole. Why is that? Why is it more or less acceptable to to date, or remarry, or view a man who lost his spouse any differently than a woman?
As a woman, and a widow (remarried), I can tell you that grieving is a personal thing, it is individualistic, it is something that is different for everyone as everyone’s experience, situation, and personal makeup is different. I am a woman who has always been driven, career-minded, self-sufficient, and strong-willed. I am not saying I didn’t or don’t still grieve, I am saying that I don’t need to be taken care of, I don’t want to be pitied, and I definitely didn’t need anyone telling me how long I should grieve, or when it was an acceptable time frame to date, or remarry.
I guess what I am saying is that society should be less judgmental, people should not view widowers differently than widows. Someone who loses a spouse grieves, on their own terms and in their own fashion, and you have to trust them that they know what is best for themselves, better than you do. Let people grieve in their own way. Don’t push them in any direction. Present ideas to them and try to learn what they are thinking, ask questions if you like, but do not judge. A widow/ widower has enough pressure and emotional turmoil, they do not need judgement and criticism from the peanut gallery. Be supportive and not directive. Be compassionate and not conditional.