Kate Miller — who goes by the professional name RosePetalPistol — is a mixed media artist and performer. She is currently showing her installation, Once Broken, available to view by appointment only in New York's Greenwich Village.
Last month, an ironic (and since updated) New York Post headline about my art installation went viral: "T.J. Miller's wife is making a name for herself in New York." While I know that it was meant it to be flattering — and I was flattered by the coverage — not everyone on Twitter took it that way. Suddenly tens of thousands of retweets, likes, and comments turned into hundreds of thousands. Many people didn't appreciate the irony and saw it as an opportunity to start a meaningful dialogue about feminism. I was both overwhelmed by and grateful for the outpouring of support in response to something that had become so normalized for me — the idea that many women are seen as nothing more than their husband's wife. It made me think about representations of married women in the press, and how many people share my experience of being defined only in relationship to their significant other.
Before I was at the center of this discussion, I remember reading a ridiculous headline proclaiming "Wife of Chicago Bears Linesman Wins Olympic Bronze Medal" (Cory Cogdell-Unrein). Or my personal favorite, "Nelson Mandela's widow hitting back at xenophobia in South Africa" (Graça Machel, internationally acclaimed advocate and Dame of the British Empire). It's hard to find yourself in someone else's shadow. But it's more than that. When we choose to marry and take our husband's name, we do not choose to forfeit our identity nor accomplishments earned in our own right. And we should not be expected to stand by quietly as society does just that.
Equality in marriage is something I saw from the very beginning of my life, my family inheritance of many generations. My mother is a feminist, as was my grandmother before her. She worked for years as my grandfather's legal secretary until she got her law degree in her 50s. She then went on to win the most important case that either one of them had tried. I’ve always felt equal in my marriage. I am a feminist and my husband is a feminist — one of the many reasons I chose to take his name. To me, being Kate Miller just means I'm part of a team.
Feminism is a core part of my education, background, and of my passions. I went to college on a women's studies scholarship at the George Washington University. My entrance essay was on the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, and the program broadened my knowledge of less physical but still insidious assaults on women (like emotional abuse, one of my areas of focus). Through speaking with female artists across all mediums and studying the historical progression of concepts of feminism, I learned how to create affecting art that raises awareness and combats loneliness.
And yet I never felt qualified to speak about this as an authority. But I was wrong. I am qualified because I am a woman; I have the experience of being a wife; and I've had many experiences throughout my life where I've been pushed aside (often literally) like so many others, and defined by society only in relationship to my significant other.
T.J. and I met over ten years ago, while we were both in college. Since then, T.J. found fame in roles on Silicon Valley and Deadpool and as a standup comic, while I developed my aesthetic and style as an artist, most recently creating a large-scale installation and artbook, Once Broken. Our relationship is based on mutual respect, humor, growth, and transparency. We support and contribute equally to each other’s work. We are each other’s muse.
I am certainly not complaining about being married to a celebrity. T.J. works incredibly hard, and his successes have benefitted our shared life. This has unique advantages both personally and professionally and has given me a larger audience than perhaps I otherwise would have had. I am thankful for that. What I take issue with, however, is the idea that being a celebrity's wife translates into being just that: "T.J. Miller’s wife." All of this support reminds me that, as women, we don't have to stand by silently and give up our voices. I'm not in the habit of saying “back off ,” even when I'm made to feel small — even when rudeness such as a guy drunkenly high-fiving my husband and smacking me in the face, then saying, "sorry wife," occurs. (Yes, that's a true story.) I often find myself feeling defeated and voiceless.
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.
At the end of the day, I love being married to T.J. and I love being Kate Miller (and loved being Kate Gorney before that). I also love being RosePetalPistol the artist, an independently successful woman. Our marriage is a true partnership, one where neither of us is claimed as the other's at the expense of themselves. I challenge the conception that I am simply "T.J. Miller's wife," just as I challenge society to stop diminishing any woman to a singular, archaic, and sexist definition. You too may feel that no one cares about what you do as much as your husband or partner and what they do. Know that this is bullshit. Know that your accomplishments are real. Know that you are not alone. Know that you can hold your head high.