Your choice of "wifestyle": be like Kate Moss or Kate Middleton

According to Grazia, being like one of the Kates is the only way for a married woman to behave.

What does it mean to be a wife in a world where your local market abounds with T-shirts displaying reluctant husbands at the altar above the words "Game Over"? Well, according to Grazia this week, a wife can be many things, united by the fact of all being heavily stereotyped and unrealistic. In case you didn’t catch it (horror of social horrors!), their three-page editorial "Rebel vs Regal: A Tale of Two Wives", in which the differing approaches to "wifeliness" on the part of Kate Middleton and Kate Moss were compared in mind-numbingly tedious detail, ended with a question that we’re sure you’re all dying to answer: which wife-style are you?

"The Kates have become more significant to us as wives than they were as single women", bleats Grazia, who claim their false dichotomy has generated furious debate the length and breadth of the country. Everywhere you go, from a builder’s caff to a dole office to a queue of irate and pay-chequeless Natwest customers, people are talking about whether or not they’re "team Kate" or, er, "team Kate".  Both, according to the nameless staffer who wrote the article, epitomise the extreme versions of "modern wifehood" and as such have made us think more deeply about, like, what it means to be a woman and to be married and stuff.

Except it hasn’t. People couldn’t care less. They’re worrying about their mortgages, or their job security, or the cost of childcare, or whether they’ll ever get housing benefit or a pension or where their next shag is coming from. No one is sitting in their house weighing up the relative merits of two women they’ve never met in terms of their marital attributes, except possibly everyone who works for Grazia. We’re all too busy. And that’s the way it should be. Equally, teenage girls haven’t looked at Kate Middleton’s life and immediately been transformed into "smart, well groomed, demure ladies", as a nameless poll in Grazia suggests. Whoever conducted the poll has obviously never been to Watford on a Saturday night - and to suggest that teenage girls are in any way concerned with what some posh lass does of an evening (run William a bath, apparently) is sheer lunacy. What they’re actually doing is worrying whether you can get pregnant off a blowjob or where they put their lip shimmer. Teenage girls, as you were.

According to common social perception, however, a wife is something that every little girl wants to become. Disclaimer: you can only navigate this treacherous path if a man asks you first, and he in turn will only ask when cultural pressure reaches a fever pitch and he runs to the jeweller’s in a sweat of peer-pressure-induced commitment. As the girlfriend (wife-in-waiting), you will of course be sat at home during this time, plotting your latest series of subtle manipulations to make him ask you, with your lonely left hand outstretched. He will run back, panting with the shock of blowing three months' wages on a shiny piece of earth dust, and present you with a ring. Immediately, your sex life will be blown to pieces (in the bad way) and you’ll magically transform into a carbon copy of - God forbid! - your mother.
Where does this leave us women, so often referred to as the "ball and chain" in a wifely context? We know that in the fifties, the ideal was to bake beautiful cupcakes and smile sweetly at dinner parties while refraining from expressing any controversial views, as per the well-known Harry Enfield sketch (women: know your limits!) Since then, we’ve seen movements that have discouraged women from "becoming wives" and entering into such a traditionally patriarchal institution altogether. We’ve also seen a resurgence of what we might deem "cupcake culture", which celebrates the sugar-centred, insufferably twee qualities of fifties housewifery and attempts to recast them in a world where women also have jobs and more meaningful responsibilities. Finally, we’ve seen the rise of and reaction to the "have it all" imperative, which we discussed in detail in last week’s column.

None of these choices are without their respective downfalls, and all of them reflect the day-to-day lives of 90 per cent of the population about as much as the two "wives" to whom Grazia have taken such a "liking" (read: the linguistic equivalent of a rusty machete). Here are two women: a supermodel and a princess, both of whom have traded on their looks to get where they are today, and who are supposed to be telling us something significant about the role of women in modern times. (Clue: the real significance lies in the first part of this sentence.) The suggestion that the rest of us should somehow be aspiring to either one of these "wifestyles" is as out of touch as appointing a well-known tax evader as a government spending advisor (ahem).

As per usual, this false debate surrounding a pair of straw wives says just as much about class as it does about female equality. Perhaps if more young couples were able to afford their rent or mortgages on a sole income, more women would choose to devote themselves to wifely duties - or indeed, men to husbandly ones. While K-Middy may appear to fit the bill of "humble wife", the suggestion that La Moss, a woman who built her own multimillion-pound career from nothing, has somehow become "more significant" since getting married is deeply insulting. Her only crime is to have refused to compromise her lifestyle. The implications in Grazia that her independence means she is somehow falling short assumes that there are modes of behaviour that should come into play the minute a ring is placed on a woman’s finger. Sod that.

Surely it’s as simple as loving one another enough, warts and all, to be able to build a life together? Suddenly becoming a simpering, submissive, desexualised bath-runner the minute you chow down on the marzipan-coated fruitcake means you’re probably not the woman he married anymore. If becoming a "wife" means not only losing your name (and why do that?) but a part of yourself so fundamental that you need to reassess your day-to-day behaviour, then it’s a sacrifice that we’re not willing to make. And guess what, Grazia? Our mothers weren’t either.

Which kind of wife are you - Middleton or Moss?

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Rex Features
Show Hide image

Keir Starmer: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting Brexit wrong”

The former director of public prosecutions is now heading up Labour’s response to Brexit. But can he succeed in holding the Tories’ feet to the fire?

Early in his new role as shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer was accused of being a “second-rate lawyer”. The gibe, in a Commons debate, came from none other than Iain Duncan Smith. Starmer was director of public prosecutions for five years and later stood for parliament in 2015. No novice, then. Within a few days, Duncan Smith stood again in the House, this time to offer his apologies.

A fortnight later, I met Starmer at his quiet office in Westminster. He was sitting at a table piled with papers, in an office that, a discreet family photo aside, was unadorned. He had just got back from a whirlwind trip to Brussels, with many more such visits planned in the weeks ahead.

Starmer returned to the shadow cabinet after Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership election victory last month. “The series of agreements we will have to reach in the next few years is probably the most important and complex we’ve had to reach since the Second World War,” he told me.

Starmer, who is 54, took his time entering politics. Born in 1962, he grew up in a Labour-supporting household in Surrey – his father was a toolmaker and his mother a nurse – and was named after Keir Hardie. After studying law at Leeds University, he practised as a human rights barrister and became a QC in 2002. In 2008, after varied legal work that included defending environmental campaigners in the McLibel case, he became the head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales as well as director of public prosecutions, positions he held until 2013.

When in 2015 Starmer ran for a seat in parliament to represent Holborn and St Pancras in London, it was assumed he would soon be putting his expertise to use in government. Instead, after Labour’s election defeat under Ed Miliband, he served as one of Corbyn’s junior shadow ministers, but resigned after the EU referendum in June.

Now, he is back on the opposition front bench and his forensic scrutiny of government policy is already unsettling the Conservatives. Philippe Sands, the law professor who worked with him on Croatia’s genocide lawsuit against Serbia, says he couldn’t think of anyone better to take on the Brexiteers in parliament. “It’s apparent that the government is rather scared of him,” Sands said. This is because Starmer is much more capable of teasing out the legal consequences of Brexit than the average Brexit-supporting Tory MP. Sands added: “It would be fun to watch if the stakes weren’t so very high.”

Starmer is a serious man and refused to be drawn on the character of his opponents. Instead, speaking slowly, as if weighing every word, he spelled out to me the damage they could cause. “The worst scenario is the government being unable to reach any meaningful agreement with the EU and [the UK] crashing out in March 2019 on no terms, with no transitional arrangement.” The result could be an economic downturn and job losses: “I don’t think anybody should underestimate the risks of getting this wrong.”

If Starmer seems pessimistic, it is because he believes time is short and progress has been slow. Since the referendum, disgruntled MPs have focused their attention on the final Brexit settlement. Yet if, as he argues, the starting position for our negotiations with the EU is wrong, the damage will have been done. MPs faced with a bad deal must either approve it or “risk the UK exiting the EU without a deal at all”.

It is this conviction that is driving his frantic schedule now. Starmer’s first month in the job is packed with meetings - with the representatives of the devolved nations, business leaders and his European counterparts.

He has also become a familiar face at the dispatch box. Having secured a commitment from David Davis, the minister for Brexit, that there will be transparent debate – “the words matter” – he is now demanding that plans to be published in January 2017 at the earliest, and that MPs will have a vote at this stage.

In his eyes, it will be hard for the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resist, because devolved parliaments and the European parliament will almost certainly be having a say: “The idea there will be a vote in the devolved administrations but not in Westminster only needs to be stated to see it’s unacceptable.”

In Europe, Starmer said, the view is already that Britain is heading for the cliff edge. It was May’s pledge, that after Brexit the UK would not “return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, which raised alarm. And among voters, there is “increasing anxiety” about the direction in which the UK is moving, he said. Even Tory voters are writing to him.

In the Labour Party, which is putting itself back together again after the summer’s failed coup, immigration remains the most vexed issue. Starmer told me that Labour had “earned a reputation for not listening” on the issue. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show shortly after becoming shadow Brexit secretary, he said immigration was too high and ought to be reduced. But later that same day, Diane Abbott, a shadow cabinet colleague, contradicted him, publicly criticising immigration targets.

Starmer believes there is a bigger picture to consider when it comes to Britain’s Brexit negotiations. Take national security, where he warns that there are “significant risks” if communications break down between the UK and the EU. “Part of the negotiations must be ensuring we have the same level of co-operation on criminal justice, counterterrorism, data-sharing,” he said.

Crucially, in a Labour Party where many experienced politicians are backbench dissenters, he wants to reach out to MPs outside the shadow cabinet. “We have to work as Team Labour,” he stressed.

It’s a convincing rallying cry. But for some MPs, he represents more than that: a lone moderate in what can be seen as a far-left leadership cabal. Does he have any ambitions to lead Labour? “Having had two leadership elections in the space of 12 months, the last thing we need at the moment is discussion of the leadership of the Labour Party.” He has agreed to serve in the shadow cabinet, and is determined to stay there.

Starmer has found his purpose in opposition. “If we think things aren’t going right, we’ve got to call it out early and loudly. The worst situation is that we arrive at March 2019 with the wrong outcome. By then, it will be too late.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage