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.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage