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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Leader: The angry middle

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern.

Two months after the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, it remains conventional wisdom that the referendum result was largely a revolt by the so-called left behind. Yet this is not the full picture. Many of the 52 per cent who voted Leave were relatively prosperous and well educated, yet still angry and determined to deliver a shock to the political system. We should ask ourselves why the English middle class, for so long presumed to be placid and risk-averse, was prepared to gamble on Brexit.

Populism has long appealed to those excluded from political systems, or from a share in prosperity. In recent years, however, its appeal has broadened to young graduates and those on above-average incomes who also feel that they have not benefited from globalisation. The sense of middle-class victimhood has become a major strand in Western politics.

In the United States, middle-class anger has powered support for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The former drew his activist base mostly from young liberals. And while Mr Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was often attributed to a working-class insurrection against “the elites”, exit poll data showed that the median yearly income of a Trump voter was $72,000, compared with a national average of $56,000. (For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the figure was roughly $61,000.) It is not the have-nots who have powered Mr Trump’s rise, but the have-a-bits.

In the UK, similar forces can be seen in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, research shows that three-quarters of Labour Party members are from the top social grades, known as ABC1. About 57 per cent have a degree.

Mr Sanders, Mr Trump and Mr Corbyn have very different policies, ideologies and strategies, but they are united by an ability to tap into middle-class dissatisfaction with the present order. Some of that anger flows from politicians’ failure to convey the ways in which society has improved in recent years, or to speak truthfully to electorates. In the UK and much of the West, there have been huge gains – life expectancy has risen, absolute poverty has decreased, teenage pregnancy has fallen to a record low, crime rates have fallen, and huge strides have been made in curbing gender, sexual and racial discrimination. Yet we hear too little of these successes.

Perhaps that is why so many who are doing comparatively well seem the most keen to upset the status quo. For instance, pensioners voted strongly to leave the EU and are the demographic from which Ukip attracts most support. Yet the over-65s are enjoying an era of unprecedented growth in their real incomes. Since 2010, the basic state pension has risen by over four times the increase in average earnings. 

Among young people, much of their anger is directed towards tuition fees and the iniquities of the housing market. Yet, by definition, tuition fees are paid only by those who go into higher education – and these people receive a “graduate bonus” for the rest of their lives. Half of school-leavers do not attend university and, in a globalised world, it is their wages that are most likely to be undercut by immigration.

However, we should not be complacent about the concerns of the “angry middle”. The resentment exploited by Donald Trump is the result of 40 years of stagnant median wages in the United States. In Japan and Germany, median wages have not increased in the past two decades. In the UK, meanwhile, the median income for those aged 31-59 is no greater than it was in 2007, and those aged 22-30 are 7 per cent worse off, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To compound the problem, the wealthy keep getting wealthier. In 1980, American CEOs were paid 42 times the wage of the average worker. They are now paid 400 times as much. In the UK, the share of household income going to the top 1 per cent has more than doubled since 1979. Because of our hyperconnected, globalised media culture, we see more of the super-rich, fuelling feelings of resentment.

As a sense of victimhood extends even to the middle classes, it makes Western democracies much more difficult to govern, with voters oscillating between populists of the left and the right. The political centre is hollowing out. Rather than pander to the populists, we must do more to quell the politics of victimhood by addressing the root of this corrosive sense of grievance: entrenched inequality. 

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser