Here’s something that would make you want to throw chairs across the room: Society magazine Tatler’s piece on the new kind of trophy wives. (You can Google it for yourselves, because I refuse to link it here.)
“The new trophy wife is a tour de force: Society’s better halves now have brains, beauty, and billions,” the subhead reads, hinting at the ridiculousness that further awaits the reader.
Now, beauty has always been demanded of women; it’s basically the currency that society has allotted for us. As for brains, women have always had them, and evidence is the multiple strategies we’ve come up with to survive a world that pretty much hates us out of some deeply seated fear. (Plenty of times, though, the tactics of appearing dutiful and playing at being “one of the guys” have gotten so ingrained in so many of us that there are women who believe and live by them.) Now, on top of all of those, we have “billions” to contend with, all in the service of appearing desirable enough to be some dude’s wife.
The writer, who is listed as Isaac Bickerstaff, goes on to describe the trophy wife of today as “distinguished by her panoply of qualifications: [She] has an Oxbridge first, a high-flying career, is woke, and has several charitable projects under her Gucci belt.” Why such steep qualifications? Well, he (I assume the writer is male) explains, “Today’s discerning bachelor now pines for a powerplayer [sic] in her own right. She’s a Meghan Markle, a Priyanka Chopra, a Lady Bamford. Her high priestess? Amal Clooney.”
The kicker statement: “PhDs, pencil skirts, and polemics against the patriarchy are in.”
Oh, the irony of including “polemics against the patriarchy” in a piece that highlights yet one more way for women to feel inadequate about themselves! Don’t you just love it when feminism is painted as a trendy means to get the attention of men? Also, how disrespectful to the women mentioned, to have the amount of work they have put to build their lives and careers be equated to husband bait.
But then again, what could be expected from a publication whose readers belong to a stratum of society that runs on its own set of strange rules because of the bubble it lives in? I also tried to look up who Isaac Bickerstaff is, but all I could find on the Tatler website under his name was one other article (about the rules of social media engagement). Google’s top results tell me, though, that “Isaac Bickerstaff” was a pseudonym used by some white dude to perpetuate a hoax back in the 1700s. This makes me believe that even Tatler knew it was putting out a bullshit story for the sake of hits that they didn’t even give the piece a credible byline. Whatever the intention behind it, whether it was meant to be satirical or not (who knows with socialites and one percenters?), we can’t lose sight of the fact that the central idea of the piece is rooted in misogyny.
It calls to mind the speech that Fitzwilliam Darcy made in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice about what makes a woman “accomplished”: “A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all the modern languages, to deserve the word: and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.” Of course, ever the smart and mouthy ball-breaker, Lizzy Bennett clapped back at him immediately:
With so many millennials, especially women, opting out of marriage and parenthood due to economic, environmental, and existential concerns (not to mention the unjust set-up of traditional marriage that hoists almost all emotional labor on women’s shoulders), I had thought that the antiquated concept of trophy wives would go the way of the dinosaurs (no disrespect to dinosaurs). It had long deserved to be erased from the human language anyway, because we all know that “trophy wife” is a ridiculous faux-aspirational status that is really nothing more than just another gilded box to trap women in.
But if there’s any hard-won positive to be gleaned from the Tatler’s stunting-for-clicks story, it unknowingly presents a sort of template on one way for women to live their best lives, should they feel up to it (and should they be presented with the opportunity to do so).
While “hotness” (“some things never change”) remains a criterion for being admirable and desirable, “Bickerstaff” also cites altruism as an attractive feature on women: “She’ll set up her own foundation… She’s empowering women. She’s giving speeches at the UN. She’s establishing an energy-efficiency consultancy. She’s investing in carbon capture. She’s bringing peace to the Middle East. The question is not necessarily ‘What is she wearing?,’ it’s ‘When is she going to run?’”
Naturally, none of the examples given are easy, breezy examples of how women enact positive change in the world. Like I’ve said, it takes those with a certain socio-economic privilege to be able to do something as major as give speeches at a UN convention. But at least, in the Tatler readers’ world, supporting and empowering other women is no longer viewed as something akin to witchcraft.
According to the piece, as well, ambition and drive are now acceptable in women. No longer do we have to hide how brilliant and cunning we can be, now longer do we have to downplay our capabilities in fear of intimidating men. “Every trophy wife is different,” “Bickerstaff” posits. “The trophy wives political, intellectual, and technological, each with their own audience to mesmerize, their own world to dominate, their own platform on which to showcase their ivy League superiority.” If desirable, “wife-worthy” women are now “allowed” to use their intellectual, physical, and political capital the best way they know how, then what’s keeping the rest of us who never even dreamt of becoming some dud’s trophy wife from doing the same? (I know, I know, systemic sexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism, fundamentalism, etc. etc. But you get what I mean.)
The piece is concluded with this Trojan horse statement: “As Tatler’s insider puts it: ‘It’s no longer about bagging the billionaire, it’s about being the billionaire.’” Well, if a brilliant woman is a billionaire already, with the world on her feet, then what need would she have for a man? Trophy wife hunters just shot themselves in the foot with their new, impossibly high standards. Good.