The debate rages about footballer's wives in this country and Liverpool is a hotspot for these perma-tanned blonde lovelies. Baroness Ruth Dietch recently came to Liverpool to declaim the footballer's wife or WAG (wives and girlfriends) as a positive role model for 21st century women.
This is actually a more complex debate than maybe perceived at first glance! Dietch's argument is that the laws of divorce are no longer good enough to manage the complex relationships between talented rich footballers and untalented (but pretty) girls. Why should they get so much of their husband's wealth when they divorce? She is advocating for a review of the divorce laws within the UK to take into account pro-nuptial agreements. Now, the flip side of this argument is that while both men and women are valued by the income and wealth status of their partner when it comes to divorce, this is actually a lot better than in previous times where a divorced women had no status or value whatsoever. Also, the WAGS to riches debate is loaded inside class politics. Footballers are often working class boys made good and wags tend to come from a similar class group. Upper and middle class women traditionally have more power, education and status in advance of entering into a marriage contract and therefore judging their independent financial status and future employment options in relation to men prior to marriage may be a more viable model for a 'fairer' more equal legal status. But, even this does not reflect the career sacrifices made by many women who have children so this is not a simple issue either. Women have different career structures to men.
Now, one of the issues that is related to the WAG problem is what do WAGS actually do? The Dietch suggestion is that because they enter into the relationship without the same career or financial status as their partner their status does not change once inside the relationship and, if it does change, then this is principally because of the impact of their new relationship (Posh Spice - Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole nee Tweedy and Charlotte Church are notable examples of WAGS who had independent status, wealth and power in advance of marrying a footballer or a rugby player). Colleen Rooney (nee McLoughlin) is a local Liverpool lass who is a particularly interesting case study within the Footballers Wives social phenomena. Just a school girl when her boyfriend started making it big, she was thrown into the limelight in her school uniform. Three biographies later and only just married to her man, she now has an independent career in the media and has significantly used her media status to champion good causes such as the lack of national funding for hospices such as Clare's Hospice on the Wirral which supports her sister. Coleen McLoughlin source Wikipedia. Colleen is a much more sympathetic media face than her arguably more talented footballer husband - and as his career window dwindles - the career duration of a footballer is not very long after-all, perhaps the media skills, social networking and economic diversification that Colleen has brought to this partnership will last this couple longer than the sporting achievements of Wayne Rooney. We all watch with interest as Victoria and David Beckham navigate his gradual exit from being in the World's top ten footballers to the World's top 1000. . . whether it's perfume, bags or clothes - this unique partnership has been both personal and professional.
Dietch has a point - we do need to have flexibility when thinking about the marital structures that we develop. However, the issue remains that women have historically suffered as a result of marital laws that do not protect them. Just because a few women have made a mint (notably Liverpool lad Paul McCartney didn't do so well out of his recent divorce) does not mean that all WAGS are using marriage as a step to riches. Equally, the rise of house-husbands which is increasing as the current economic climate continues to develop., will mean that this coin flips both ways. Should we aspire to being a WAG?
Well, perhaps we need to stop being quite so romantic about the social contract of marriage. It is a two-way street and the age-old debate about the economic valuation of work needs to be brought to bear on the social status of WAGdom. The partnerships outlined above show that these relationships are not one-way deals. And, it seems that the wanna-be wags that dress in 6 inch heals in the ASDA are not being as romantic as policy making think tanks may initially perceive. Indeed, aspiring to being a WAG is not just about about aspiring to be pretty but also to be powerful, which is not such a new aspiration afterall!