If Prince William has a daughter, she can succeed to the throne, and to a life of gender-defined scrutiny, says Suzanne Harrington.
THE wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson is about to have a baby. This is the most important British royal birth since the baby’s father and uncle, William and Harry, in 1982 and 1984 — one day, he or she may wear the crown.
Yes, she. Having removed primogeniture, William and Kate’s baby will be the first royal child to become monarch irrespective of gender.
The parents-to-be have not divulged their baby’s gender. They say they don’t know it. Who could blame them — an ‘industry’, from Hello magazine to the vilest red-tops, revolves around the British royal family. No wonder the couple are not talking about their baby as a son or daughter.
Journalist Barbara Ellen, in The Observer newspaper wrote that she hopes the royal baby will not be a girl. “Even Diana enjoyed a couple of decades growing up in relative normality, peace, and privacy, before the relentless judgement began.”
If Kate and William have a girl, her privacy will be invaded from birth — think Suri Cruise or Harper Beckham, multiplied by infinity.
Then, consider the Diana legacy: “On top of the succession, that child would be the first direct female link to, not only the heaving emotional tsunami that was Diana, but also the cloying sense of public ownership of Diana,” wrote Ellen. She’ll be hunted and haunted.
Zoom out from the overheated bubble of British royalty and look at girls. Being female in in the developed world is, statistically, to be born at an advantage.
Women live longer (five to 10 years more than men); have better immune systems (it’s the oestrogen); eat more healthily (social conditioning to be slim); have higher IQs, and have better emotional intelligence (according to mental health charity, Mind, 53% of women will share their problems with friends compared with 29% of men).
Women outperform men in financial investment (according to Forbes magazine, the portfolios of women yield higher returns than men, 18% to 11%), and the gender income gap is closing (according to Forbes, it was 81% in 2010, compared with 76% in 2000).
Females do better at school and university, have stronger social networks, and make better managers, because we are better at reading people and interpersonal communication. So why would a female royal be bad news?
With these innate advantages, a girl would be a better royal personage. If only. Women and girls are judged differently to men. Tedious and outmoded, yes, but true.
It’s all about looks, size, clothes, and identity based on marriages and relationships. Female behaviour is judged differently to male behaviour, even if the behaviour is the same.
Imagine if Prince Harry were Princess Harriet. Would Princess Harriet be given a rousing, good-natured ribbing by the press for dressing up as a fancy-dress Nazi, for getting naked in Las Vegas, and for over-indulging in nightclubs with attractive types?
No, the imaginary Princess Harriet would not. She would be ‘tragic’ and ‘troubled’ and ‘out of control’, as opposed to a young man letting off steam (Nazi costume faux pas aside — had this been the costume choice of our imaginary Princess Harriet, not only would she have been castigated for her tastelessness, but there would have been acres of comment about whether it made the royal bum look big, or whether the colour suited her).
The queen has never been more popular, in both Britain and Ireland. Because she has been around forever, wears good hats, and is too old for anyone to pick on.
This has not always been the case. Remember when Diana died? And the royal family pretended it had nothing to do with them, even as Britain sobbed its collective heart out?
Diana was a royal female who dared say what it was like to be a royal female. She was demonised, fetishised, stalked, ridiculed, and killed. That Diana’s two children were boys was divine intervention to protect them from the rapacious media, who would have eaten them alive, intruding on a level acceptable for females but unacceptable for males. (Think Sienna Miller and the paparazzi — male actors are never hounded with such ferocity).
But just as Diana changed public perception about what it is to be a royal female, the frenzy around her son’s wife — pleasant, blankly-smiling Kate — has been unabated.
With no Diana to harass, plus Princess Anne’s decades-long refusal to play ball, and the other royal young women a little too marginal to relentlessly pursue, the media has only got Kate.
And if Kate has a girl, bingo. Two frontline royal females to chase.
We still live in a culture where women are paid to appear naked in The Sun, where the Daily Mail runs an online sidebar focusing on the appearances of women, and where there are dozens of magazines full of paparazzi shots of women, posed and unposed — all in the name of ‘entertainment’. When Kate Middleton was papped on a beach, the UK press made a huge show of not running the pictures, as they were ‘disrespectful’ and ‘intrusive’; the photos ran in other European countries, including Ireland.
The point is, women — no matter how powerful, rich, brainy, successful — are viewed by all of us as fair game for scrutiny, dissection, dismissal, all based on appearance. And it’s not just lad-mag or tabloid buying men who are responsible for this — every time a woman buys a magazine that visually gossips about other women, she, too, is colluding. Think about that the next time you reach for a ‘sleb’ mag.
Meanwhile — and this is purely from a feminist, not monarchist, perspective — let us hope that if Kate’s baby is a girl, she takes after her great-auntie, Anne, and tells the world to naff off.
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