Prince Harry is celebrated for admitting he is looking for love at 30, while Jennifer Aniston was pitied for being 30-something and single. What gives, asks Suzanne Harrington.
Prince Harry, now fifth in line to the British throne since the arrival of his sister in law’s latest baby, is 30-years-old, single, and broody. He’s been telling the world about it. During an interview in New Zealand recently he said “I would love to have kids right now, but there’s a process… that one has to go through.”
In his case, this process would involve a royal wedding. Poor old Harry. He can’t just make a baby with his baby mama like the commoners; there is all kinds of tedious protocol to observe. He also said he would quite like a partner: “It would be great to have someone else next to me to share the pressure,” he said, not quite making the role of royal consort sound like much fun, before adding, “But I don’t think you can force these things. You know, it will happen when it’s going to happen.” Given that Harry is young, rich, and royal – a combination which makes him insanely eligible, both in real life and as clickbait – his singelton comments seem almost disingenuous.
Or as American pop princess Taylor Swift (far right) put it in Maxim magazine, with uncanny coincidence given that she was not referring to Harry: “A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining.”
Was Harry – perhaps even subconsciously – attempting a brand resculpt from his party prince image to the 2015 equivalent of that eighties Athena poster of the hunky man holding the tiny baby? Despite declaring himself “100% single” in another interview, such advertising of availability is perceived differently depending on whether you are a bachelor or a spinster. Those nouns alone tell you everything you need to know about just how differently we perceive single men and women. But is this slowly changing? Are we Brigid Jonesing famous single men now?
As a royal, Harry’s unremarkable admission that he was looking to settle down at some stage were pounced upon. Before you could say table-for-one, he was being repackaged as a male Brigid Jones, the media tearing into his pronouncements like hounds at a fox hunt.
Broody Harry was presented to us as a reasonable new incarnation for the prince; could this be his new role? “Bridget Jones? Where’s that come from?” he responded. “Because I write my own diary or because I don’t have a girlfriend?” (You’d hope the latter, although it is of course possible that there exists the post of royal diary writer, like his dad’s royal toothpaste squeezer. We will never know.) What we do know are the many phases of Harry. We’ve had Dopey Harry, when, as a joint smoking teenager, his father overreacted slightly and took him to a drugs rehabilitation centre full of heroin addicts; then we had Comedy Nazi Harry, with his deeply unfortunate fancy dress costume; and most recently, there was naked partying Vegas Harry, although what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas, but instead splashed itself across international front pages. And now we have Broody Harry. Should we perhaps feel a moment’s tenderness?
If Prince Harry were Princess Harriet, there would be no such moment. A 30-year-old woman proclaiming that she would like to meet someone and have babies would be perceived as desperate even on a dating website; women daren’t mention either of the B words – ‘broody’ or ‘baby’ – while casting about for a mate, whereas men can do so without ever being regarded as anything other than adorable.
We call this the Poor Jen Syndrome. Remember when successful, talented, attractive, wealthy Jennifer Aniston was known in the media for many years as Poor Jen, because she was serially monogamous – that is, unmarried – and had chosen not to have children? There is no male equivalent. There was never a Poor George (Clooney, pre marriage) or a Poor Brad (Pitt, pre fatherhood).
Yet this particular double standard no longer reflects reality, if it ever truly did. We are conditioned to believe that only women get broody, and that women, with their built in reproductive obsolescence, are the prime movers in baby-making. Not so.
A 2013 study from Keele University, Staffordshire, showed how half the men interviewed felt isolated by not having children, compared with a quarter of women; four out of ten men felt depressed at not being parents, compared with three out of ten women. Seven out of ten men and women equally reported a “yearning” to have children.
Another study from an Israeli university, reported in the New Scientist, showed how the mere act of falling in love makes men broody. Broodiness, far from being a female exclusive, is hardwired into men’s brains too.
In his admission of baby hunger, Harry seemed to be reflecting the findings of another UK poll of 1,732 adults aged between 18 and 39, all of whom were in cohabiting relationships for two years or more but did not yet have children. Of this group, 79% of women wanted to start a family at some stage compared with 88% of men. And men wanted to become parents for the first time three years earlier than women, aged 29, while women were happy to leave it until they were 32.
So it is perfectly normal for a man of Harry’s age to feel broody, and for ordinary men, it is becoming increasingly normal to verbalise this broodiness without instantly emasculating yourself. Saying you want a baby is no longer a woman thing - it’s a human thing. Scandinavian societies are, as usual, way ahead of us in terms of genuine gender equality, with Sweden having a male equivalent of the yummy mummy – the Latte Papa. But in the rest of Europe, we still have some way to go – plus if you are royal, you are not allowed to be ordinary. You trade your ordinariness at birth for a lifetime of silver spoons.
So this means that if you are young, unattached and royal, your every move is commented upon when it comes to sex, relationships and children.
This used to be more of a lady thing – Diana’s every costume change, every lover, every hairdo – made headlines, whereas Charles and his brothers were pretty much left alone.
These days, however, everyone famous is considered fair game. Gender is becoming less prevalent, as words like “single” and “linked” take over. Prince Harry only has to stand in the same room as, say, actor Emma Watson, and he is “linked” with her. He is “linked” to his brother’s wife’s sister, simply because she exists. Gossip mags need these “links” to keep us buying them, and so while a “link” may have all the substance of a unicorn sighting, it continues to provide an irresistible hook at the supermarket till, given our appetite for made up stories.
And people like Harry are catnip to this industry. Harry, with his splendid life and his pick of potential partners from aristocrats to that brilliant Aussie in her plastic tiara with her “Marry Me Harry – Last Chance” banner, has no reason to be either single or broody, unless it is elective singleness and broodiness.
However, the fact that his singleness and broodiness has been dissected with the same gossip scalpel usually reserved for famous females shows a broadening of range as gender boundaries blur. So is this an example of gender equality in the media, or the morphing of salacious misogyny into salacious misanthropy?
What next, red circles around Harry’s cellulite?
A man writing about his feelings from a vulnerable place is brave; a woman writing about her feelings from a vulnerable place is oversharing or whining
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