It may appear to onlookers that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, is living the post-script to a modern fairy-tale: married into royalty, she has a young family alongside a rewarding public role (not to mention her much coveted wardrobe). But I wonder whether the millions of girls taught from birth to aspire to be ‘princesses’ would actually want her job.
Germaine Greer, feminist commentator and author of “The Female Eunuch”, recently declared that Kate has “a bastard job”. She went on to say that Kate is “too thin” and suggested that she has been “made to go through” pregnancy again.
A Newsweek survey reported that 64% of respondents felt that the Duchess had a measure of control over her life generally
Greer’s comments could be perceived as an unhelpful brand of feminism which only serves to further public scrutiny of female bodies. Commenting on her appearance also seem callous in the light of Kate’s recent illness: hyperemesis gravidarum, a kind of acute morning sickness that could be causing her to lose weight.
Indeed, even if Kate were suffering from an eating disorder (which Greer has no authority to suggest, not being a medical expert, nor knowing Kate personally), remarks like Greer’s are unlikely to have a positive effect on Kate, or her fans. Kate should have the right to make decisions about her body like any other woman, and although Greer is trying to highlight the physical pressure she is under, she is not doing so in a helpful way.
The issues raised by Greer seem pertinent nonetheless, because Kate is not just any woman, but a high profile one idolised by many. A Newsweek survey reported that 64% of respondents felt that the Duchess had a measure of control over her life generally, and that also further to this 74% believed that she had control over “how she raises her son, Prince George”. This suggests that over a quarter of the public, like Greer, remain sceptical about her level of personal autonomy, a trade off which would, for many, make hers seem “a bastard job” indeed.
This is ultimately a unifying debate: it is not only royalists who can empathise with Kate’s position, because the centre of this argument is not the monarchy, but Kate, a real woman
It is possible that Kate is a willing royal celebrity, relishing the public interest and affection. But the problems Kate faces stem from her exaggerated status as mother to the future King of England. Monarchy necessarily requires women to be treated, in the words of author Hilary Mantel, as “breeding stock”, necessary for its self-perpetuation.
If, as Greer suggests, the Duchess has been coerced or even forced into a second pregnancy too soon, this would be an indictment of a system that has in the past heavily relied on infringing the reproductive rights of individual women.
This is ultimately a unifying debate: it is not only royalists who can empathise with Kate’s position, because the centre of this argument is not the monarchy, but Kate, a real woman.
It is apparent then that Kate can teach us about sexism, the media and our public institutions. But most importantly in such cases we must remember, as Mantel stated in her talk entitled ‘Royal Bodies’, “cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty”.
Image courtesy of Hot Gossip Italia via Flickr