At the risk of sounding like yet another bitchy critic of the Royal Baby-Watching three-ring circus, I do have a serious dislike of Kate Middleton that goes beyond the infuriating annoyance of being unable to watch Any Other News on the bloody television for the past week or so. I first need to make it clear I don’t dislike Kate Middleton personally – I have never met the woman and am highly unlikely to ever find myself sitting two tables away from her at a Brisbane cafe waggling fingertips at each other over our low-fat sugar-free cappuccinos. I draw my conclusions about her the same way I do about politicians; from what she does (or doesn’t do) as reported in the media. I’ve tried to avoid as much of the hoopla and hullabaloo as I can, honestly I have, but the Royal PR media machine is relentless. So even if I don’t care about her shopping habits, her fashion sense, her family or friends or the mean girls from her school days, even if I don’t give a toss whether she’s naughty, snotty or a hottie - what I do care about is what Kate Middleton represents.
It took me awhile to figure out what exactly it was that is so very irritating about Kate Middleton. There is something terribly perverse that while in the States (and even in Britain) the rights of women are under increasing assault, where women are still having to struggle for basic respect, justice and equality, where the right to control their own bodies is under threat, the media and the royal celebrity watchers are “celebrating” the birth of a baby to a woman who famously has never held a real job in her life despite her privileged education, who does nothing of any consequence whatsoever and never has, whose contrived posh accent wincingly rivals Lincolnshire grocer’s daughter Margaret Thatcher’s studied vowels, who seems to exude all the personality and warmth of a plastic Barbie doll, and whose sole purpose for existence seems to be nothing more than be a walking womb for her aristocratic “betters” to procreate more of themselves and foist the massive expense of it all on the British taxpayer. In a country where one in three babies born live in poverty - not much to celebrate there.
Kate Middleton represents the worst of female aspirations - to be such a completely empty vessel that her only definition as a human being is who she married and to whom she gave birth. But what is worse, far worse, is the media’s admiration and fascination with such a woman.
On the other hand, that pretty much sums up the job requirements for being the wife (and now mother) of a British heir to the throne – smile nicely for the camera, make sure your hair is well coiffed, be supermodel skinny and wear overpriced designer dresses, look at your husband adoringly and nod a lot, and for God’s sake don’t ever do or say anything in the least bit controversial. It’s the perfect job if you’re lazy, vapid, and rather dull. From the more malicious celebrity reports, it appears William chose his wife wisely: Kate’s reported conversations are so vacuous as to border on bizarre, and she is apparently so lacking in even the most basic survival skills she’s incapable of making a pot of tea. As soon as she became pregnant, she cut her official appointment schedule down to near zero – not that it was exactly Herculean to begin with – although the royal baby bump certainly didn’t seem to hamper her shopping, holidays or rubbing elbows with A-list movie stars. From her late mother-in-law’s engagement ring to the blue with white polka dot maternity dress reminiscent of Diana’s dress after William’s birth, she’s not even independent or feisty enough to forge a public personality of her own.
The staunch republican (with a little R) in me has never particularly liked the idea of monarchy anyway, even a so-called constitutional monarchy, finding the entire concept archaic, anachronistic, parasitic, and outrageously expensive, and in an ideal world would have been abolished decades if not centuries ago. Yet I do recognise that the current monarch, when faced with no realistic opportunities or choices other than being Queen of England, decided to take the job very seriously and works quite hard at it... whatever the “job” actually entails. As governing a country has been (literally) axed from the job requirements since the middle of the 17th century, there isn’t much left for a queen to do of any substantial importance other than non-political civic duties and charity work. But at least she does that admirably, despite her age – 425 engagements during her Diamond Jubilee year and over 600 charity patronages. She’s also savvy enough – unlike certain other members of her family – to gauge the changing moods and values of the British public and to adapt the monarchy accordingly, unwilling to let it die crushed under the weight of cobwebbed and dusty traditions. Even if you don’t like the concept of the monarchy, it’s hard not to respect its CEO.
But Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince William and now Prince George have never had much choice in what they do with their lives. Which is exactly why I dislike Kate Middleton; she doesn’t even have the excuse of being from a titled aristocratic family where women have long been relegated to genteel second-class status in favour of the Old Boys. Her family is firmly middle-class, with enough money to afford the best schools to give their daughters every chance for success without the constraints of upper class snobbery. Okay, so Kate Middleton would probably never have found a cure for cancer, brokered a peace treaty in the Middle East, or discovered the origins of the universe, and neither are the vast majority of the rest of us. We do the best we can with what we're given.
Or at least we should. Kate Middleton had a choice, she had more opportunities than most girls ever get. She could have created a business like her parents did, turned her love of photography into a photojournalist's career or used her Masters in art history to work at a museum, go into art conservation, or run her own gallery (although asking if antique Faberge eggs were still being made makes you wonder how much attention she was paying to her studies at St. Andrew’s University) From the reports of private and public grumbles, even the Queen wanted Kate Middleton to get a job and do something. She could have done any of that and still married the man she loved. It wouldn't have been without precedent; as did and still do many under-educated but upper-class British women, Lady Diana Spencer worked an assortment of jobs that didn’t require much of an education. As an aristocratic daughter of landed gentry, she never had money problems and could have lived off the London property she inherited quite nicely without doing a thing. Instead, before Diana was married, she had worked as a dance instructor for young people, a kindergarten assistant, did cleaning work for her sister and friends, and was a nanny (and having been a nanny myself, I know that's bloody hard work). She was barely twenty when she married Prince Charles, yet the Princess of Wales took her duties seriously, hit the ground running and worked as tirelessly as any of the Royals. Whatever her other faults, she wasn't work-shy, before or after her marriage into the Royal Family.
Instead, Kate Middleton made it her sole mission in life, dedicating an entire decade in single-minded pursuit of it, to marry a prince and give birth to another. And that’s it.
Which, if you think about it for more than two seconds, is a pretty lousy role model for little girls growing up in a world where their chances in life are already stacked against them. The life Kate Middleton actively sought out is not one to admire or emulate, nevermind celebrate. It’s hard enough for girls to break through the gender gap in sciences, fewer women than men in research, medicine, engineering, business, computer programming, teaching in universities and all earning substantially less than their male counterparts. Journalists then compound it with treating women in sciences as “exceptional,” furthering the idea that intelligent women are somehow an anomaly. Worse, when women do manage to excel, such as Xbox’s new CEO, 19 year Microsoft veteran Julie Larson-Green, it creates a uproar that she would ruin Xbox by only approving games about ‘baking and knitting,’ along with remarks that she’s a total MILF. One company director advertised for a web developer familiar with Ruby, a programming language, by offering the successful candidate four “female French, Italian and Spanish junior / front and backend developers” as perks – along with a keg of beer fitted to your desk, Cadbury chocolate éclairs and an expresso machine. Bad enough women are objectified to the level of a beer keg, but as it turns out, the company didn’t even have any women employees to be passed around like candy and coffee.
We still live in a world where boys are super heroes, girls are princesses. Boys fight villains, wrestle with dinosaurs, drive monster dumptrucks and save the world. Girls sit at home in frothy tutus and tiaras and learn to put on make-up. Shops have shelves labelled ‘For Boys’ with Science Museum toys, microscopes and rockets and chemistry sets and build your own robot kits, while those labelled “For Girls” have tea sets and Bratz dolls in pink packaging.
LEGO makes purple and pink toys for "how girls naturally build and play," where Stephanie, Olivia and Emma dolls live in beautiful Heartlake City, have parties, decorate their LEGO houses and meet up at the LEGO beauty shop to have "fun."
This is a world where a President of Harvard University insisted that boys are better at math than girls because they’re born that way. Where Wendy Davis is treated shamefully by her colleagues in the Texas Senate for her heroic effort to stop draconian laws that would hurt hundreds of thousands of women. Where anti Julia Gillard “Ditch the Bitch” bumperstickers were plastered on every other dirty ute in Queensland. Where Hilary Clinton was called “shrill,” “emotional,” and “hysterical.” Where David Cameron sees nothing wrong with telling shadow Treasury secretary Angela Eagle, “Calm down, dear.” Where a 16-year-old girl is shot in the head for daring to want an education. Where a rightwing drug addict with a radio microphone can vilify a serious, dignified woman like Sandra Fluke and his listeners howl with delight.
We live in a time when a website set up to gather the stories of ordinary women and girls reveals a depressing litany of sexual harassment, intimidation, degradation, and ridicule, 25,000 entries and rising, from 15 countries around the world. Women who are told all they’re good for is “cleaning, cooking and blowjobs.” Little girls who desperately want to change into boys so they can go into space. Teenaged girls, thousands of them, reporting constant sexual harassment from classmates and total strangers.
This is a hard world for women. Every gain we make comes at a price, every step we’ve taken we’ve had to fight for. The world we make for our daughters should be better than this, they deserve to be more than just princesses. So when I watch Kate Middleton simpering beside her Prince Charming, it annoys me. The media’s constant glorification of her as being the epitome of every woman’s fairy tale dream annoys me a whole lot more.
So that is why I dislike Kate Middleton. It’s nothing personal... except that it most certainly is.