Who'd be a princess?

Elizabeth II may be the last royal woman not to be subjected to rampant sexist scrutiny.

The Diamond Jubilee: it’s monarchist mentality gone mad, and there are many who, like us, have pointed out the absolute pointlessness of celebrating a hereditary right to loads and loads of dosh. As royal-loving holidays go, there are worse (when attempting to explain to a foreigner why we burn effigies of a militant protestor to usher in November, you realise just how terrifying tradition can be) but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t acknowledge the more sinister subtext of marking Liz II’s sixty-year rule. Sure, she’s a little less bloodthirsty than Elizabeth I, but she still operates within that system of ‘good breeding’; of sexist ascension rules; of ascension rules, full stop; and of class inequality.

The existence of a royal family is, essentially, a logical no-brainer: it just shouldn’t exist in any supposedly enlightened society. We no longer live in a country that believes in the God-given right to wear a really camp crown, and even though a few archaic laws technically still stand, we hardly enshrine that right in politics any longer. There is literally no argument, apart from that heinous little ugly sod who keeps getting carted around by the right - ‘tradition’ - to keep the royal family in place.

Speaking disparagingly of Her Maj is still seen by many as ‘not done’. We acknowledge that anyone holding down a job for 60 years and doing that job with poise and professionalism is something to be admired. It’s just a shame that there was never an interview. There is a national affection for the Queen that is perhaps surprising - unlike her offspring, she has largely escaped censure by betraying few opinions during her sixty year reign. We suspect that this may well be her secret to avoiding large-scale massacre by tabloid: like all good women who came of age in the fifties, she is most often seen and not heard.

The problem is that no one takes the royal family seriously anymore - just check out Zoo magazine’s tasteful ‘Diamond Boobilee’ cover - and that is why they have to go. Only a few metres down the road from your straight-laced, cucumber-sandwich-filled street party, we can guarantee that you will find some twentysomething exhibitionist in a Union Jack mankini, suggestively licking frosting from the fruitcake off his fingers while balancing on a gaudy throne and proclaiming: ‘I’m the real Queen around here!’ Even if you don’t live in Brick Lane, you’ll definitely come across the Sex Pistols style bunting (or ‘cunting’, as it is termed) that has been selling just as well as its serious counterparts, draped across a table of slightly warm Strongbow and a load of enthusiastic hipsters in tea dresses. The monarchy in modern times, where heirs and heiresses like the venerable Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have cashed in on cashing in by celebrifying their heredity-given status, is little more than another sarky comment in the irony-laden mire of modern culture.

We should bear celebrity reporting in mind when we conduct our ironic celebrations over the rest of the bank holiday. Enough controversy surrounded the death of Princess Diana to let us know that the media had thought of her as fair game for borderline illegal harassment, yet now she is forever enshrined by amnesiac tabloids as the British Queen of Hearts. The enormous outpouring of grief at her death could indicate that we as a nation were sympathetic to her shoddy treatment, not only by her husband but also by the papers. In picking over the details of her divorce, her private life, her inner thoughts, perhaps those readers felt complicit.

Although the entire royal family are subjected to this to some degree, it’s always the young women who bear the brunt of it. Nowadays, the cult of Pippa Middleton, or P-Middy’s, rear end - whose Ass Appreciation Society has 241,220 likes on Facebook and counting, as well as a current admonition to enjoy ‘dat ass’ at the Jubilee celebrations - has been blown well out of proportion (no pun intended). Zara Phillips, meanwhile, became a national receptacle for crowing schadenfreude and faux sympathy following her husband’s tabloid antics, while Fergie and Sophie Wessex ‘married in’ and paid the price, and Eugenie and Beatrice couldn’t even have a Jaegerbomb at Fresher’s Week without some eager paparazzo ‘conveniently’ emerging, Stasi-like, from the men’s room with a pocket cam.

Kate Middleton has now been swallowed up by this media whale, which consumes her every movement with increasing fervour and subjects her to a dehumanising ‘baby countdown’ where the words ‘breeding’ and ‘pedigree’ are all too often applied. She is fashion icon, Stepford wife and, most importantly, womb-in-waiting. It’s impossible to know how long it will be before the adulation swerves to backlash, but the media treatment of Charlene, Princess of Monaco, following her ‘failure’ to provide an heir is not promising. We can only hope the Duchess escapes the same fate.

It is often said that every little girl dreams of being a princess. Feeding your little girl to the media’s increasingly dangerous machine, which currently churns out nothing but generic tits and female ‘emotional breakdowns’, backgrounded by male stoicism and at the worst mischievous laddishness, seems like a fate worse than death nowadays. If she does bear fruit, as international insistence dictates, how will Kate feel about throwing her young into this arena? We (the royal we) can only imagine.

Yet Elizabeth, despite being the first British monarch to have her image and her words beamed instantaneously across the globe, has, by some miracle, succeeded in escaping the usual hyping up of diets, love lives, fashion, and figures - everything that in these celebrity-driven times seems to signify womanhood. This is undoubtedly something of an achievement, and perhaps our one real reason to celebrate the Jubilee is that she has remained remarkably unscathed in the face of rampant sexist scrutiny. She may be the last royal woman who does.

Royal women: The Queen with Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Photo: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

All photos: India Bourke
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“They cut, we bleed”: activists Sisters Uncut protest closures of women's services

 “Our blood should not pay for our rape.”

Over 500 domestic violence survivors and support workers processed through central London this weekend. The protest, staged by the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut, mourned the women’s services that are losing out as a result of the government's austerity drive.

Since November 2014 the group has occupied streets, burned copies of the Daily Mail, and hijacked the Suffragette film premiere. But on Saturday the mood was somber. In Soho Square the group staged a symbolic funeral service. Attendees stood in a protective circle, fists raised, while members took turns to read out the names of the scores of women who’ve been killed by men in the past year:  “Anne Dunkley, 67; Nadia Khan, 24; Lisa Anthony, 47…”. The youngest was just 14 years old.

The service culminated in a promise “to never forget” the dead, and also to protect the living: “We must love and support one another; we have nothing to lose but our chains".

As the protestors passed St Martins in the Fields Church, dressed in black veils and funeral attire, the crowd of passers-by broke into spontaneous applause. “It gave me goosebumps”, Caroline, an activist and former victim of abuse told me. “You expect people on the march to be supportive but not the people on the street. I’ve been on other marches and people normally complain about you being selfish and blocking up the streets but this response makes you feel like people do  care.”

The show of public support is especially welcome in the aftermath of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Cuts to local authority budgets have already led to the closure of over 30 domestic violence services since 2010, including Eaves, a charity that provided services for single, low-income and vulnerable women.

Further erosions to local council budgets will only put more services and lives at risk, activists say. Also of concern is Osborne’s decision to devolve responsibility for raising a social care tax (of up to 2 per cent on council tax) to local authorities. This tips hostility to tax increases away from central government to local authorities, and could place greater pressure on women’s services to compete for funding.

The Chancellor offered a supposed silver lining to the cuts with the promise that VAT money raised from the EU’s compulsory tax on sanitary products will be ringfenced for women’s charities, such as the Eve Appeal and Women’s Aid.

The implication, however, that only women are to pay for helping the victims of domestic violence was met with derision from Sisters Uncut. As the marchers approached their final destination in Trafalgar Square, red dye turned the square’s famous fountains the colour of blood. “This blood won’t wash the blood from Osborne’s hands,” read one tampon-draped banner; “Our blood should not pay for our rape”, read another.

For those on the march, the cuts are an affront on many levels. All those I spoke to worked in some form of public service; everything from housing to foster care. But some have had to move out of the women’s services sector for the lack of funding.

Louisa used to work for a domestic violence service in London until it was forced to close last month. “I’m here because I’ve witnessed first hand what the cuts are doing to women and how much the organisations are having to squeeze what they can provide.”

All public services have legitimate claims to support - from the 14-strong police team that escorted the marchers, to the sweepers who were left to dredge the protesters’ roses out of the fountains and brush away the tampons that had fallen from their banners.

The danger, however, according to Caroline, is that the needs of domestic violence victims are all too easy to sideline: “This is by its nature something that goes on behind closed doors,” she says. As funding tightens, these voices musn’t be squeezed out.

Sisters Uncut is an intersectional group open to all who identify as women. The national domestic violence helpline offers help and support on 0808 2000 247. Members of the LGBT communities can also access tailored support from Broken Rainbow on 0800 9995428.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.