The Duchess of Cambridge carrying her own son, rather than getting a nanny to do it. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the Duchess of Cambridge is not ripping up the royal rule book – but that’s not her fault

Kate has been declared a rebel for daring to carry her own child. What?

Once again, the Duchess of Cambridge has been caught ripping up “the royal rule book”. This time it’s for carrying baby George rather than allowing a nanny to do it. This is really out there, isn’t it? Go Kate! Fuck them, don’t do what they told ya!

I’m old enough to remember when Diana brought that same breath-of-fresh-air sense of rebellion to royal motherhood. It’s as strained and artificial then as it is now. Sure, Kate seems to love motherhood in the same way Diana did, which is nice, but the way the tabloids and glossies try to big this up as a dramatic shift establishment mores is painful. Seriously, your son is cute and I’m glad you don’t hate him but I still want to see a republic asap.

It doesn’t take a great deal of critical though to see how ridiculous the whole Kate the Rebel construct is. Nonetheless, it’s such a common trope – see a woman doing a traditional woman-y thing and present it as something radical – that I’m fast losing the will to live. Baking cakes! Selling sex! Being a stay-at-home mum! Refusing the vote! It’s all totes counter-cultural. Indeed, if you judge by the cover of Closer and Heat, just being a woman who dares to have a body is pretty darn edgy. You left the house with thighs like that? High five, sister!

Now I’ve nothing against choice or rebellion or baking cakes. But let’s be honest: this is bullshit. We are women! We are still oppressed as women! We remain mere cogs in the patriarchal machine so can we please stop pretending we’re each our own personal Joan of Arc?

The feminism of the 1970s and 1980s – the first feminism I encountered – proposed that women need be defined neither by motherhood nor by the male sexual gaze. Good idea, right? Yet the opportunity not to be defined in this way has never really come along, although we’ve had so much time to think it over – so much time in which it’s been claimed by those who withhold it that we do have choice and agency – that we almost believe the opportunity came and went. It’s a kind of false memory syndrome. Oh yes, we thought about doing things differently but look, thirty years down the line and we’re not! Must’ve chosen this route. But come on: we just didn’t.

To make matters worse, if you hold the view that previous feminist battles are over (and that old feminism won) then you could argue that a rejection of the things previous feminists fought for is a rejection of the status quo. I mean, it’s not a very good argument, but it’s there every time a new rebel feminist comes out the likes of this (from a Frisky article by Jessica Wakeman):

Feminists need to accept the fact that some people, many of them women, feel happier and more fulfilled in a domestic arena than they are by office culture.

Or this (from Jodie Marsh):

I earn money from lads mags. I'm in control. I'm holding the power. I'm a feminist, a modern day one (the very best kind)

Woo-hoo! Go you! Tear up the Feminist Rule Book, why don’t you? It’s almost like equality actually happened!

The trouble with all this is, if it’s not a real choice – if there’s not an actual rule book but you’re just selling the same old shit back to yourself, tied up in an empowerment bow – you might be happy as an individual but the overall conditions are likely to be just as woeful as they were before. It’s not that your choice is wrong, it’s that it was non-existent. Rather than kicking back against a now-irrelevant feminist orthodoxy you’re fighting a straw man while your life remains defined by someone else’s needs.  You’re Kate and Diana, bravely hugging your children like the revolution depended on it, all the while propping up the same old thieving establishment with your free spirit PR. This is not to say that women such as Marsh are unhappy or that they don’t, as individuals, have control over their lives. It’s to say that, when it comes to making a broader point about “modern day” feminism, they’re talking utter bollocks.

If some feminists criticise pornography or traditional gender roles it’s not because they see nudity or stay-at-home motherhood as inherently wrong. It’s not because feminism is now so mainstream that glamour models and SAHMs are outsiders who scare the life out of your traditional women’s libber. Glamour models and SAHMs are routinely undermined and deserve better treatment. But outsiders? Hell, no. They’re right at the centre of things.

Take stay-at-home mothers, for instance (by which I mean normal, not royal, ones). The presumption that women take on the majority of unpaid domestic work is fundamental to how capitalist patriarchy functions. What stay-at-home mothers experience in return is not rejection, but a shocking lack of appreciation. This is not accidental. Capitalist patriarchy does it because it can and it will keep on doing it as long as “rebellion” is pitched as standing up to those nasty careerist feminists who don’t see what a brilliant job you do, unlike, say, Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail. This isn’t rebellion against the feminist orthodoxy. It’s pissing in the wind (or maybe even pissing with it).

In The End of Equality Beatrix Campbell explains what a real domestic revolution would consider:

Nowhere have men en masse been persuaded to share power, time, money, resources and respect equally with women. […] Global fiscal policies do not audit the unpaid work that makes the world go round: the un-priced and priceless work of care, estimated at between one-third and half of GDP. Feminist scholars Sue Himmelweit and Hilary Land spell it out: to treat care as just a cost, to withdraw support from care is the ‘transfer of resources (unpaid labour) from women to relieve taxpayers, disproportionately men’.

To change this would not depend on some abstract idea of inclusion. It’s about real, measurable things: time and money. It’s not about representation nor about how caring work is marketed to the masses; it’s about what we take from the women who do it and how they are rewarded in return. It’s not about patting women on the head or flattering their egos by telling them they’re so damn edgy that prudish, anti-maternal old-style feminism can’t cope. It’s about finally taking a deep breath and saying “stop stealing my stuff!”

Of course, it’s very hard to do this when we’re constantly told that we’re already in the midst of a great cultural free-for-all. A member of the royal family carries her own baby! A woman with big tits gets them out for the lads! Choose your friends, choose your low-paid job, choose your hair-removal method! Can things GET any more radical?

Not to be dismissive of Rebel Kate’s efforts, but I’d like to think they could.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Getty
Show Hide image

Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.