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.