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19 November 2010

Royal wedding reveals the same old class prejudices

Britons find the idea people of moving beyond one's social class both desirable and at the same time

By Stefan Simanowitz

Whilst the candor and the maturity of those two young people describing their intention to spend the rest of their lives together was surprisingly moving, the British media’s wall-to-wall fawning coverage of the royal engagement exposed the fact that the United Kingdom remains a deeply class-ridden and sexist society.

If news reports are to be believed, Kate Middleton has not only fulfilled every girl’s dream of marrying a prince – albeit one with thinning hair and fading looks – but by bagging the ‘ultimate prize’ she has also set the bench-mark in social climbing. The press obsess about the fact that Middleton is marrying above her station. Her parents are “in trade” running a mail-order company and were once both airline stewards. Indeed, Kate is the first “commoner” to marry into British royalty in 350 years but instead of being cause for celebration, this fact has been met with sneering snobbery from all sides.

William and Kate’s relationship is commonly described as a Cinderella story and like the original fairytale this modern romance is also rife with negative gender stereotyping and ugly class prejudice. Despite the veneer of Disneyfication, this royal fairytale and our reactions to it expose many of the worst aspects of British society. Unlike America where climbing the social ladder is celebrated, Britons find the idea people of moving beyond one’s social class both desirable and at the same time repellant. Britons aspire to upward mobility but despise themselves and are despised for it.

Whilst I genuinely hope William and Kate share many long and happy years together I find it hard to buy into the fairytale. Although her prince may have come and Kate Middleton may relocate to a palace, she has not been handed the key to happiness. Her parents may bristle with pride at their daughter’s ‘advantageous marriage’ but after the ball is over the new princess will have to get used to a lifetime of dull social events, official functions and media intrusion. Although it is unlikely that she will ever become a feminist icon or a class warrior, we can but hope that the arrival of Lady Kate may yet challenge rather than reinforce some of Britain’s most deep-seated prejudices.

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Stefan Simanowitz is a journalist, broadcaster and human rights campaigner, you can see more of his work here.