The new British girl-power: less Ginger, more royal

by Stephanie Thomas / Beacon Staff • November 3, 2011

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While my Emerson friends woke up at 3 a.m. to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton, I sat in my small, West London dorm, five hours ahead, and watched the live stream on the official royal wedding website. A 30 minute walk from Westminster Abbey, I could have grabbed my faded duvet and sat on the Mall with other abroad students and royal enthusiasts — but I had a plane to Boston to catch. Nonetheless, as a committed Anglophile, I decided Heathrow could wait until the “I do’s” and that running to terminal five would be worth it.

My four months studying in London had me reading headline after headline about the impending royal nuptials and walking to Westminster to see the media preparations — even contemplating a commemorative tea towel purchase. I felt my breath catch when “Waity Katie,” as tabloids dubbed Middleton for her patience to walk down the aisle, stepped out of that Rolls-Royce in her custom Sarah Burton-designed gown. My heart was already aflutter at the sight of William in his crimson Irish Guard uniform, and his younger brother, Harry, generated squeals of schoolgirl adoration for his devilish grin and rakish charm. Plus, he still has a full head of glorious red hair, a major factor that places him ahead of balding William on my lust list.

Last week, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced a parliamentary movement to abolish the rule that male heirs would take precedence over female heirs in the line of succession. This legislation will go into effect before the next election to make sure that any offspring of Wills and Kate are covered. Should the stork drop a pink blanket-swaddled child at the Duke and Duchess’s feet, the little princess would spend her life preparing to take the throne from her father. Any brothers that follow would go to the back of the line.

As a first grader, I wasn’t impressed with the American equivalent of the monarchy — the first family — or Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time. I could name Henry VIII’s six wives and which ones were beheaded, and I was the only middle schooler to prefer Paul McCartney to Justin Timberlake. I traipsed around the house perfecting my British accent, which was a sad imitation of Ginger Spice that I have since sophisticated into a sad imitation of Keira Knightley. Flipping through my mother’s glossy People magazine, I became fascinated by Princess Diana and her collection of hats, pearls, and other shiny things. When she died, my dear mumsy had to break the news to me carefully, so as not to shatter my childhood dream of getting a photo taken while shaking her hand.

The possibility that Diana’s granddaughter could be queen serves a larger purpose than just selling knickknacks in Piccadilly Circus. It is a much-needed step for women in power around the world.

For the last 310 years, the first male born to the future monarch took the first spot in the line of succession, whether he had one older sister or twelve older sisters. The only way a daughter of royalty could become queen was if, like Elizabeth II, she had no brothers. This practice has long been viewed as old-fashioned, but the monarchy hinges its relevance on tradition and a national identity. The queen has limited political power, but the monarchy is culturally significant to more than the groups of royal-watchers camped outside of Buckingham Palace. This legislation is an important demonstration of gender equality — and who doesn’t love a little girl power?

Currently, there are only 20 female presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors around the world. Here in the States, there are a mere five women in President Obama’s cabinet, and only 17 percent of congressional seats are held by women. While the Pew Research Center reported that 10 million more women voted in 2008 than men, the female presence in Congress and the White House is rather dismal.

Before Obama won the Democratic nomination, his toughest competitor was Hillary Clinton, arguably the strongest female presidential candidate in our country’s short history. Elevating the profile of women in positions of power — ceremonial or not — represents progress. When more women are recognized globally for charity and political action, rather than pure celebrity, young girls will be exposed to better role models.

Time will tell if the Duchess is the next Diana. Should she and the Duke produce a female heir, the next generation will see if their daughter follows in a great line of women monarchs. Afterall, we glorify the age of queens — Elizabethan Age, Victorian Age — and remember the kings for their faults. Heads off to Henry VIII.

emStephanie Thomas is a senior writing, literature, and publishing major and the lifestyle editor of the Beacon. Thomas can be reached at stephanie_thomas@emerson.edu Follow her on Twitter @petites_verites./em

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