Kate Middleton & the Trouble With Fairytales

Last week when news of Prince William’s engagement to long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton broke, I didn’t really have a reaction. After eight years of waiting around for her boyfriend (does it make a difference that he happens to be the future King of England?), I was happy for Kate that she finally got the ring she clearly was ready and willing to sacrifice plenty for.
And the Comparisons Begin: Prince William Proposes to Long-Time Girlfriend Kate Middleton With His Mother's Infamous Sapphire & Diamond Engagement Ring. Image Credit: Flickr

No feminist analysis immediately came to mind until the media world got in a frenzy with all the fairytale metaphors and princess puns. Then I stumbled onto this post over at Jezebel that made me realize the extent of Disney’s influence over our completely unrealistic and yes, even dangerous ideas of love, marriage and general approach to relationships.

Seriously, what gives? I know a lot of young women and girls hold fairytales extremely close to their hearts, but I didn’t realize the degree to which these stories of princesses being whisked away in their pumpkin-turned carriages, or being awoken after a few hundred years long nap by some blond dude that women actually try to materialize in their real lives. Or worse, wait around for to come true.
The Dangers of Carrying Fairytales Into Our Adulthood? Distorted Realities. Image Credit: Jezebel

No wonder we have such high divorce rates and dysfunctional relationships in the world! Are we really trying to reenact Disney? Do we really still harbor fantasies of being saved by some man, even secretly? Have we not understood by now that fairytales, as they are commonly described, are just stories that have not ended yet? Have we not figured out that rodents and birds, as cute as they may appear in Disney animations, will not be helping sew our dress for the ball?

Don’t get me wrong, growing up I wholeheartedly enjoyed my share of Disney animated features, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Robin Hood, you name it I re-watched it countless times. But I am discovering that those story-lines did not influence me nearly as much as I see they have with other women and girls.

Could this be because I grew up in Bangladesh with a higher dose of Bollywood films, and was more concerned about how to coordinate my dance moves with my countless array of backup dancers, grooving our way to synchronized dance heaven? Perhaps growing up in South Asia made my idea of the perfect courtship look less like an animated fairytale and more like this, (please note backup dancers):

Bollywood Icons Aishwariya and Madhuri Perform the Ultimate Dance-Off For Their Man, Devdas. Image Credit: Flickr

I suppose we all harbor some form of fantasy influenced by movies and cartoons that our cultures place value on. Or perhaps the movies and cartoons project an exaggerated version of our society’s belief systems. Whatever it may be, I feel as though the upcoming Royal Wedding is causing a deluge of all our wildest fairytale fantasies at a time of severe global economic recession for one key reason: we desperately need the escape. And the public, in Great Britain and around the world, have decided to find this in Prince William and Kate’s wedding.

Then my cousin pointed out the following Guardian piece to me that brought up several scary and valid points that question how we can even try to make a modern-day fairtytale out of this couple’s relationship considering what we know about the royal family.

Columnist Kira Cochrane states in her post, “Royal Wedding: Does Kate Middleton Know What She’s Doing?” that everything we know about the royal family’s relationships, both personal and with their society, is dysfunctional. Even more terrifying is the history the British Royal Family has of emotionally destroying the women who marry into it:

The dread about Middleton’s predicament derives, of course, at least in part from the stories of her predecessors. There was Sarah Ferguson, a woman who had once seemed bold, funny and unfettered, ever ready to prod someone’s bottom with an umbrella or poke fun at herself, reduced a few months back to hustling for money in a hotel room, trying to sell access to her ex-husband. There was Sophie Rhys-Jones, now Countess of Wessex, who went into her marriage to Prince Edward as a proud career woman, but was soon accused of trading on the royal name, and retreated, chastened and very likely chagrined, into the wings. And then there was Princess Diana, the shy, naive, as well as brave and intelligent woman, whose story has become so iconic that it doesn’t need to be retold – suffice to say, it ended badly. The royal family does have a knack of taking women who are either independent, or on the brink of independence, and bringing them very low.

Cochrane disturbingly points out not only what happens to women in the royal family, but what kind of woman one must be to even be considered to be allowed in it in the first place.  One of Kate Middleton’s biggest advantages with Queen Elizabeth are the eight years she has had to convince her that she is no Diana. Which testifies to the caliber of women the palace prefers- passive and submissive:

The royal family have learned to manage women who enter that family, instead of learning how to embrace a normal young woman – with a job, a history, who’s complicated, has made mistakes, recovered from them, lived a life that is useful and engaged and connected to her generation. None of those things will apply to Kate…And this fact means some potentially very irritating months ahead, in which marriage is once again cited as the greatest possible achievement for a woman, in which prospective wifedom is put on the highest pedestal…The wedding will be represented as a fairytale for people to look up to –when it’s not that at all.

The Look of Love: Does Kate Deserve Credit Just for Finding Her Prince? Image Credit: Flickr

Which brings us back to our whole obsessions with fairytales. Why do we refuse to let them go? And why are we all only too happy to rejoice and take part in watching this woman, who is clearly only too willing to exchange her life for her fairytale fantasy, despite us all knowing by now that fairytales don’t have the best track record of ending well?

I guess it may be unfair and slightly premature to start raining on Kate’s parade. But there are certain undeniable truths about the sacrifices this young woman has already made for her upcoming nuptials in addition to her career in fashion (Kate shortly worked for the British clothing brand, Jigsaw), and her photography (Kate had planned an exhibition she ended up not showing). As Cochrane states, “What’s deeply dangerous about Kate for the monarchy, is that she looks as purposeless as the rest of them.”

In many ways, Middleton has already failed to use her entry into this family as an opportunity to make them more modern. Instead she has convinced the Queen that she will not been reaping havoc and causing scandals galore like Diana, making herself much easier to “manage” (read: control). Kate is more willing to adjust to the royal family’s ways than have them adjust to her, and in the process allowing the monarchy to remain unchanged when what it so desperately needs is to change.

All this being said, Kate clearly loves William and maybe at the end of the day, she is doing all this for love. But something about that doesn’t sit too well with me. Perhaps it’s the whole fairtytale factor thing.

Or maybe, just maybe, Kate Middleton has bigger plans than any one of us could imagine. I mean, Queen Elizabeth is not getting any younger, and guess who happens to be waiting in the wings to be Queen? Perhaps that was the ambition of “Waity Katey”, as the British press famously dubbed Middleton, all along.

Maybe Ms. Middleton will get to have her fairytale, the last laugh, and show us all how it’s done- as Queen of England.

*This post of mine was also published on Feministing.

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