Sunday, May 1, 2011

In (reluctant) Defense of Kate Middleton

Occasionally, I like to boycott major television events, like the Super Bowl and the Oscars. I find it keeps me saner and more benevolent (neurosis and envy being my two big character flaws). But I couldn't pull it off for William and Kate's wedding. My mother woke me up at 6am to watch it live, and even The Economist ran a homepage story titled "Who made it on to the Westminster Abbey invite list, and who didn't."

There is a thrill in watching such an event--an adrenaline rush that can make our hearts soar. It feels good, like love or admiration.

The problem is that it's not. At least not for me. I've come to realize that that particular thrill, the one that also makes me rehearse my Oscar acceptance speech in the shower, is the seduction of envy. After all, I wouldn't be envious if it felt bad from the start. Envy sneaks in disguised as admiration and attraction. I don't want to be the other person, I just want what they have. I blame the seduction of envy for my many relationships with white men. I didn't want to be them, but oh, to be close to that life of relative ease. Imagine--a name everyone could pronounce, a demographic everyone catered to, from politicians to reality TV. (I should also admit that this insight has not diminished my attraction to white men.)

I knew envy was creeping in when I was trolling the Web on Friday for some feminist critique of the wedding, especially Kate. And some writers made some good points, like Kate's lack of career focus. Or so I thought. Until I thought some more.

What is so wrong with Kate choosing a conservative lifestyle? Is it really so antithetical to feminism? I agree that feminism should knock down the barriers to equal pay, but does that mean every woman must work (or every man)? I agree that feminism should end the misogyny that lets men treat women like property. But if William is protective of Kate because he loves her, not because he thinks he (or the royal family) own her, is that so bad?

Is it so wrong that a woman chose to marry for love, is gentle in nature, and chooses to be a supportive stateswoman of a wife? Granted, I would have loved to have seen William marry a woman more likely to be a Queen like Draupadi, or even the Buddha's wife, Yashodra, but I don't think the Royal family wouldn't have looked kindly on a brown woman, even if she was of royal birth.

And therein lies the real rub. I'm not envious of Kate's dress, or wedding, or even her great pick of a husband. It's the life of relative ease. and that only seems accessible to rich (and mostly white) people, that I envy. Sure, the paparazzi will hound her. But to be raised in comfort, to go to one of the best universities, to know that one illness or accident will not knock out your savings account, to meet the love of your life in your 20s, and to know that he's got your back--it's a privilege and fortune that turns me green. I can't help thinking it's all worth an occasional embarrassing photo. The pettier side of me wants to say she's a bad feminist role model and the whole event is "atavistic." But that's a cop out. Not simply because I have a soft spot for the return of monarchies. (Unlike the Corporate democracy we have now, a monarchy would let us hold someone squarely responsible if, say, the economy tanked.) But because my criticisms--she lacks focus, she's timid, it's an antiquated event--are all hollow. A lack of focus, timidity, and maintaining conservative rituals are not moral ills to society. They're just not a privilege I get to have.

And that's Kate's big "sin"-- she gets the good fortune of happiness, while the rest of us imagine it. At least for now. There's still Prince Harry...

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