Since the advent of the One Dimensional Man’s collision with so-called sexual liberation of women, the Madonna whore dichotomy has never been more prevalent in society. From Jerry Hall’s now ubiquitous statement; “to keep a man; you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom” to endless articles debating whether or not women “have it all”, gender divide has never been so prevalent.
Perhaps the most exquisite representation of this in British society is the projection of such a complex, the virtuous maiden and the exciting Aphrodite, on to the newest members of our Royal family.
Whether you are pro, anti- or indifferent towards the British monarchy, their presence and evolution into “celebrity” culture cannot be denied. In the 2010s, the focal point has not been the Royals themselves, but the celebrity status and archetypal representation of women entering the Royal family.
Kate the Chaste
Free fashion magazine The Stylist published an article entitled “Why we all want to believe in Kate”. The article reads like a shopping list of what a woman must do in order to secure a reputation as feminine, modest, conservative, reticent and, critically, ideal wife material. After all, when one becomes a wife, one must surrender to her husband’s wishes, ambitions and needs.
The reader is informed that “Kate, with a dignified elegance, is providing a much-needed role model” and “we crave a solid and dependable role model who acts with decorum and makes us feel safe. And Kate fits that mould perfectly” and not to mention “we’re almost biologically programmed to buy into a fairytale ending… Kate is radiant in the certainty that William loves her just the way she is, and that one day he is going to make her his queen”.
If you are concerned at all about the misogynistic premise of this article is made so far, don’t fear, “on a primitive level, we all have fantasies of finding the perfect person, so will inevitably respond positively to the narrative that fits within that parameter”. It’s not clear from the article whether this refers to a biological predisposition for romantic, rose tinted preconceptions established by fairytale literature, or is in fact, and are much more likely, bunkham.
Indeed, as Mariette Nowak observes in Eve’s Rib, biology and sociobiology can only identify the importance of female choice, which, despite the biological investment in the ovum, may still result in the male walking, swimming or flying away after copulation. Far from a predisposition to “the one” and other subjective patriarchal concepts designed to maintain the predominantly religious institution of marriage, this is an almost purely social evolution which cannot be attributed to biological or spurious references to primitive inclinations.
The description of Kate continued to embrace the representation of a “Demure Duchess“, representing purity, virtue and chastity, which, as every girl knows from fairy tales depicting Madonna/whore dichotomies, is the only way to “ensnare” a man.
As Phyllis and Eberhard commented in the Sexual Sophisticate, “Like most young girls, I had always been vaguely longing for my ‘Prince Charming’ to come and awaken me with his magic kiss”
And indeed, this is the crux of the issue. The nation’s latest sweetheart, Duchess Catherine, has married a real-life Prince. Despite the light years of progression feminism has achieved, we are never truly relieved the pressure to be Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White et al, especially when such hegemonic representations and social construction require one to follow a pattern of austere and decorus behaviour in order to capture a chance at happily-ever-after.
Not only does the UK have it’s own fiction to tide us through a global recession, but the personal brand of Kate Middleton is helping to perpetuate social myths and gender exclusion for another generation; from self identification – “Kate made clear her fashion intentions early on… this makes us warm to her… we view her as an idealised version of ourselves”, to how life should progress once married – “Kate is pulling off her professional duties – be that accompanying her husband… (making) numerous public appearances either alone or with the Queen and Camilla, or visiting Birmingham”. There is nothing egalitarian about this representation, Princess or not.
The epitome of promiscuity, or certainly painted so by the tabloid media, Pippa Middleton represents the other end of the scale of the representation of the idealisation of women.
She is charming, risk-taking, daring and wanton. The nation’s fixation upon her rear end demands far more attention than is worthy.
Pippa represents all that is attractive, accessible, and above all, condoned, of the current ‘sleb’ fixation on the newest additions to the Royal Family. Unlike Kate, Pippa’s behaviour often contends that of her demure sister, and would be considered shocking behaviour for the wife of a Royal.
However, Pippa is not constrained by the same rules and regulations as Kate. Therefore, if she is allowed to break the rules, then the media, and the public, are also allowed to break the rules by lusting after her.
Whether Pippa intentionally courts such attention is up for debate. One could argue that sitting in a friend’s convertible when he is holding a toy gun in the air is certainly provocative. But such behavior also helps condition our understanding of her as deliciously dangerous and licentious.
Adorning a variety of clothing, Pippa can be found across the Internet on celebrity gossip pages, on dedicated blogs, on fan pages and in every newspaper. The slow build of the concept of her as the “sexy one” has resulted in her name becoming synonymous with synonyms for the rear end.
But alongside Kate, the polarised sister is as much of a two-dimensional, duplicitous image.
Detrimental to Society?
Patriarchal overtones of rendering women as two sides of a meaningless coin stretch back centuries. The battle between the virgin and the slut is perpetuated on a daily basis and yet has no real rendition in the animal kingdom.
Kate and Pippa may be the current representations of entrenched misogynistic behaviour, and it is necessary to challenge them as much as possible. Ultimately, they are both sexualisations at opposite ends of the scale. Neither woman presents a challenging career, you never hear about their personalities, their wit or their intelligence; only about their attractiveness and inferences gained from this.
Establishing another generation of happily-ever-after could set back equality crusades even further. Many people who read the vast amount of feminist literature that is available generally agree to identify the falsehood of fairytales and the liberation from repressive hetero-normative behaviours.
Kate may represent an antidote to the increasingly overly sexualised advertising that new generations are exposed to, but she is in fact just another example of a female stereotype to be aspired to. And almost as if to emphasise this, her sister is the other end of the scale, just an alternative form of objectification.