Nothing divides a nation like the criticism of a beloved celebrity, and this week in the firing line was St. Andrews’ own Kate Middleton. Recently, an award-winning British novelist Hilary Mantel reportedly referred to the expectant wife of Prince William as “plastic”, a woman whose sole purpose in life is to produce an heir. Mantel, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and 2012, claimed her comments were taken out of context, and that they referred to the general role of women in the royal family throughout history. Regardless, outrage has been provoked on social networking sites towards Mantel’s words, such that even Prime Minister David Cameron is said to regard them with disapproval. There are a number of supporters of Mantel, however, who believe she has only voiced what everyone is secretly thinking.
I believe the pertinent issue at hand is not whether or not Mantel was correct in her depiction of Middleton; the main question is, why is there such uproar from those who oppose it? It is one thing to disagree, but the British public seems to take near-personal offence. Is it simply British pride, and indignation at seeing the royal family criticised? Or is this more to do with the dirtying of the ostensibly ‘perfect’ female role model that Kate Middleton has come to embody? Frankly, the latter seems more likely.
The first thing to note is that Mantel’s “attack” is based around the Kate Middleton she sees in the media. To the national chagrin, it is evident that some of her supposed claims are merited. I can’t remember seeing an article about the Duchess of Cambridge – whether in a newspaper or gossip column – that didn’t focus on which glamorous designer she was wearing and a detailed description of her outfit or style. Words like “radiant” are frequently used and a beautiful but admittedly vacuous smile is always in place on her heavily made-up visage.
Kate Middleton’s marriage to Prince William has a fairy-tale-come-true aspect that fans of the couple have become swept up in. Middleton was, after all, a “commoner”, a recondite expression used to define anyone without aristocratic blood. In other words, she was once “just like you or me.” As a result of this, it has been warped into a ludicrous Cinderella rags-to-riches story. Hasn’t she achieved every girl’s dream, marrying a Prince?
No. It is wrong and even insulting to both her and women in general to put her on a pedestal for this. What Kate Middleton has achieved is falling in love with a man she wishes to spend the rest of her life with. Cameron described Middleton, during a visit to India as a “fantastic ambassador for Britain”. Why? It is true she is very popular worldwide but is ambassador the right word? If anything, she is more of mascot, and the best kind: a stunningly beautiful young woman who soon will be a mother.
This, regrettably, is still what the media enjoys idealising as a role model for woman. External beauty that trumps inner integrity remains the popular mind-set, and evidently too many buy into it. Why else would Mantel’s comments about the one-dimensional role of royal women spark such controversy? It is unpleasant to think that negative stereotypes still manifest themselves in this supposedly modern age of equality.
It is worth pointing out, if briefly, that if Kate Middleton happened to be less than conventionally attractive and not have such a keen eye for fashion she would likely be facing a barrage of negative media attention for quite different reasons.
It would be unfair for Mantel or indeed anyone to criticise Kate Middleton under the assumption that what we see in the media is an accurate depiction. The real Kate, that is known and loved by family, close friends and of course her husband, is an individual person with opinions and passions like anyone else. It is not this Kate that Mantel is referring to as a “shop-window mannequin”, but the rather the Kate we are presented by the media, the other half of Wills. Sadly, the only Kate we get to see.