Working mothers, we should all rage, rage against Kate Middleton.Apparently, by quitting her day job at her parents’ company, she’s let the side down. Let the sharpening of fingernails commence!
Here’s another woman of privilege who could be setting an example by maintaining a career, but who has instead chosen a life of leisure. She has, as Katrina Onstad suggests in her Globe and Mail piece, “[u]nwittingly stepped into the opt-out debate”; by leaving the workforce, Middleton has sided herself with other educated, powerful women (like, suggests Onstad, so many women who leave the workforce to raise their children) for whom work is best avoided.
Given that Middleton is 29 and childless, I question whether she stepped, or was pushed. And as a working mother, ask me if I care whether the princess works at paid employment or not. I’m too busy folding laundry at 11 pm to give a fig.
Middleton is one of maybe a handful of women across the world who live lives of such privilege that they, through birth or marriage, may hold the title of “princess”*. She is everything I am not: childless, wealthy, thin, and blessed with all the time in the world (okay, 10 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting?) to plan a dream wedding. I vaguely recall trying to interview caterers on my lunch hour while planning my own wedding. I would have given my left leg (its absence wouldn’t have been noticeable; my dress was long) for the luxury of that sort of free time. And I didn’t even have David Beckham and Posh Spice on the guest list. But I digress.
Middleton is, in short, no role-model of mine. But in her defense, if three billion people were going to be watching MY wedding, I’d probably have quit my job to worry about the details, too. And if I’d signed up for a lifetime of travel, charity balls and hospital openings, I wouldn’t be too concerned with the contents of the want-ads.
But wait. Kate’s a modern princess! Why, asks Onstad, can’t Kate be a working princess, too?
Why not, indeed. And if she chooses to, now, or in a few years, she should. But why should she? Did we miss the part where it was stated that she’s a princess? As in, a woman living a life of privilege bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the lives of any of the women I know?
Apparently, being a princess, with all that entails (and Diana knows, most of us wouldn’t want that gig) is not enough. No, Middleton needs paid employment as well, even if she ends up donating half of that to charity. Why she wouldn’t just do charitable work — like other princesses — isn’t contemplated. Onstat seems to been in possession of a crystal ball of remarkable clarity, such that she has managed to both predict Middleton’s future (or lack thereof) and condemn her to a life of banality in one fell swoop. Let this be a lesson to working women everywhere: don’t quit your day job.
I suppose, if Middleton dies tomorrow, her epitaph might be: “Putative Princess. Expected to accomplish nothing else. Sad, really”.
But let’s be clear: Kate Middleton, for all that she embodies the new, common-touch royalty, is quite simply no longer one of us, and her getting a job won’t change that. Oh, she is unremarkable in some ways – caught up as so many women are, in planning what is often thought of as one of the most important days of one’s life – but right or wrong, her contribution to society will never be measured by how many widgets she can pack into a box in five minutes.
Nor, for that matter, will her husband’s. But no one’s asking him to get a job at Tesco.
As for Michelle Obama, Onstad suggests that she is yet another one of those “spouses of powerful men, who give up their jobs and recede”. I like to think, however, that she’s just biding her time. In the spirit of compromise.
It’s worked for some pretty powerful women. One might ask Hillary Clinton how it’s working for her.
*June 2011 update: In the interest of accuracy, Catherine, as she is now to be known, is not a true princess but is now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Still doesn’t change the fact that it’s unlikely she’ll be working anytime soon.