Let's calm down about Hilary Mantel

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If you didn’t know who Hilary Mantel was before now, all you need to know is that she’s a big, fat, barren, feminist turn-coat.

That is, if you believe what you read in the tabloids.

Mantel’s sin was to give a speech about the British Monarchy at the British Museum in which she made mention of Our Kate — or is it Their Catherine? —Middleton.

Hilary Mantel.

Hilary Mantel.

‘Aren’t they nice to look at?’ Mantel said about the monarchy. ‘Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage… I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes.’

The speech, which has been published in the latest edition of the London Review of Books, provided a cogent, and beautifully expressed analysis of the way the media, the public and the royal family both objectifies and crucifies its members — particularly those with vaginas. (Yes, she dares to imply that royal women have vaginas).

Never ones for restraint and civility, the British press transformed her speech into a girl-on-girl catfight between the ugly, barren Mantel and the beautiful, pregnant Duchess of Cambridge. 

The Daily Mail, for example, likened Mantel’s speech to a ‘boxing match setting Muhammad Ali at the height of his powers against Victoria Beckham at her most undernourished.’ Note the dog whistle about beauty and weight. 

Even British Prime Minister David Cameron bought tickets to the bitch-slapping showdown by calling Mantel's comments ‘completely misguided and completely wrong’.

If the Booker Prize winning author had been born in the period she writes about in her current best-seller Bring Up the Bodies, there would be calls to ‘off with her head’.

Hardly a shining example of the media’s research and investigative skills, this storm in a teacup was caused by a mere 600 or so words out of a 5600 word speech.

‘I saw Kate becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung,’ Mantel said. ‘In those days she was a shop-window mannequin, with no personality of her own, entirely defined by what she wore. These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions.’

This is not an attack on the Duchess, but rather a criticism of the role which we have all squeezed her into. In fact, if we weren’t all addicted to the salacious royal gossip, the media may in fact have realised that Mantel is defending and protecting Kate — suggesting that she is capable of more than sweet smiles, deference and providing womb services.

In 2013 it’s scandalous that we’re all apparently fine with a tertiary educated, worldly and mature Princess with no power to express herself other than via her choice of fashion.

It’s curious how people have so spectacularly missed the point of Mantel’s speech. Historian Alison Weir in a reprint in the Sydney Morning Herald is seemingly unaware of the irony when she writes, ‘As for poor Kate, whom tradition denies a voice to respond to criticism, is she really "a shop window mannequin, with no personality of her own"?

How is she not a mannequin? Other than defending her from ‘vicious personal attacks’, our discussion of Kate is limited to her frocks, her breasts and baby bump. And all the while she is permitted the emotional range of smile to coy grin.

The issue here is not about ‘poor Kate’ at all. Mantel’s speech may well have been filed under the ‘boring but worthy’ category if the claims about the monarchy were not made by a woman.

Just as Mantel criticises commentary about the monarchy for being ‘empty of content, mouthed rather than spoken’, the same criticism can be leveled at the reporting of debates between women. In the era of ‘go-girl’ feminism the act of one woman disagreeing with another becomes the story. If one woman is older and fatter, then so much the better. Then we can reduce the exchange of ideas to a jealous row between Snow White and her ugly step-mother.

Forcing all women to ‘play nice and get along’ and crucifying them for their non-compliance, discredits their ideas by way of distraction. Just like Kate, it turns us all into jointed dolls with plastic smiles.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

29 comments

  • Manufactured outrage. It may be worth reading the entire article that was published in the London Review of books before shooting mouths off. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n04/hilary-mantel/royal-bodies
    However this sort of reasoned commentary would not push up the analytics and thus keep the journos job safe for another day.

    Commenter
    Chiklit
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    February 21, 2013, 8:09AM
    • Yes, how dare an overweight woman proffer any kind of opinion at all, how dare she speak out. Let alone one who as had the audacity to not have children!! So not only as she the temerity not to use her uterus and vagina for what it was designed for, she has chosen to cover it in man-repellent (fat), and then (GASP) mention a thin and pretty girl's name. Never mind the point she was trying to make.. she dared to utter her name, she is not worthy!! She is fat, childless and well, FAT! I don't think I need to go on... off with her fat head.

      Commenter
      millymollymoo
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 21, 2013, 8:38AM
      • Totally agree with you and Hilary. The fact that a tertiary educated women is reduced to a walking womb who wears clothes is sickening. If William is allowed to fly helicopters why is his wife reduced to walking, smiling and discussing the jacket she is wearing. It's like looking through a window to the 19th century!

        If ever there was proof that the monachy is an outdated, pointless tradition it's right there in Kate's vacuous, dimpled smile.

        Commenter
        Liv
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 21, 2013, 8:46AM
        • Thank you Kasey Edwards for a sensible analysis. Hilary Mantel is a wonderful author and I have long admired her. Why is her weight such an issue for some very silly, soul less people? It is due to medication.

          Commenter
          Susan Costello
          Location
          West Hobart
          Date and time
          February 21, 2013, 8:50AM
          • Hilary Mantel was actually the one who brought up weight, saying that Kate was too thin. That was her error.

            Commenter
            Jose
            Date and time
            February 21, 2013, 9:15AM
          • Jose, Mantel was discussing how Kate is portrayed - the media is obsessed with Kate's weight, and it was in that context that Mantel mentioned it.

            Commenter
            pb
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            February 21, 2013, 12:09PM
          • Jose - She didn't say she was too thin (implying personal judgement), she said she was 'painfully thin', and what Hilary was getting at was that Kate is thin enough for nobody to pick on her for not being thin.

            Commenter
            Cass
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            February 21, 2013, 3:12PM
        • The Daily Mail is referred to as The Daily Hate Mail for just this reason. Next to pilloring 'benefits scroungers', fawning over the Royal Family and spitting bile at anyone who dares countenance that worship is their favorite target.

          Commenter
          Jace
          Date and time
          February 21, 2013, 9:01AM
          • The full text of Mantel speech, while provides more context and media/community's role in rendering the royals to the current state, is still adequately full of venom against Kate. Except for the timing when Kate is halfway through next monarch, and when she has just been recovering from the hyperemesis that somehow proved indirectly fatal to a serving nurse, Mantel's point is valid. Kate or any other in her shoes, are enforced celebrity, and media sugar-babies as these ladies provide all the spice for tabloid's survival. Neither Kate and similar celebrities, nor the symbiotic tabloids provide any positive action for the community.

            No wonder tabloids got mad over Mantel. Jealous, but truthful Mantel.
            Lately, since Diana - Royals began to realize the expensive but jobless ladies may prove costly in the long run and ah, all of sudden those ladies began to be seen hugging marasmic brown and black children (surely they had antiseptic bath ten times afterwards). Now tell me how much of their personal fortune have they given away to the community or the deserving world? Now Kate does that with utmost reluctance that is painted in her masked facies. We have seen that in your medias too often.

            Fat and barren Mantel is, and jealous to the core of her heart, but she is right.

            Commenter
            neutralman
            Location
            sydney
            Date and time
            February 21, 2013, 9:22AM
            • Jealous? I don't think so. Barren? Please tell which century you are visiting from?

              Commenter
              Susan Costello
              Location
              West Hobart
              Date and time
              February 21, 2013, 9:41AM

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