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.
‘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