Should marriage be seen as an 'achievement'?
The sisters, Pippa and Kate Middleton, applaud at a tennis match at Wimbledon last month.
It’s difficult to find reasons to criticise Kate Middleton. She seems so perfectly groomed, even-tempered and well-mannered, as close to perfect as possible. The best anyone has come up with so far are a few gripes about her alleged over-use of eyeliner and her heavy reliance on beige pumps.
But to British Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, K Middy (and others, including the pretty wife of British tennis player Andy Murray) is the poster-girl for an up-and-coming generation of women who have forgotten the lessons of feminism and aspire to be trophy wives and nothing more.
Writing in The Independent, Alibhai-Brown, an eminent journalist, laments the attitudes of the girls she addresses at school talks, who ‘‘want to be like Kate and Pippa, getting ready to be plucked by desirable bachelors’’.
Movie producer Harvey Weinstein, 60, and his wife of 8 years, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, 36. Photo: Getty
She referred to recent comments by Cherie Blair: ‘‘I was completely with her when recently at a conference, she slated women who made it their life’s mission to hook a loaded bloke and thought that was clever or fulfilling.’’
She knows the grown-up versions of these girls, she says. They are miserable and often dumped for younger women. They spend most of their married lives resenting the fact they wasted all their potential on children’s birthday parties and being beautiful for men they don’t much like any more.
Alibhai-Brown laments the ‘‘feminisation of feminism’’ and says that young women have air-brushed the hard-won struggles of our forebears - the fight for the vote, for pay equity and property rights and for domestic violence laws.
‘‘Today these hard-won struggles are either assumed to have just happened, or are not really interesting at all to women who have all that waxing and beautifying, buying and gossiping and smiling to do, not to mention squeeze in daily sessions with personal trainers and cherub raising,’’ she writes.
The piece had me nodding in agreement in some parts, and furious in others. The feminisation of feminism is definitely a thing, but I can’t decide if it’s altogether bad or just the natural correction of the perceived toughness of 70s-style feminism.
Women these days organise crazy-big, princess-for-a-day weddings, whereas our parents’ generation was mostly happy with a small service and an afternoon party. They fetishize cupcakes and squeal about shoes. They talk about food in moral terms - ‘‘Oh, I am so wicked to eat this cake!’’ or ‘‘I was terribly naughty last night and ordered pizza.’’
When I say ‘‘they’’, I mean us, me. I’m sure most women are guilty of this kind of rubbish - thinking that hating yourself for liking pizza (or pretending to hate yourself) is part of the divine essence of womanity.
But most of us who are sensible realise at some point that all this worrying about calories and cake and wrinkles and husband-hunting is objectionable because it’s dull, not because it’s anti-feminist.
And while most women these days don’t light votive candles and pray humble thanks to their feminist fore-mothers for bequeathing them gender equality, most Australians don’t venerate Sir Henry Parkes for establishing our democracy either. Likewise most people don’t consciously thank the great Renaissance philosophers for developing the concept of human rights.
It is the prerogative of young generations to adjust to major social reforms and take them for granted. That’s surely what the great reformers would want, for their once-radical ideas to become normalised and accepted as part of the moral furniture.
Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating conflict. It’s inter-generational nostalgia. Young contemporary women feel pulled in every direction by the demands of feminism, their biological clocks, and the ever-shifting social expectations placed on them.
So they romanticise a past they never had. They think that perhaps everything was easier when women were wives, made cupcakes and raised children.
Meanwhile the older generation is shouting at them, as though through a thick panel of sound-proof glass, that the grass was definitely not greener back then. That the older you get, the more you wish you had trusted your instincts instead of following what you thought the rules were.
But every generation must make fresh mistakes. While it’s silly for older women to expect thanks and veneration for what they have achieved for us, it’s even dumber for us younger women to forget our collective history, and doom ourselves to repeat it.