Misogyny in the Monarchy: Volume II

More on the traditions of monarchy…

My previous post asserted that a Head of State, the symbol of a country, should be chosen in a manner which reflects a country’s values. By blocking women from the Imperial Throne, Japan is effectively declaring that boys are better than girls. Sexism is institutionalised in Japan at the highest and most symbolic level. However, It is up to the people of Japan to decide whether their national symbols adequately reflect their values. It may be that the Japanese decide that they still do believe in the primacy of men over women. Since understand very little of Japanese culture, I will not concern myself with their constituional crisis further.

Besides, it is unnecessary for me to pronounce on sexism in Japan. A similar sexism is practiced in the UK, where unequal primogeniture is entrenched in law. A male child of the monarch will inherit ahead of his sister, even if she is older than him. The last time this occurred was in 1901, when Edward VII succeeded ahead of his older sister Victoria. Interestingly, she was the mother of Kaizer Wilhelm II of Germany, who would have inherited the British throne had a fairer system prevailed… although had this been the law at the time, Victoria would probably not have married a german in the first place.

Since Princes Willam and Harry are male (and, we assume, will continue to be), the issue of the laws of succession remain ignored and irrelevant for another generation. Nevertheless, the law stands. Just like Japan, sexism is encoded into the fabric of our country. A distinction between men and women could be made when biology is concerned (for example, in custody battles). But since the choice of Head of State exists entirely in the political sphere, the current system is entirely inappropriate to our 21st Century values. It is also out of keeping with many other progressive European monarchies, such as Norway, Sweden and The Netherlands. If the British Royal family are to ‘get back in touch’ with their subjects, then its female members should be placed on the same legal plane as their male relatives. It is a shame that this was not enacted at the same time Universal Suffrage:

“What do we want?”
“Cognatic Primogeniture!”
“When do want it?”
“Nineteen twenty-eight!”

Why bother complaining? It is not as if it affects anyone in the population at large, and women do sometimes get to be queen. However, I beleive this is an important argument, because it highlights fatal problems with the idea of a monarchy itself. The law that allows males to leap-frog females therefore institutionalises misogyny. By the same argument, the idea of hereditary political positions institutionalises and endorses unearned privilege. The most symbolic person in our country is not chosen by a vote, nor appointed by a committee of citizens. They are not even voted in by a lottery, as King Auberon is in The Napoleon of Notting Hill. Instead, they are given the position just because their parents had it. Nepotism of the worst kind, and the other citizens of the country have no say in the matter whatsoever. Not only are they powerless, but they are obliged to pay for someone else’s privilege.

Never mind the fact that we have an elected Prime Minister. Never mind the fact that we vote for local public officials. Never mind the fact that we have a press that scrutinises at every turn. Never mind the fact that the rule of law is strong in this country. Never mind that HM the Queen has no practical power. Even with all these positive, progressive aspects of our political system, the very existence of the monarchy means our country is both sexist and nepotistic at heart. By endorsing the system, we cannot escape endorsing these traits, which should have been consigned to the shame of history, long, long ago.

No amount of democracy and accountability in the other apsects of government can excuse the following fact: The highly symbolic and visible pinnacle of our system is a morally barren wasteland. For a people who believe in equality, this is simply not good enough – We owe it to ourselves to devise something better…

13 thoughts on “Misogyny in the Monarchy: Volume II

  1. I was very much looking forward to this post, but I fear you have hi-jacked the question of sexism to make a broader point on what looks to me like a very tenuous link. As a female, I cannot help but object.

    You said “sexism is encoded into the fabric of our country”, and I was thinking “how great to hear that from a man” (never mind that women have been saying it for decades, only to be dismissed as man-haters and ugly lesbians).

    While women are expected to take the surname of their husband when they marry, while children take the surname of the father as a matter of course, people will always prefer having boy children to girl children. It is not only political office and privilege that are hereditary, and whose inheritance rules are founded in misogyny.

    Only the other week, a man in the saturday Guardian confessed to his disappointment on learning that his first child was a girl. I do not believe this preference to be an anomaly. I would hazard a guess that this preference has even shaped certain personalities a few generations ago within your own family, I know that it has within mine.

    The reason people may prefer boy children to girl children is not because they are familiar with and have taken on board the sexism institutionalised in the vagaries of the inheritance laws of the monarchy (it hasn’t been highlighted in this country for over a century, as you point out), but because boy children enjoy social and economic privileges denied to females.

    My heart sank when I got to this bit:
    “However, I beleive this [the sexism in the british monarchy] is an important argument, because it highlights fatal problems with the idea of a monarchy itself.”

    The reason why the question of sexism in inheritance laws (or anywhere) is an important point is because it is unfair, offensive and wrong full stop. The way you have phrased things implies that it wouldn’t be an important point were it not for its relation to the monarchy. It may indeed highlight problems with the idea of a monarchy (though I don’t think it does), but that is not the reason it is an important point, and I do object to you saying that it is.

    The reason the idea of a monarchy is problematic is because it is founded on inheritance not merit. Sexism has nothing to do with it. Even if the inheritance laws of the monarchy were not sexist, the nepotism would still be an isse, no? And even if the inheritance laws of the monarchy were not sexist, misogyny would most likely still persist elsewhere, though that would be a start.

    The existence of a monarchy does not automatically entail a sexist country, as you seem to imply in your penultimate paragraph. It is not the *existance* of the monarchy that means our country is sexist, but the particular way the monarchy is administered, which is something different.

  2. All true, but sadly not the point of the post. Here I am saying that the insitituion of the monarchy renders our arguments about equality hypocritical. The post is thus aimed at people who support equality and the monarchy, two ideas I am suggesting are mutually exclusive.

    There are plenty of other arguments why the monarchy is wrong, why primogeniture is wrong, why sexism is wrong. I do not argue that the country is sexist or nepotistic because of the monarchy. Far from it – I say that we are progressing (albeit slowly), despite the monarchy.

    I definitely do not say that sexism “wouldn’t be an important point were it not for its relation to the monarchy”. The context of the post is that I am arguing against a specific point of monarchical law which most people don’t care about. To simply say “its sexist” is fine and you’re welcome to say it, but sadly that is not going to convince the woman-on-the-street that it is relevant to her, and not just the House of Windsor. By relating the law to our political system, I attempt to show how a law that affects one family affects us all on a moral level.

    I suspect, Clarice, that you are already convinced of the initial argument, and you want me to go further. Apologies for not doing so, but one political point at a time, eh?

  3. I think I must be being a bit thick about this, but if monarchy is an inequitable arrangement because it is based on heredity, then the sexist element is really irrelevant. The sexist part of our particular monarchy is not an argument against monarchy per se. I’m afraid I don’t see how it could be. Presumably you would still object to the monarchies of Norway, Sweden etc.?

    On a separate point, you say that most people don’t care about the sexism in our monarchy. I would say, since this point of law hasn’t been tested for nigh on a hundred years, most people aren’t especially aware of it, esp. since we’ve had a queen on the throne for fifty-odd years, and plenty of male heirs waiting in the wings. So I guess the point needed raising.

    As regards the “woman-in-the-street”, I can’t help wondering what about the “man-in-the-street”? Is there some reason why the woman in the street needs convincing more than the man does? Or did you mean “woman” to mean “man-or-woman”? If it is the latter, I believe this is just as sexist (if not more so) as saying “man” to mean “man-or-woman”. What is wrong with the word “person”?

    Speaking as a person-on-the-computer, I would say that the sexism in our monarchy is relevant to me because it reflects the extent of institutionalised sexism, not because it shows that monarchy per se is inequitable. As regards the monarchy, why worry about the minutiae if the fundamental premiss is flawed? If I weren’t already convinced of that latter point, I’d say change the monarchy if it’s sexist, not scrap it. I’m still not getting it, am I?

  4. “No amount of democracy and accountability in the other apsects of government can excuse the following fact: The highly symbolic and visible pinnacle of our system is a morally barren wasteland. For a people who believe in equality, this is simply not good enough – We owe it to ourselves to devise something better…”

    Morally barren because it is sexist, and inequitable. That’s all there is to get. I am highlighting a hypocrisy, not discussing degrees of injustice.

  5. As regards the “woman-in-the-street”, I can’t help wondering what about the “man-in-the-street”? Is there some reason why the woman in the street needs convincing more than the man does?

    This really is not interesting. “Woman-on-the-street” is merely a turn of phrase, typed off-the-cuff as the direct opposite to the “man-on-the-street” cliche I abhor. If you really want it psychoanalysed, I suppose you could say I was “highlighting the inherent sexist bias in everyday language in frivilous manner” – frivilous, that is, until we started discussing it. The phrase performs no useful function in the logic of the argument, and does not reflect my broader attitude… as you know very well.

    The coninued fight against sexism may well begin with a reform of our highest political institutions. It certainly does not being with this nitpicking.

  6. Against nit-picking:

    First of all, you have highlighted again the very point I was querying. You say “Morally barren because it is sexist, AND inequitable” (my caps). I feel that sexism IS inequitable. I don’t endorse the distinction you make here between sexism and inequality. That’s all I was trying to say. If that is nit-picking in your view, that’s a shame. I am just curious as to why you make the distinction.

    Secondly, I questioned the woman-in-the-street thing because I was genuinely unsure what you meant by it. Asking for clarification is not nit-picking.

    I appreciate that it was a casual remark and not part of your argument, but it’s still pertinent, I feel, given that your argument itself was about sexism. Highlighting that particular inequality (ie sexist bias in everyday language) is well and good, but wouldn’t it be better to correct it? So easy, and it only takes a second. An equitable alternative to the turn of phrase “man on the street” is not simply to reverse the direction of the inequity, as I’m sure you’re aware.

    In any case, if it so uninteresting, it’s a shame you chose to comment on that, and not my question regarding the role of sexism as an argument against monarchy in general, which is what I had understood your post to be advocating.

    Yours nit-pickingly
    Clarice

  7. sexist, AND inequitable … I am just curious as to why you make the distinction.

    Ah yes. The second ‘inequitable’ was in reference to the hereditary aspect. I should have used ‘nepotistic’ or some such word.

  8. Only the other week, a man in the saturday Guardian confessed to his disappointment on learning that his first child was a girl. I do not believe this preference to be an anomaly. I would hazard a guess that this preference has even shaped certain personalities a few generations ago within your own family, I know that it has within mine.
    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you here.
    Most times people want sweet little angelic girls who are going to do well at their 11+ and not join gangs or give their parents trouble.

    Parents are getting more and more selfish these days, and they want the children who justifiably or not will give them the least hassle

    I am slightly biased in favour of girls myself, but that’s because I want a clone of me ;-)

  9. Yes, I’d like a clone of me as well.

    In terms of hassle though, there’s one obvious and messy piece of hassle you’re not in danger of from a boy.

    But as to your point, I think it’s an empirical question, which could be asked a number of ways. The hassle point notwithstanding, I still feel other factors have a greater impact in terms of preference.

  10. As may be apparent, I have had some difficulty in teasing apart the twin issues raised in your original post.

    I am guessing, after further reflection, that the main point of your post was that we should not be so “bothered” that our monarchy is sexist, when we consider that the heredity aspect of it renders it morally bankrupt in any case? (Let me know if my crude summary is inaccurate.) I am not entirely convinced that the morally bankrupt claim is true.

    Let us lay aside for a moment the fact that the institution of our monarchy represents a living link to the long history of our country, the fact that it provides a rich source of tourism (I nearly wrote “terrorism” there – Freudian slip?) and a considerable contribution to the economy of our country, the fact that many people take a sense of comfort or even pride in the pomp and circumstance of the outward trappings and traditions associated with our monarchy. Presumably, these aspects (debatable in themselves maybe) are orthogonal (as I believe is the sexist element) to the moral question surrounding heredity.

    What the royal family “get” in terms of their heritage, or nepotistic “privilege” is a life of luxury, yes, but they are far from alone in that, so why are we picking on them in particular? Well, maybe there is the fact that the tax-payer is forced to pay for their privilege. So is it privilege per se we are objecting to (in which case, why pick on the royal family. Why not Stella McCartney, Jade Jagger, or even your good self?)? We have inheritance tax to equalise that inequity. Or is it that the tax-payer pays for them? In which case, we should not forget what the tax-payer gets for its money.

    What is meaningful and valuable about our monarchy world-wide is exactly the fact that it IS hereditary. If we had an elected or meritocritous head of state, a large part of what is meaningful and valuable about our head of state would be gone, as would a large part of its justification for existing. Why elect (and pay for) a head of state when we already have a Prime Minister and a government in whose hands we place all meaningful political power? If there *were* any meaningful political power at stake, I would agree whole-heartedly with the nepotism point. But there is not.

    I do feel that bleating about the fact that some people have richer/better/braver/smarter or whatever parents than others is rather sad. This inequality is a fact of life, which cannot simply be legislated against, without severe incursions on our personal freedoms. Our very evolution is based on heredity, as is the basic economic unit of our society, the nuclear family. It may not be “fair”, but that’s life.

    In any case, even if we did away with the monarchy, Elizabeth Rose would still be, through her genetic heritage, the closest link we have to the monarchs of the past, who, whether or not you agree with monarchy, played a significant role in the history of the country. She would still be a figure of interest were she the basest beggar.

    There is also a distinction to be made between economic privilege and equality of opportunity. If we had equality of opportunity, then economic privilege would be rendered largely superfluous, since it couldn’t purchase advantage. But taking the anti-heredity argument to its extreme, your own mother could be accused of culinary nepotism by cooking dinner for you and not for everybody else’s children as well. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere, surely, as does she.

Leave a Reply