Come on, Kate – a girl would mean progress

Few circumstances in this country still condemn women to be second-class citizens from birth

 

Share

In many ways, the Duchess of Cambridge is just like any other woman.

When the delicate heel of her Emmy shoes became jammed in a grate at Aldershot Barracks during Sunday’s St Patrick’s Day parade, I – and millions of other women, I am sure – winced in recognition. And when it emerged that the five-months-pregnant Duchess confided that her husband would like a girl, while she was desperate for a boy, this was merely the game played by millions of expectant parents across the country.

But – hang on a minute. Kate isn’t just any other woman. Yes, the sex of her child is out of her control – unlike her endless choice of expensive shoes and clothes. Yet given that the birth of a daughter in July would be so groundbreaking, so historic, such a breakthrough for equality, and such a role model for little girls, why on earth would she long for anything else?

While I wish Kate well, and hope she has a healthy baby, her desire for a boy is so disappointing. By transforming herself from a middle-class Middleton to the mother of the heir to the throne, she broke down the gilded barrier of royalty. Social inequality may be rife in Britain, but Kate’s marriage to William, while largely symbolic, was at least a sign of progress.

Now she is behind the barrier, she seems to be conforming to the norms of monarchy. It is unsurprising that Prince Charles has expressed doubts about the new laws of succession, currently being rushed through Parliament in time for the royal birth, which would allow a girl to inherit the throne, even if she had a younger brother. I am certain that Charles’s views are shared by other members of the Royal family. This is not an organisation that embraces change easily.

But we commoners look to Kate for progress. A girl – the descendant of coal miners as well as kings – would begin to right the wrongs visited on all those royal daughters over the centuries who should have been Queen.

It is interesting, then, that William would like a girl. Is this simply a personal preference, or something more meaningful? I’d like to think it is the latter, a remnant of his mother’s revolutionary spirit. While he was born into royalty, perhaps he is uncomfortable with the inequality in his mother’s own family, and nearly every other in the aristocracy.

Because Diana Spencer had two older sisters but, crucially, a younger brother. Sarah, Jane, Diana and Charles grew up at Althorp, the sprawling Northamptonshire family seat, but it was the youngest child who would inherit the earldom and the land by virtue of being a boy. For the girls, their way into title and inheritance was through marriage. For Charles, he simply needed to come of age.

According to the official biography of Diana, there was such consternation in the Spencer family after three girls and no male heir that her mother was sent to a Harley Street clinic so that doctors could discover what the “problem” was. This was in the 1960s. But the inequality holds fast today.

Before the new rules of royal succession, the aristocracy was already one step behind the monarchy. At least Princess Elizabeth could become Queen because she had no brother. The daughters of hereditary peers are not so fortunate, even today. If there is no son, the title goes to the next male in line – possibly a distant cousin. The girls are wrenched out of their castles. With the new succession laws, these honourable ladies will be two steps behind.

Thankfully, the royal baby has stimulated the beginnings of a quiet revolution in the wider aristocracy. Noblewomen are beginning to demand their own change in the rules. Lady Liza Campbell, whose elder sister would have inherited the Earldom of Cawdor had she been a man, is starting a campaign to demand equality, with the hope of a private member’s Bill in Parliament later this year. There are other women who agree. Julian Fellowes based the central plot of Downton Abbey, where an earl fretted over his title going to a cousin, not his three daughters, on the experience of his wife, Emma Kitchener.  She missed out on the Earldom of  Kitchener because of chromosomal chance and the title is now extinct because there was no male heir.

Why, I hear you ask, should we care about inequality in an institution that is itself so out of date? Leave the toffs to their silly rules, we have enough to worry about with our holidays in Cyprus. I would argue that, while these women may be privileged in many ways, at least most girls born into “ordinary” families are treated the same as boys. There can be few circumstances in this country where women are discriminated against at birth, but the aristocracy prides itself on this tradition, while operating in relative secrecy, without democracy. This makes change all the more necessary. Sexism is still an acceptable prejudice in the landed gentry, but very few of us take notice.

If Kate gives birth to a boy this summer, the flag-waving sections of the nation will still rejoice, but the impetus for change in the aristocracy will melt away. A historic opportunity will be missed. Kate may be wishing for a boy, but the rest of us should hope for a girl.  

Jane Merrick is political editor of ‘The Independent on Sunday’

Twitter: @janemerrick

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Learning Mentor

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Group: Learning Mentors needed in Green...

Computer Science Teacher required

£7200 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

Teaching Assistant Plymouth

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: TEACHING ASSISTANTS NEEDED FOR PLYMOU...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European workers has significantly altered the composition of some parts of Britain  

Immigration is the issue many in Labour fear most

Nigel Morris
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker