Friday, April 22, 2011

News Flash: Male Primogeniture

As a young girl, I, like so many other kids, often dreamed about being a princess or meeting a prince. I can vividly remember watching my sister perform as Sleeping Beauty in her fifth grade play where she was able to sing and dance with her fifth grade Prince Charming. This lust for a monarchical life seems to be a thread which connects all countries and ages. I am sure my grandmother and mother alike had similar dreams when they were young, and I would not be surprised if one day my daughter looks longingly into the future hoping to one day be a princess or meet a handsome prince. In America, even though we have a tradition of disdaining royalty, we seem to be enthralled with European, and particularly British monarchies. As we have seen before with the American fascination with Princess Diana and her traditional role, we seem to throw feminist logic out the window.

This brings me to the purpose of this News Flash. In just a few days, Prince William will marry Catherine Middleton. This union is important for many reasons. Not only is a prince marrying a non-royal (every little girl’s fantasy!), but the marriage also will bring about changes within the royal government, especially regarding women’s issues. This paper will delve into the new proposal by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who suggests a change in the rules of royal ascension. This paper will argue, that the traditions of monarchy are rooted too strongly in a patriarchal structure, and only by making drastic changes, such as those proposed by Clegg, will the traditional institution be a valid supporter of women’s rights and equal opportunity of the sexes.

When one thinks of age-old tradition, monarchy immediately comes to mind. Within this system, one typically regards the King as holding true power. But in as early as 1553, England had a reigning Queen, without a King. This was Queen Mary I, who was one of only six women (including the current Queen, Elizabeth II) to rule over England. However, despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth is currently the head of Britain’s constitutional monarchy, one cannot assert with good faith that the monarchical hierarchy is free from gender bias. In fact, one of the oldest rules of the monarchical system is that of male primogeniture. As this 300 year-old law states, the throne will always go to the firstborn male son (Daily Mail). This means, that if a girl were born first, even if she would be physically and mentally able to rule, she would fall behind all of her younger brothers in line to the throne.

Already, five European monarchies have eliminated the rule of male primogeniture; Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark (Wikipedia). With all the change which will inevitably be discussed after the upcoming nuptials, it has been suggested that a change be made to the male primogeniture rule in the UK. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, suggested earlier this month that if William and Kate’s first born was a daughter, she should be the first in line for the throne. Clegg has asserted that his “own personal view is that in this day and age the idea that only a man should ascend to the throne ... would strike most people as a little old fashioned” (Carpenter). Women across the world seem to struggle with eradicating the beliefs of many which confine them to traditional, gender-biased roles. Making a change to the royal rules of ascension would be a major upheaval of traditional values. Such a change would recognize that ruling a country should not be contingent upon one’s gender.

The Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, seemed to hesitatingly support this course of action. He said he supported the idea “in principle,” but stresses the importance of taking time to make such big decisions, and the need to consult with the other countries which are under the umbrella of the Queen’s rule. (Carpenter). Being the politician he is, he seems to e straddling the fence somewhat on this issue. He neither wants to alienate the royalists nor the feminists. His concern with his political reputation may get in the way of his full support for women’s rights. It is unfortunate to think that he is considering ignoring a major step in the right direction in fear of the unease of a minority of traditionalists.

Making this change would not only effect the United Kingdom, but it would also directly effect the other 15 countries which make up the jurisdiction of the English monarchy. While, according to some reports, most members of the UK would not oppose such a change to succession rules, there are voices of dissent coming from other countries in the jurisdiction. Canada, for example, where the Prime Minister, although he did not outwardly disapprove of taking such action, asserted that it was not his “top priority.” Similarly, Australia does not seem to be on board with this issue. Down under, “opponents of a change in succession laws fear that republican politicians -- that's republican as in anti-royalist, pro-republic politicians -- would use the change to remove the queen as head of state in that country” (Carpenter). Again, it seems that women’s rights are placed on the back burner. People loose focus on the true meaning of changing the law, and instead focus on the inconveniences it may bring about.

The debate regarding the male primogeniture brings up many of the same issues we have looked at thus far in class. While many British women are vocalizing their support, many others are being too apathetic regarding this issue. For example, Ms Dun, a 25-year-old accountant claimed she does not consider herself a feminist and that she “likes equality, but [does not] want it weighted too much towards the woman. The whole idea of going around and shouting about being equal isn’t [her] style” (Carpenter). The problem is not just apathetic women, there are also clear, and strong, voices of opposition coming from men. In today’s modern society, one would hope that the younger generations would be supportive of such a change and it would be the older, more traditional older generations that would need convincing. However, 29 year old George Juer, a graduate of one of Britain’s most prestigious schools, argued against making this change. According to him, “they [the government] shouldn’t change the law just for equality’s sake.” If you ask me, changing laws for equality’s sake is generally a pretty good idea! He goes on and later says, “I’m not anti-Queen, but … why change something that’s worked perfectly for so long?” He closes his argument by stating that his “girlfriend agrees” (Carpenter). As we have discussed in class, men seem to have a strong belief that in order to raise the standing of women, they themselves will need to be lowered. It is important to stress that women gaining equity does not mean that men will have some of their rights “taken away.” Being able to have a first-born female have the right to the throne over her younger brothers is a great way for women’s equity to reach the monarchical system. Hopefully, male members of Parliament will not think along the lines of Mr. Juer, and will instead push this change forward.

In conclusion, if the British monarchy wants to remain a viable entity in the 21st Century, then they need to join the bandwagon and promote the full equality of women. In order for the British monarchy to maintain its support, it behooves them to show that they are willing to make progressive steps so that the whole monarchical system does not collapse due to inequalities. Throughout its long history, the monarchy in England has been steeped in patriarchy and sexist traditionalism. If male primogeniture is denounced, women will have made great strides towards full equality. Hopefully, this would have a trickle effect which would promote women’s rights throughout all areas of the government, the business world, and social politics.

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