Young American women are smitten with Kate Middleton in spite of themselves. They'll even watch an interview with her husband
Tonight on CNN, Prince William will give a much anticipated exclusive interview. He’ll likely explain his decision to leave the military, reaffirm his commitment to endangered wildlife and throw in a few dad quips about George’s diapers. But let’s be honest, he’s not going to announce a new solution for Syria or reveal who killed JFK. I bet he won’t even twerk.
And yet I’ll be watching, fresh off Breaking Bad, hanging on the Prince’s every word.
But why do I care about the self-effacing confessions of a new dad who is not in charge of a country I’ve never lived in? Honestly, I could take or leave Will. I’m only watching to hear about Kate, and any tidbit will do. Has Prince George spit up in Kate’s hair? Does Kate like pickles? Like his dad, Will has been transformed from the world’s most desirable bachelor to the bland guy we look past to see what his wife is wearing.
I love Kate against all the odds. I am a feminist, she is a poster child for marriage and motherhood. I work, she waves. I love talking, she hates talking. You might call us star-crossed.
As implausible as it seems for an empowered American millennial woman to love Kate, I’m not alone. The feminist blog Jezebel posts regular updates on Princess Shinylocks’ every move. Breathless coverage of the royal wedding and birth dominated U.S. news outlets. Vanity Fair even cited far-fetched genetic research and tried playing six degrees of separation to make Kate a Kennedy: “Middleton shares a birth date—January 9—with the singer Joan Baez, who of course shares a first name with Joan Kennedy, the first wife of Teddy Kennedy.” Of course.
There are many theories about why we love Kate. Some say we love her because she’s beautiful, but beauty is never enough. Some say democracy has made us monarchy-obsessed, but if we love royals so much, then surely Princess Sarah Ferguson could have put a dent in the obesity crisis when she stumped for Weight Watchers.
Neither of these explain why some modern American girls are mesmerized by a woman who stands for everything we disavow; beauty as value, marriage as achievement, procreation as purpose. But Kate is the picture of having your crumpet and eating it too. She has the ultimate golden ticket to work-life balance because her family life is her “work.” She can be both publicly appreciated and personally fulfilled by wiping George’s royal butt. She gets all the prestige of a world leader without having to make any tough choices. She avoids the whiff of loneliness hanging around other high-profile women, because her job is to be married. For 21st century women who want both international respect and a cute baby, she has hit the jackpot.
But Kate Middleton taps into something even deeper than that. Her story inspires a particular amazement in the millennial consciousness; if J.K. Rowling wrote her story, she would be The Girl Who Princessed.
If Diana’s 1981 marriage to Charles was considered a modern fairy tale, then the 1996 divorce became proof that fairy tales were impossible. For girls growing up in the ’90s, Diana was a princess who wasn’t, because happy princesses, like unicorns, can’t ever really exist. Never ever, our American mothers told us. “Be a doctor,” mine said.
After Diana, it seemed that princesses were just as fanciful as the mermaids and fairies in the rest of the Disney lineup. So imagine our surprise when Kate Middleton, a random girl (albeit a very wealthy one) on someone’s field-hockey team, was plucked from obscurity to marry a handsome prince and live happily ever after. It felt like sitting next to Ariel on the subway.
And, like the Little Mermaid, Kate has given up her voice to marry a prince. The palace trots Will out as a superdad who makes benign diaper jokes and expertly wields a car seat; he’s stopped just short of wearing a grilling apron with his crown. But Kate is silenced, tucked away into an international fantasy of domestic bliss and sartorial perfection. If she talks, she’ll ruin the spell.
That’s problematic, but also fascinating. While our own tawdry celebrities have to feign masturbation with a foam finger to get our attention, Kate makes headlines by wearing jeans to the grocery store. The more mundane her activities, the more they enthrall us, because she is both silent and impossible.
In a speech about the enigma of royalty, British author Hilary Mantel said that Kate has become “a jointed doll … a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished.” The public slammed Mantel for this comment, but I think she’s right. To me, Kate seems less like a Kennedy cousin and more like a cousin of Samantha the American Girl doll, with her shiny auburn hair and infinite capacity for our projections. If your favorite doll grew up, married a prince, and made nude tights popular again, you’d be watching too.