In the late 1990s Crown Princess Masako of Japan faced enormous pressure to produce an heir, such pressure that some believe it changed her life for the worse and contributed to mental illness.
If you had told me 15 years ago that stories on the value of the royal womb would be playing out in the news in 2013, I’m not sure I would have believed it.
I remember reading about Princess Masako (we’re the same age) long before my battle with infertility did a number on my psyche. I recall thinking how sad it was that an accomplished woman was so demeaned and devalued because she had trouble conceiving, and in the end, couldn’t produce a son.
Once it became apparent that I couldn’t conceive I took solace in knowing that my life as a family of two could bring its own happiness. I shudder even today to imagine if I had had to face the kind of public scrutiny and judgment that Princess Masako did.
And what of the newest royal to capture headlines? The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is at the center of a dust up — this one concerning some unkind comments taken out of context from a recent speech. Booker-Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel described how Kate has gone from a mannequin entirely defined by what she wore to:
These days she is a mother-to-be, and draped in another set of threadbare attributions. Once she gets over being sick, the press will find that she is radiant. They will find that this young woman’s life until now was nothing, her only point and purpose being to give birth.”
While Mantel raised ire for her perceived criticism of Kate, elements of her speech raised some interesting questions: How would the public and the press have reacted to Kate (once they lost interest in her wardrobe choices) if she and Will were simply unable to have children?
Would the media, the general public that today lavishes attention on them accept the couple as a family of two? Would they embrace and celebrate them as eagerly? Or would they hound Kate as mercilessly as they did Princess Masako, make her believe her value lay solely in her ability to conceive and produce an heir?
Mantel sized up the situation more bluntly:
We have arrived at the crux of the matter: a royal lady is a royal vagina.
Yes, as much as we might want to think society has evolved beyond medieval days, or even from last century, to quote Yoggie Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.”
One day perhaps we can be comfortable with this observation from Gloria Steinem: “Everybody with a womb doesn’t have to have a child any more than everybody with vocal cords has to be an opera singer.”