Looking back one year ago to the royal wedding, there are two prevailing images that stick out to me: The first, Kate and Will's balcony kiss, which sealed Kate's ascension from commoner to future queen. The second? Pippa's ass.
As a longtime feminist-studies enthusiast and former "Vagina Monologues" performer, I'm always intrigued by how women are portrayed, rewarded and perceived culturally through the media. From this perspective, I think what we can take away from these prevailing images is this: Ladies, if you want to get noticed in life, you better become a bride or a hot piece of ass.
Of course, neither of the Middleton sisters set out to embody anything. However, the sanctification of Kate as a symbol of bridal purity and the attention given not to Pippa herself, but to her ass (spawning both a website and a Twitter feed dedicated to it), show that these are the roles that we reward women for performing.
It doesn't take a feminist to see how the women of the royal wedding were discussed far differently than the men were -- there was little commentary on the princes' looks or emphasis on Will getting his "fairy-tale ending." The sisters, however, were framed as opposing points on the spectrum of desirable female behavior.
As far as Pippa goes, the hoopla surrounding her posterior speaks to a concept that Ariel Levy describes in her book "Female Chauvinist Pigs": She explains that the word "sexy" is now equated with "noteworthy," writing that, " Sexiness is no longer about being arousing or alluring, it's about being worthwhile." Pippa's hotness made her relevant. If she were plain, as the Brits politely call it, she would have simply blended in with the walls of Westminster Abbey, not become the much-discussed, sexually charged icon of the ceremony.
Kate, on the other hand, was made an instant icon in her conservative white gown, which has since been copied (and recopied) so that hopeful brides might emulate her. While the wedding did technically transform her into an official princess (hence the media's focus on fairy tales and such), much of the coverage centered her modest -- and fortunate -- ascent to royalty, not on her personal attributes or what she was bringing to the marital table.
And let's not forget that it was Prince William's choosing her that made Kate the emblem that she is today. Prior to her engagement, she was called "Waity Katie," portrayed as pathetically drumming her fingers while William gallivanted around town during their nine-year relationship. Once Diana's ring was on her finger, however, she was loved -- adored, even. With a ring and a promise, she was finally a woman we could look up to.
What fascinates me about the sisters being positioned in some kind of Jackie/Marilyn dichotomy -- Kate as the lucky bride, Pippa as the "bad girl" temptress -- is how Kate was once perceived as the latter.
The moment deemed to be the one that piqued Prince William's interest in Kate has our famously blushing bride strutting down a catwalk -- in what was essentially lingerie -- for a charity fashion show. According to psychiatrist Carole Lieberman M.D., author of "Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets," it was Kate's ability to straddle the line between good girl and bad girl that enabled her to climb to her current royal station.
"Kate Middleton is the quintessential good girl who used bad girl secrets to catch her prince," says Lieberman. She believes that the aforementioned see-through dress was Kate's best deployed "bad girl" trick -- so much so that she sells replica copies of it on her website (the real one sold at auction for $125,000). In fact, women can conveniently purchase a full set of Middleton-mimicking outfits, available in knockoff versions near you -- the racy charity dress, the navy engagement frock and the lace wedding gown. Now we can all get the fairy-tale endings we deserve!
According to Lieberman, Kate successfully entrapped Prince William with her feminine wiles, all the while remaining passive in expressing her actual needs. "Even a prince needs to feel like a stud. [Kate] proved how audacious she could be by confidently walking down the runway in, essentially, her black lingerie," she says. "Good girls, who make it obvious that they desperately want a relationship, are too intimidating to men."
Call me crazy, but I think that Disney princesses -- which are often called out for encouraging antiquated roles for women and girls -- seem empowering compared to Lieberman's analysis of how Kate was able to land her prince. In essence, she says that, to get our happy endings, women should emulate Kate and Pippa to become what the philosopher Ludacris one poignantly described as "a lady in the street but a freak in the bed."
Creating an interesting twist in the media portrayal of the Middleton sisters, Time magazine's recently released "Top 100 Influential People" list lumped them together, showcasing them not as two separate, accomplished women deserving of their own entries, but as a package deal. As for their "influence," Kate was noted for having "successfully scaled the palace walls," while Pippa was congratulated for being "globally recognized, especially from behind" (emphasis my own).
So, basically, ladies, to be considered "influential," just climb the social ladder by marrying up or climb on the Stairmaster to develop an excellent backside. Oh, sorry, that will only make you half influential. To have any real power a woman should, ideally, do both.
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