The ‘Hilary Mantel attacks Kate Middleton’ story which broke recently has proved a huge distraction from the two, incomplete essays currently open in tabs on my laptop. It was always going to happen though; a controversy involving feminism, a princess, David Cameron intervening unnecessarily and standard Daily Mail outrage is just my kind of procrastination material.
The anger directed towards Mantel is pretty unfair. For starters, if you read the essay, the majority of it is about how we perceive the monarchy in general terms. She also discusses royals such as Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette and the Prince of Wales to name few. It’s not exactly an ‘I hate Kate’ parade.
There’s also been a hilarious amount of cherry-picking by the media, particularly by the good old Daily Fail. Quotes such as ‘painfully thin’ and ‘plastic’ have been used without referring to the context in which they were written, thus rendering them straight-out insults. As if this wasn’t enough, the hypocrisy of those like the Daily Mail being angry at Mantel’s criticisms when they think a collection of Kate in her ‘best outfits’ is worthy of a double spread is mind-blowing.
David Cameron’s decision to comment on ‘Mantelgate’, (especially when he clearly hasn’t read the essay) was the most confusing part of it all. I would’ve thought reiterating his love for the monarchy would be low on his list of priorities right now, compared with like, saving the economy. But, it seems not. I imagine Cameron had just finished his photo-op cricket game in India (see his twitter page) when one of his staff ran up to him crying, ‘SOMEONE FAMOUS HAS CRITICISED THE MONARCHY- YOU NEED TO DEFEND IT NOOOOOOOOW’, at which point he went back into full, ‘Monarchy for the win’ mode last seen during the Jubilee/Olympics period.
I believe that Mantel’s essay was intended as an attack on the media industry’s exploitation of a young woman. I honestly don’t think it was a personal attack. On the contrary, Mantel seems sympathetic to the young royal trapped in her own public image. The essay comments on how the media portrays her and how she is therefore expected to behave. They define her first and foremost by her ‘perfect princess’ appearance and secondly, as being what some have referred to as the ‘Anti-Diana’- ‘without quirks, without oddities, without the risk of the emergence of character’, whose role is to marry and have children. So why is she being denounced by those on both the left and right? The exploitation of women is an issue even if you do happen to be famous and hot.
So it is Mantel’s criticism of the media which has ruffled feathers. It is the suggestion that the media have facilitated in crafting Kate into a beautiful, empty shell. Mantel simply asks them to ‘back off’- and I think they should listen.