Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dude: Equal Succession Rights No Feminist Victory

But I, of course, beg to differ.

The succession rules for the British monarchy have been revised, giving sons and daughters of future UK monarchs equal rights to the throne. Previously, the crown would pass to a daughter only if no sons were living.

Andrew Roberts, writing at The Daily Beast, doesn't seem too thrilled with this development. In a classic appeal to tradition, he opines:

"...[W]e are insufferably arrogant in thinking that our mores trump [those of our ancestors] when it comes to an institution as ancient as the monarchy."


It's always so easy for people not on the receiving end of inequality to assert that we should preserve ancient unequal traditions, isn't it?

I think the worst part of his piece is that he kind of pays lip service to the notion that Sexism Is Bad, but still ultimately concludes that because the monarchy's rules of succession are really, really old, we shouldn't muck them up now in our Arrogant-PC-Gone-Too-Far times.

He also argues that because the monarchy discriminates against most of us with respect to succession, it's not really a feminist success story for it to stop discriminating against its daughters:

"You cannot become monarch unless you are a direct descendant of King George II (regnant 1727–60), which is extremely discriminatory to the 99.999 percent of us who aren’t. If you are already discriminating against all but about 30 people out of the nearly 7 billion on the planet, is it really such a glorious blow for womanhood to abolish the right of male primogeniture in order to benefit one of Prince William’s as-yet-unborn daughters?"

Well, yeah. I'm not a fan of monarchies, since they're the very essence of un-meritocratic privilege, but I suppose I have a similar reaction to this news as I do about news relating to women's ordination in male-centric/male-supremacist religions:

As long as they're around, they should at least be fair and they should at least try to redeem themselves by being better than they have been. By not allowing women the same rights to succession (or ordination) as men, it sends a loud and clear message that sex is a relevant category with respect to leadership (or the priesthood), and that women are only good enough for a job if no men are around to fill it.

Also, I hear some "men's rights" types make a similar argument regarding CEOs. It's usually something along the lines of, "Even though most CEOs are men, most men aren't CEOs." The purpose of this argument seems to be to both "erase" the existence of male privilege at the top tiers of society and to let everyone know that Stuff Is Hard For Men Too. It just seems to be another way of saying sex discrimination at the elite levels of society doesn't really matter because it only, like, affects maybe 20 or 25 women tops.

Yet, that it supposedly affects so few women is an arguable matter. Indeed, while it's true that the vast majority of people living will not become kings and queens (or CEOs), I wonder how succession rules that favor boys and men play into the lives of the 99%.

Whenever a distinction between men and women is created and used as the basis for discriminatory treatment, doesn't it imply that vast sex differences exist and are relevant to ability, competence, and temperament? With monarchs and CEOs being more visible and more influential than the commoners, aren't these messages about sex and hierarchy powerful and pervasive?

If it is put forth that kings and queens are legitimized by "God," might it say something about male versus female capacity for leadership if "God" puts more men on the throne than women?

Anyway, relatedly, I've been reading George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, so it was interesting to have that in the background of my mind while reading Roberts' dismissive piece explaining to all of us feminists that this rule change is "no great blow for womanhood." Sure, Martin's series is fictional, but I think one of its strengths is in illustrating how male-supremacist succession rules really overvalue sons/men/boys at the expense of daughters/women/girls. In my opinion, Martin's illustration invites readers to view this over-valuing of men as a negative and an injustice to women.

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