Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Daisy Goodwin & The Queen for Our Times


I bought this copy of The Times on 9 September 2015: the day Queen Elizabeth II surpassed Queen Victoria as Britain's longest reigning monarch.

I'm a fan of Queen Elizabeth II. I'm also a fan of Queen Victoria (and a few other queens of note, thanks to the eloquent introduction to their life and times in "She-Wolves" by Helen Castor). I think I gravitate to all of their stories because, in history books heavy with the contributions and perspectives of men, they provide a rare demonstration of the longstanding ways in which individual women have been influential and had social significance through their public positions. 

So it was interesting to me to see Daisy Goodwin's column in The Times, pitting Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria against each other and declaring the latter to be a more fitting role model for our era. 

There's something in the zeitgeist at the moment that seems all for the empowerment of women. When I was seeking out my role models as a teenager, I gravitated towards women whose lives resonated with purpose and achievement: artists, activist, women with a voice. But I felt more alone in that search - less connected to a movement. These days, it feels like lots of women are being identified and championed as role models. It feels like, as a society, conversation is turning to the role of women with greater attention and seriousness than I detected growing up.

Queen Victoria may seem to more closely embody some of the characteristics we are keen to admire in women today: outspoken political leader, dedicated working mother and the other things Daisy Goodwin's column points out. Maybe that does make her "the woman for our times", in the sense of reflecting present values. But I think we need more than that. We need a range of people in public life who, together, help us remember how to be our whole selves.

Maybe the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is less 'of' our times is exactly what makes her so essential 'for' our times, so necessary in our current cultural make-up. In the Queen, we have someone who shows us the value of discretion, fidelity and compromise - things that are often in short supply in this restless, ambitious age of the internet extrovert. In the Queen, we have a reminder of other ways of being in the world. Whether we want to imitate them or not is our personal prerogative. But we at least get to see another way.

And, at the end of the day, isn't giving women options what feminism is about? 

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