A friend of a friend on Facebook was saying that the reason the news of the newest addition to Great Britain’s royal family has got her talking is because if it had been a girl, she would have been the first female born into direct succession for the throne since the law stating that only a male could be the heir to the throne was overturned. She argued that it would have been an example of the changing times and the elevation of female rights (her words, more or less). I began writing a response, but it turned out to be too long for a Facebook comments thread, so I’m throwing my ideas into a blog post instead. Here goes:
I don’t think that the baby being a girl would have really done a lot to “elevate female rights”. The law itself has already done that (to whatever extent it actually did), and the sex of any baby born in line for the throne afterwards is largely coincidental. I suppose we have been deprived of what could have been a useful poster girl, but I don’t really see how being deprived of the chance to exploit an individual female unlucky enough to be born into such a spotlight for the sake of having a superficial example of how women really do have equal rights for real this time is actually a bad thing. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that the baby wasn’t a girl, I just don’t think it’s actually that big a loss either.
Further, I would argue that the change in law itself (and any royal offspring affected by it) is not so much a sign of the changing times as it is a way to pacify anti-monarchists by making the monarchy appear to be more modern and relevant than it actually is. If the monarchy really wanted to be a part of the changing times it would dissolve, leaving those who are currently financially dependent on it (Queen, etc.) a reasonable inheritance to compensate for the psychological damage done to them in the name of tradition, and dividing what’s left of that considerable wealth between the nations/peoples of the world whose societies have been left in ruins by its previous colonial rampages across them, seeing as said rampages were driven in part by the monarchy’s lust for more wealth and power to begin with. Of course, the number of people who have been negatively impacted by Britain’s colonial history is so great that even the entirety of the royal family’s assets would amount to pretty small change for each of them by the time it was all divided up, but since no amount of money can actually truly repair or compensate for the damage done anyways, I would argue that it’s the symbolic meaning of the gesture that really counts here.
I’m sure many would argue in response to my anti-monarchist sentiments that the monarchy plays a harmless symbolic role in our society, and should be maintained because it’s such a big part of our history. I hear it all the time. But it’s not harmless, nor is its role only symbolic, at least not for Canada. Remember when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid being kicked out of office after lying about the federal budget? YouTube does:
That move was made possible by the monarchy’s “symbolic” role in Canadian society.
It’s also crazy to argue that we should keep something as archaic and useless as the monarchy around just because it’s a big part of our history. After all, slavery, genocide, and the residential school system have all been a big part of both Canada’s and Great Britain’s histories, but you would be hard-put to argue to any sane and respectable person that those institutions should be kept around for only that reason. Another big part of these countries’ histories is the absolute rule of the same monarchy currently being discussed, which has since been replaced by less archaic, more representative forms of governance. Just because something is a big part of our history doesn’t mean it should automatically get to be a big part of our present too. And historical value probably isn’t even the biggest reason for the monarchy’s continued existence anyways, it just sounds nicer than the reality. The reality is, this phenomenon probably has a lot more to do with a general unwillingness of those at the top to upset long-established power structures/balances for fear of losing out themselves in the process. Also because such a move would require major constitutional and legal changes to all Commonwealth countries, which would be time-consuming, costly, and extremely difficult in the short term, so it’s continually put off even though it ends up being more time-consuming, costly, and difficult in the long term to keep the monarchy around, because no one wants to be the one to handle its dissolution. So it continues to hobble along through its symbolic existence in spite of being ridiculous and essentially useless.
I don’t want to hate on any individuals in the royal family, particularly not the newest one, who is yet too young to even fully appreciate the fact of his own existence, let alone what that existence and the historical events leading up to it mean to the world. I just want to say, to those who still think we should care about the monarchy and keep it alive because history: