Since last week’s article went live, I’ve had my regal thinking cap on about why playing princess riles some folks and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that the problem many have with the idea of being a princess is, well, the need for the prince. Women who want to run big organisations need to choose a consort wisely. Part of the difficulty arises from the way society still tends to peg us patriarchally as ‘wife of’ or ‘daughter of’ or ‘mother of’ as though our value lies solely in our relationship to others, usually male. I can’t tell you how royally annoyed I get when I see City financial doyenne Nicola Horlick described as ‘mother of six.’ So what? Mr. Horlick would not be described as ‘father of six’ in any business publication worth reading. It’s utterly irrelevant to her business acumen and success, even if it leaves me in awe of her organisational abilities. I suppose the message is that you can’t afford to be seen as an adjunct to anyone if you want to be taken seriously in the business world.
Really modern women want to do more than just act as an attractive clothes horse. We want to make a difference – and sometimes having a man in tow can slow you down. There is an exception to this: I’ve mentioned Queen Rania of Jordan before – bright, educated, capable, beautiful – and making a valuable contribution to women’s health, education and their role in Jordan and wider Islamic society. The world could do with more like her.
But when you think of all the powerful women on the world stage today like our Queen Elizabeth, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Maggie Thatcher in her heyday, Germany’s Angela Merkel, only Hillary can claim that her other half is as much – if not more – famous than she is. Interestingly, he hasn’t minded her sharing the glory, even though the balance of power there has demonstrably moved. And so Hillary memorably pointed it out in her lovely terse response that ‘Bill Clinton is not the Secretary of State. I am,’ at that infamous Congolese press briefing after her recent African whirlwind tour.
On this side of the pond, we admire Prince Philip for being a terrific consort who has never stolen the limelight from his majestic spouse. We know almost zero about Oprah’s other half. Mrs Thatcher’s Denis famously took a back seat. And I don’t know anyone who knows anything about Mr Merkel. It seems that powerful women don’t really need a consort up there on the podium with them. A prince on your arm might be ‘nice to have’ but it is not a necessity.
We tend not to tag our men as ‘husband of’ (unless it’s Brad Pitt) or ‘father of’ (same again). The men who run Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, NASA and McDonald’s (insert your favourite global businesses of choice here) are never bracketed this way. It’s time women weren’t either.