CELEBRITY BOOK REVIEW: Kate Middleton on how to be a woman
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
by Courtney Maum
It is really hard to type on an iPad with an IV in your wrist. I tried writing in my official journal with the Tibaldi fountain pen Baron Carrickfergus gave me at a Lifeboat Naming ceremony in October, but the ink scent made me sick. I’ve been here at the hospital six days now, and am grateful for the peace. I’m less grateful for the flowers that people have been sending. The stems have all gone waterlogged. The odor makes me sick.
While here, I’m supposed to be reading Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends, my sister’s new book on party planning. But between my hyperemesis gravidarum (i.e. barfing), and the fact that the first chapter includes the revelation, “ice goes well with drinks,” I haven’t had the courage nor the physical constitution to get through it.
What I have had time for, however, is some black market bibliophilia. To be sure, reading isn’t a forbidden activity in the royal household, but Caitlin Moran’s comic feminist manifesto, How to be a Woman, wasn’t on the convalescence reading list sent through by the Press Office.
But Heavens, if I’m not having a good time with her writing! Growing up, I had an Auntie just like Moran, a badger of a woman who put sherry in the bottom of her tea cup before we sat for lunch. She made her living needlepointing candid phrases onto pillowcases and selling them online. I still have one hidden deep inside my hope chest: I’m very very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.
All my life I’ve wanted to be a princess. Back at Uni, they used to call me “Waity Katie”, teasing me for my lackluster job choices, saying I was just biding my time, waiting for a proposal. Listen — I was! For God’s sake, wouldn’t you have done? Back then, Wills had this fetish for crushed velvet. During the first year of our courtship, I had to secure all of my undergarments online. When things became serious between us, the Crown’s PR department stepped in and said I had to start wearing stockings in all seasons. When you spend eight hours upright at a shamrock-awarding celebration in Aldershot on Hampshire sporting crushed velvet boyshorts underneath maxi-control nylons in the height of summer, you expect the boy to put a ring on it, by God.
When I married William, I was ready for the glory, the personal hair and makeup assistant and the 18-carat (!) sapphire, but I wasn’t ready for the complete and utter loss of fun. What’s really getting to me while reading How to be a Woman is what a good time Moran’s having as a girl. I haven’t been allowed a good laugh in ages. In a decade, really. The last time I took my tits out, I got the royal family entwined in a massive, international lawsuit. These lovely pum-pums are never going to feel the sun on them again.
I know that Moran would encourage me to say that I’m a feminist, but I certainly don’t feel like a very good one while reading her book. If I hadn’t met Wills, I probably would have taken over my parent’s party supply company by now, and be forced to refute observations I agree with: weddings have become too expensive; “destination” bachelorette parties put financial strain on friendships; “investment handbags” are a bankruptcy sentence we have placed upon ourselves. As the daughter of the co-founders of the party supply shop, I was born to be a placid hostess, whether I made it into the Royal Family, or not.
In the chapter “I am a feminist!”, Moran sets forth her criteria for discerning whether or not “some sexist bullshit is afoot.” And it is this: “Are the men doing it? Are the men worrying about this as well? Is this taking up the men’s time? Are the men told not to do this… Are the men having to write bloody books about this exasperating, retarded, time-wasting bullshit? Is this making Jon Stewart feel insecure?”
Probably, Jon Stewart wouldn’t have cared one tittle whether he won The Headwear Association’s “Headwear Person of the Year” last June. Most men don’t have a full-time split-end inspector whose sole occupation consists of making sure their follicles are aligned. And as far as I know, Prince Harry never had to attend a Powerpoint presentation on the appropriate height of heels. But I did. And I do. I’m not so much a woman as an assemblage of shiny parts. While I was dating William, the country’s attention was on my legs and hair. When I got married, it was on my sister’s ass. But with this pregnancy, my stomach is the place. And it’s not just the country looking any longer, it’s the world. I’m the lucky owner of “The most watched baby bump of all time.”
Reading Moran’s book has made me angry. Angry that I didn’t have a proper young-adulthood. Angry that I didn’t get to make as many mistakes as I might have. All alone in my hospital suite, this book has made me laugh. When I realized how long it’s been since I did this without question, since I went ahead and laughed at something outside of closed doors, I cried. (An activity I also did in private, suffocated by the scent of the withering dahlias, with two enormous secret servicemen posted outside.)
In the chapter cited earlier, Moran asks, “Why have women — on top of everything else — got to be particularly careful to be “lovely” and “supportive” to each other at all times? … If someone’s an arsehole, someone’s an arsehole — regardless of whether we’re both standing in the longer bathroom queue at concerts or not.”
I do agree, but I wish I could agree out loud. I wish I could tell the Duchess of Cornwall that her breath smells like a daschund’s. I wish I could tell Stella McCartney that the only reason I wore that blue dress twice to the Olympics was because I’m not allowed to wear pantsuits so she better start making some below-the-knee separates, by God.
I chose this life, and certain things fell into place and then this life chose me. I can do good by it, I know it. Already, succession laws have changed to allow royal-born daughters to inherit the throne. If wearing hosiery and maintaining bouncy locks and executing proper posture and curtsying and smiling and hand-shaking my way through public functions while always looking my level-headed, unprovocative best will allow my future daughter to obtain a position that has been denied to women for three centuries, than damnit, I’m a feminist. Carla Bruni might not have the backbone to call herself one in public, but courage has never been a defining characteristic of the French. Even if this confession remains forever hidden in my diary, I thank my fellow countrywoman, Caitlin, for encouraging me to admit that I, Catherine née Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, am a Feminist. A foofy-hat loving, pantyhose-wearing, publicly censored feminist, but a feminist, still.
— Courtney Maum is a fiction writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. Her work has recently appeared online in Tin House, Blip, The Rumpus, Vol.1, Anderbo and others. A frequent reader at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match champion, she’s currently working on a collection of comic fiction. Find her on Twitter at @cmaum.
Editor’s note: Any resemblances to actual celebrities — alive or dead — are miraculously coincidental. For more Celebrity Book Reviews, click here.