While watching The Crown on Netflix, it was the intricate historical moments, the duplicitous uncle once king, and the advent of technology as a political tool that first caught my attention. But most captivating, especially in light of current events, is how much is revealed about the private lives of women. In the second season the celebrated episode of the Kennedy’s visit to Buckingham Palace is tense and dramatic, not from any warfare, economic stunt, or boardroom meeting, but rather because of the interpersonal dynamics of a world watched meeting ruled by women.
It is stunning to see a woman hold the highest position in the nation, once empire, and yet she remains stifled by the same repression any woman faces. Her education is stunted because she has been guided to only fulfill an ornamental role. Even after she takes on a tutor and gains a simple education, the older generation of women tell her it is frivolous at best and dangerous at worst to know too much; while her sister, the symbol of modernity, mocks her repeatedly for being uncultured. When the stereotypical question arises — can a woman have it all — we presume that at least a queen can. In fact as we see throughout The Crown, patriarchy is not overruled simply by a title.
Women have long been significant, but hidden, strategic actors in world affairs. A few manage to gain recognition — Martha Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford — setting them apart as outliers rather than examples of the norm. They educated their husbands, held sway over public opinion, and are recognized for their impact. Still what is less discussed is what occurred behind closed doors, and how that private sphere is a space of power.
If women reject the intellectual value of feminism they are further burying their ancestors. Because the goal is not always for women to act the same as men, or to recount the moment when they achieve what a man already had, but rather to elevate what women already do and have done for centuries to the level of respect and significance of what men do. It may be men’s names on treaties, but rarely does that show who is responsible for him signing.
In the new public awareness of how people use sex as a mechanism of power and abuse others with it, a spotlight is shining on the lives of women. But also clear is our ineptitude at appreciating the complexity of how women handle such power dynamics. Yes some women use sexual appeal to their advantage, and no one should degrade that as any less a strategic tool than a hostile takeover with stock options. Divorce has bankrupted as many men as poor management, illegitimate children have employed as many attorney’s as off-shore trading, and wives have shared far more insider trading than any broker at the bar. And yet part of this power is that it remains hidden in the private realm — the space that men are most unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.
This is the source of some of the tension that occurs between women in public conversations because women who operate best in that private world resent the push to bring it all out into the light. When older women make snide remarks about the younger generation being entitled or slutty, it is similarly a power play. They are telling them to learn to maneuver better in the private spheres where women have always had power.
Of course it is that private world that both empowered Hilary Rodham Clinton and led to her eventual failure. Perhaps in the future, a televised version of the Clinton political life will show exactly what the terms of that agreement were that kept the marriage intact. Until then women around the world can imagine some of the tactics she employed to take power from that man. But as she attempted to become a public face of power, women, particularly white women, were terrified to see their secret world broadcast on the stage.
Hillary Rodham Clinton couldn’t face down the creepy eyes of a molester candidate or maintain a pretty smile while holding a cocked gun, and if she failed under the brightest spotlight, then women would lose a whole arsenal of hard-gained weapons. Keep her in her place — its just better for everyone — is the subconscious motivation when women choose his name over hers.
A looming question was — can she be trusted? And women everywhere imagined what she did to survive that scandal. What set of incriminating evidence had she held in a vault to keep him in line? Although they could respect her for it, they just couldn’t trust her. Because we all undermine these powers that women have; most tragic when done by other women.