For somebody who was never meant to rule, Queen Elizabeth II has become one of the most iconic leaders of our time. Her Majesty has outlived presidents and prime ministers, and held the highest position in the land for over six decades.
As a young princess, she became the first and only female member of the Royal Family to join the war effort, training as a mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. At 25, she ascended the throne following the sudden death of her father, King George VI, catapulting her to a life bound by duty. At that time, women largely identified as wives and mothers. Men occupied the workforce and higher education wouldn’t become possible for women for another decade. It was, on the whole, a man’s world in which women were the homemakers. But for Queen Elizabeth II, or Lilibet as she was affectionately known by her family, her blue blood would take her down a different path.
Over the years she’s faced criticism for being stale and disconnected from regular people. But ultimately, after more than 65 years on the throne, the British public — and the world — view her favourably and credit her for ensuring the Monarchy’s survival. For many of us, she’s the only sovereign we’ve known. Of course her privilege has afforded her a life that few can relate to, but in the current state of the world, her dignified leadership is a diamond in the rough.
In 1947, she married Philip Mountbatten, a high-ranking naval officer who was born in to Greek and Danish royal families. Immediately, she faced a personal dilemma; her mother and grandmother insisted she keep the family name of Windsor rather than taking her husband’s name, Mountbatten. It sparked an argument resulting in the Duke of Edinburgh reportedly declaring, “I’m the only man in England whose children don’t have my name.” On the advice of her Prime Minister Winston Churchill and her grandmother Queen Mary, Elizabeth chose to keep her father’s name, despite it driving a wedge between her and the Duke. It didn’t help that Philip would spend his life taking two steps behind his wife.
“When the survival of a thousand-year-old dynasty is on your shoulders, you may have enormous privilege, but little individual freedom.”
For Queen Elizabeth II, duty was paramount, and this wouldn’t be the first time her commitment to the crown came at the expense of her relationships. For an institution underpinned by patriarchal values, this is important. It shows us that a female’s role as sovereign is no different to that of a man’s. Critics will question whether the 92-year-old matriarch, or any member of the royal family for that matter, can ever be feminist what with their tiaras, bouquets, political neutrality and expectation to produce heirs. But shouldn’t we be applauding this woman, who for more than six decades, has been a steady symbol of authority with not a single scandal or misstep to her name? She may not tick all of the checkboxes of feminism – but she sets the bar pretty darn high in the leadership stakes – for how many other male leaders could say the same?
Michelle Obama famously criticised Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘lean in’ feminism which claims women can have it all if they work hard enough and are assertive in taking up leadership roles. The Queen is a prime example of the reality that you cannot have it all. She has made enormous personal sacrifices to be in her position, including being absent from the lives of her first two children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne, as official overseas engagements took precedence for the young, inexperienced Queen.
There’s no denying she walks to the beat of a different drum, but that doesn’t mean the Queen’s achievements should be overlooked or discussed over eye roles. The day her uncle, King Edward, abdicated the throne was the beginning of a journey that she was never meant to embark on. And yet, she got on with it.
“In the age of Twitter, Trump, and a growing number of female politicians who refuse to identify as feminists anyway, shouldn’t actions speak louder than labels?”
King Edward — who had fallen in love with a divorced American socialite — turned his back on the crown, forcing Elizabeth’s father to be King, and sealing her fate as the heir presumptive in the process. Her uncle’s abdication almost derailed the House of Windsor but Queen Elizabeth II, with her stable leadership, rebuilt its reputation and rebranded the British Royal Family for modern times. When the survival of a thousand-year-old dynasty is on your shoulders, you may have enormous privilege, but little individual freedom.
Her reign has been characterised by strength, stoicism, and quiet resilience. In the age of Twitter, Trump, and a growing number of female politicians who refuse to identify as feminists anyway, shouldn’t actions speak louder than labels?
Since becoming Head of the Commonwealth in 1952, she’s travelled more widely than any other Monarch, including making the trip to Australia 16 times. The Queen is Patron or President to more than 600 charities, national and grassroots organisations. Most recently, she handed over two Patronages — The Association of Commonwealth Universities and The National Theatre to her granddaughter-in-law, the Duchess of Sussex. Her Majesty has held the roles for 33 and 45 years respectively.
Meghan Markle also added two more charities to her portfolio; animal welfare organisation Mayhew and Smartworks; an organisation that helps unemployed and vulnerable women regain the skills, confidence and tools to succeed at job interviews, return to employment and ultimately transform their lives. Meanwhile, Markle’s sister-in-law Kate Middleton, has played an integral part in sparking a national conversation around mental health, a subject that is often viewed as taboo and has only recently been recognised as a widespread issue. Together with her husband, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry, Their Royal Highnesses launched their Heads Together Campaign in 2017.
Just as their grandmother has dutifully done for more than 65 years, the young royals will bring vital publicity to these organisations and allow their important work to be recognised. For all the garden parties, protocol, and fanfare, the Queen’s enduring presence does an important thing. It shows us a woman, a mother, and a sovereign who is strong, experienced, and widely respected; who has sacrificed a great deal to get to where she is. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in her bright two-piece designer ensemble, brooch, and fuchsia pink lipstick, is she the feminist hero we’ve been missing?
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