At a time when young graduates struggle to find work, one former art history student’s patchy résumé shouldn’t be headline news. Unless of course, you happen to be Kate Middleton.
Since graduating from the University of St Andrews in 2005, Middleton has worked briefly as an accessories buyer for high street brand Jigsaw and at her parents’ party planning business taking photographs and compiling catalogs, but her apparent lack of motivation and direction in her career caused the tabloids to nickname her “Waity Katie,” implying that she was only killing time before her engagement. Even the royal family, a dynasty not exactly known for its work ethic, disapproved—sources close to the Windsors were concerned that her lack of career progression damaged their reputation as much as hers.
Now, of course, her detractors have fallen silent. A sporadically employed girlfriend might have been an embarrassment, but a wife who works? Unthinkable, if the man she’s marrying is the heir to the throne.
It’s the kind of double standard she’ll have to learn to live with—whilst her husband is a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, nothing has been said about how she will fill her days.
The implication, of course, is that being a princess—and a wife—should be the pinnacle of her ambition. She has the life most women are indoctrinated to want as soon as we can articulate our desires, but can that ever be enough?
Prince William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, was an illustration of what happens when the fairytale ending fails to satisfy. She is remembered not for what she wore but for what she did and, although I don’t buy into the beatification that a certain section of the British press reserves for her, I think her choices were laudable.
So how is it that thirty years on, we seem to have regressed? Even Middleton’s detractors were concerned only that she spent the time between education and marriage productively, not that she should build a career that would nurture and stimulate her after she married. In a way, she was perfectly within her rights not to commit to a profession: Why should she put the work in, when it would only be taken away from her the moment she said “I do”?
Her marriage comes with a certain set of expectations—not for nothing is the royal family nicknamed “The Firm”—and attempts to step outside the carefully prescribed boundaries are likely to be met with disapproval. Sources close to her have suggested that the Prince of Wales’ private office vetoed a number of possibilities in order to keep her out of the limelight, and several art galleries were said to have been reluctant to take on board the paparazzi-shaped baggage that would have accompanied her had she joined their staff. Whether or not this is true, her choice of career would have been limited by her ties to the Windsors—the issue, it seems, was not finding her a job, but finding her a suitable job.
Middleton graduated with a 2:1 from a prestigious university, and to see that early promise trumped by state ceremonies and style accolades from glossy magazines makes me deeply uneasy. It baffles me that any woman would spend her twenties treading water and waiting for a proposal when she has the qualifications and the contacts to do whatever she wants. I don’t want to belittle anyone’s aspirations, and a stable, loving relationship is something to aspire to, be you princess or pauper, but what it shouldn’t be is a job, even if it does come with a tiara.