In our latest review, Leah Phillips has been looking at media coverage of the announcement that Britain’s Prince William and Kate are expecting their second child, and asks, what does this reveal about society’s attitude towards the pregnant body?
“Breaking News: Woman is Expecting a Baby”
This was how the Huffington Post UK reported the news that the Duchess of Cambridge, better known as Kate, is expecting her second child. Over the course of the next several months, Kate, will be reduced to our fascination with her clothes, changes in hairstyle and – most importantly – that growing bump. She will become (is becoming) Kate Middleton: walking-womb. Thus, while I truly appreciate HuffPost UK’s gentle mockery of itself (and media outlets the world over), the mockery only serves to indicate just how much this pregnancy is not (or will not be) normal, even by the (abnormal) standards of pregnancy. Kate’s pregnancy – and our growing concern with her growing bump – serves to mark a peculiar preoccupation with the pregnant form.
It’s a phenomenon that Hilary Mantel addressed in a brilliant essay – “Royal Bodies” – for the London Review of Books (LRB) during Kate’s first time pregnancy, and one that the LRB wasted no time in reminding us of when it was announced that she was expecting again. In the essay, Mantle argues that Kate, even prior to that first pregnancy, was “becoming a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung”, of which mother-to-be would become just another dressing.
In many respects, this is heightened because of Kate’s royal status. This pregnancy bears the weight of the crown, of legacy and of heritage, but as this is the second pregnancy (and the second child), will it be any different from the first? As the heir to the throne has already been provided, will this pregnancy matter less – or differently?
Differently, perhaps, as, within mere moments, The Guardian opened a poll, “Will a new royal baby save the union?”, linking this – yet to enter the world – child’s existence to the union’s future existence. (Apparently he or she won’t ‘save the union’, as, at time of submitting, the no is leading by 83%).
However, it is James Kirkup, writing for The Telegraph, who, without meaning to, gets to the heart of Kate’s pregnancy. Arguing that,
Perhaps it’ll boost the unionist cause. After all, the Royal Family are at least supposed to be the union incarnate, the physical embodiment of the ties that bind us together.
Kate’s pregnancy is, at its centre, an issue of embodiment, of female embodiment within popular and media culture (a space underpinned by patriarchal discourse).
While Kate’s pregnancy (as is any pregnancy) is from of embodiment that makes visible a body that isn’t just a (single) body housing a single self, it is the visibility of this excess that construes the body as one that must be exclaimed over and analysed. It is, again, that bump. It’s an issue that Christine Battersby ruminates on, at length, in The Phenomenal Woman. For Battersby, the female body isn’t a neutral body. It isn’t taken as norm. For, it is always either less than the male body (lacking a certain bit of anatomy) or more than it (pregnant, bearing another).
When the female body is less than the male body, it’s acceptable. It’s contained. It participates in patriarchy’s diametrical construction of identity (I am man because I am not woman). However, when the female body is pregnant, it is a body becoming more than one, a body that – through excess – questions the singular, stability of the male body. The normal body of patriarchy.
So, for the next several months, we’re destined (doomed?) to speculation, all in an attempt to know this body, to comprehend this body that has stepped outside of the norm, through the very ‘normal’ act of pregnancy. Yet, come delivery, Kate’s body will return to ‘normal’ (another issue that’ll come under debate), and we’ll ‘know’ the answers to all those questions – or, at least, we’ll wait with baited breath for that first photo, so we can see.
In the mean time, I’ll be in the garden (if this weather holds), reading Non Pratt’s Trouble… the story of: “A boy. A girl. A bump”. (While it might not be a royal bump, Hannah’s navigating the having of a bump at fifteen is certainly quite compelling.)
About the Author:
Leah Phillips is a PhD student at the University of Warwick. Her thesis explores constructions of the adolescent female body in popular and media culture and that constructions intersection with similar (though markedly different) constructions in YA fantasy. In terms of the fantasy, the project specifically focuses on Tamora Pierce, Alison Croggon, Kristin Cashore and Marissa Meyer.
 Andrea Mann, “Breaking News: Woman is Expecting a Baby”, The Huffington Post UK, 8 September 2014 <http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/09/08/duchess-of-cambridge-pregnant-spoof_n_5782658.html>.
 Hilary Mantel, “Royal Bodies”, LRB, 25:4 (2007), 3 – 7 <http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n04/hilary-mantel/royal-bodies> [accessed 8 September 2014].
 Ibid., p. 3.
 “Will a new royal baby save the union?”, The Guardian, 8 September 2014 <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/poll/2014/sep/08/new-royal-baby-save-union-scotland>.
 James Kirkup, “Scottish independence: Can a royal baby save the union?”, The Telegraph, 8 September 2014 <http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jameskirkup/100285559/scottish-independence-can-a-royal-baby-really-save-the-union/>.
 Christine Battersby, The Phenomenal Woman: Feminist Metaphysics and the Patterns of Identities (Cambridge, Blackwell 1998).
 Non Pratt, Trouble (London: Walker, 2014).