I read an interesting article by Laura Collins in the New Yorker about a group of British female aristocracy, named the Hares, who are trying to overturn the right of male preference primogeniture. The full article isn’t available online, but I did find this Telegraph article written by Liza Campbell, who is a member of the Hares and was prominently featured in the New Yorker.
Actually, before I go on, perhaps I should start by saying that, if you’re British, I’m not trying to offend you, and I’d love to hear your take on all this in the comments.
I don’t give much thought to the ins and outs of British aristocracy. The last time it was even a blip on my radar was prior to the Duchess of Cambridge marrying into the royal family. I did not share an interest in the wedding craze, but the constant reference to her as a ‘commoner’ by British press rankled me. While reading Collins’ article I felt the same annoyance. I suppose somewhere in the back of my mind I was dimly aware archaic laws regarding the passing down of titles (to males) are still in effect, but it surprised me nonetheless. How is it that a country that considers itself so civilized still has such patriarchal crap laws about inheritance?
After reading the New Yorker article, I began to look up information online about the bill in question, the Equality (Titles) Bill. At first, I confused it with the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which I vaguely remember following during the whole Royal wedding/baby hoopla. It passed, but is not yet in effect, and once it is, if I understand correctly, it will affect those born after October of 2011. Since the baby born to the Duke and Duchess was a boy, we won’t see the Crown Act in action (yet), but it has put a spotlight on inheritance laws within British nobility.
The Hares, and there’s no big shock here, have a lot of opposition from many of the peerage, but they do have supporters as well. ‘Situational feminists’, was the phrase used, basically those that have daughters that could benefit from the law are most interested in showing support (side note: I love this term, sadly nowadays we’re situational about almost everything).
I am aware of the other side’s argument, which is that those laws are in effect to prevent the lands involved with said titles from being divided up until there is nothing left. But honestly? We’re mere weeks away from 2014, y’all. The right to pass down a title, however silly I find titles to be, shouldn’t be only for male heirs. I find it odd they are so behind the times on gender equality. That being said, I also read arguments stating that to pass down a title to the first born, whether male or female, is yet another form of discrimination. My feeling regarding that is, while some people might legitimately believe first born inheritance is unfair to younger children, it’s probably a rationalization meant to distract from the issue at hand, gender bias.
Obviously I’m not British, and the notion of somehow being born ‘noble’ is ludicrous to me because I grew up in a society where everyone is a Ms., Mrs., of Mr., and that’s it. Which is not to say we don’t have extreme inequality in America, because we sure as hell do, now more than ever. However, if the system of titles is already in place, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere, how in the hell is it not already acceptable to pass down hereditary titles to female heirs?
I’m sure the law will change, breaking one of the final (legal) areas of gender discrimination, but how interesting it has taken this long.