Thursday, June 17, 2010

Heavy Weighs the Burden of the Royal Crown

 The Japanese Crown Princess Masako, I hear, is depressed. For seven years, she, now 46, has not made any appearances in public. The cause of her depression is the pressure that came with her royal position to produce a male heir to the Japanese dynasty. As the years went by, that pressure mounted, and mounted, and ultimately contributed to what has been widely acknowledged as a royal breakdown.

The Princess is an accomplished woman. She was educated at Harvard and Oxford and speaks several languages, a skill she acquired from living abroad during her father’s various posts as a high power diplomat. She passed the rigorous exams for the foreign service, and was widely expected to succeed her father. Then Prince Neruhito first met her when she was 22 and he was 26. Shortly after, he proposed. Her answer was “no,” as she was not prepared to give up her career. Five years later, as concern mounted about the prince marrying and producing an heir to the dynasty, his response was that he was only interested in Masako. Masoko, then 29, finally agreed to the prince’s proposal. 

The result was a much publicized “fairytale” wedding. Immediately, expectations mounted. The county waited, while the Prince and Princess cheerfully responded to inquiries about a royal heir. As the years went by, the press and public gave voice to a mounting concern about royal succession. Masako’s popularity began to plummet. At 36, the princess became pregnant and the news was prematurely leaked by an intrusive press to an expectant public. Then the princess sustained a miscarriage, much to the disappointment of an expectant nation..Even the Prince intervened, chastising the press for prematurely revealing intimate matters. Normally vivacious, the princess stopped making public appearances. A year later, she had a child, a girl, who is now said to be one of the only joys in her life.   

For a while there was talk of a female heir. Then, that idea was was dropped when the Crown Prince’s brother had a son, who is now expected to inherit the throne. In addition, the most recent news is that her daughter Princess Aiko had been bullied at an exclusive school for royals, became anxious and was afraid to return. Her mother emerged form her seclusion and reappeared in the public eye as she accompanied her daughter to school.

Now the family of the Crown Prince is criticized by the public. The Princess is seen as weak, her daughter, as anxious and vulnerable.  There is talk the public does not want an unhealthy family and now the Prince may lose his Crown.

Rather than scorn, the family deserves empathy. Imagine a modern country where one’s woman’s entire worth is evaluated solely by her ability to bear a male child.

To weigh down a woman nearing middle age with the future of an entire dynasty was unreasonable and cruel. The stress place on Masako was not conducive to child-bearing, or, to say the least, her health.  It is sad that this talented woman, who had so much to offer in serving her country, now spends her days depressed, in seclusion. She sacrificed her intellectual pursuits to become a member of the royalty, and is now viewed as a failure.    

What is it with these royal families who destroy their vulnerable princesses?

Diana is another case in point. Prince Charles, who had put off marriage, was pressured to produce a royal heir and chose the hapless and young Diana. The result was another widely “celebrated” fairytale wedding. Diana managed to produce the requisite “heir” and a “spare,” but hers is a story also sad, that of a marriage gone awry. Diana had the love of the public but not that of her own spouse. Little did she know when she married that her royal husband was committed to another woman he had met long ago. She ended up in a loveless marriage. She rebelled against royal protocol and she suffered a tragic death, beleaguered by a relentless tabloid press.

Can we dare to say that royalty is an outdated remnant of another era? Royal marriages used to be arranged for political reasons. There was no happiness expected within them. Can we dare posit the notion that the royalty has become redundant in a modern age? They do not govern, but serve as mere figureheads. These days, countries are governed by prime ministers and presidents. Can we dare say the ancient system to ensure succession has become outdated and even cruel? We have, I hope, moved way past the days of Henry the Eighth, who beheaded Ann Boelyn, who was only able to bear him a female child. In our world, romance governs choice of partners.

What is it with this obsession with succession?

In real life, sad to say, these highly touted “fairy-tale” weddings turned out to be a fantasy, a mere figment of children’s storybooks. After all, life happens. The typical storybook ending of “living happily after,” unfortunately, often does not.

And the very real suffering of these two contemporary princesses shows that the burden of an antiquated crown does indeed exact a heavy toll.

Enough said about unrealistic standards and the public’s expectations of the royals

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