THE LONG VIEW – Gender, parenting and the monarchy

One of the world’s most heralded future leaders in this fast-moving 21st century is quietly maturing in the womb of a new British royal named Kate Middleton. For now, the rest of us can only keep our distance as we await the birth of a child who will be third in line for the British throne.

It is a pregnancy that has countries and continents watching.

But is “excitement” the best way to describe it? Or should we stick for now – and maybe for another decade or more – to words like “joy” and “promising” and “childhood” and “preparing to take a special place”? As phrases go, they are not so punchy, but they may be far more apt.

Granted, there was a time when the arrival of an individual who is fated to be so close to the throne was a much bigger deal than it is today, a time when real power waited to be speedily conferred on the death or defeat of a sovereign. Now, however, the line of succession has grown longer. Two men from two different generations – Charles and William – have their reservations for the role of monarch well-stamped, if not dated, with no sign at this point, as Charles enters his mid-60s, that the scenario is about to change.

One aspect of their accession to the throne, however, we know will be different. Boys’ primacy in the succession line is just about over. The throne will pass to the child of Prince William and Kate regardless of that child’s gender, thanks to change in British laws that embrace gender equality over male-first primogeniture.

And that’s only one of the changes in how gender is affecting parenting. We have other experiences all around us. If I had not been sitting idly in a parked car on a recent afternoon, I would have missed a small but telling incident.

The mini-drama had a cast of two: a young father somewhere in his early 30s, I’d presume, with a white T-shirt, a black leather jacket and jeans was shopping with his baby daughter in a snow suit with pink trim that took the guess work out of her gender.

The two of them had just emerged from a suburban drugstore, their shopping cart stuffed with newly filled plastic bags. Dad opened the back door of their car and, carrying the child snugly in his other arm, shifted several of the loaded bags into the car. Then he repeated the routine again and again, the child bouncing happily on each transfer.

I watched and thought about how a woman would have been doing it.

A woman, it seemed to me from personal experience, would have shifted the baby first, moving her into the child safety seat and buckling it securely. Then without moving more than a few steps, she would have unpacked the bags from the cart and placed them inside the trunk or inside the vehicle. That way, the mother would have two arms to effect the transfer and double her capacity to finish the job.

That made sense to me. Meanwhile, common sense suggested that carrying the baby step by step on a serious shopping foray had less to do with Dad’s need to keep the baby safe than it did with Dad’s shakiness at the options he had available.

Gender experience offers opportunities to do traditional jobs better. They deserve to be explored. British leaders think such exploration will work for them. Rank-and-file Americans see benefits, too.

Sooner or later, a woman who agrees is going to walk briskly into the Oval Office and say, “Hi, everybody, I’m home.”

And the rest of us can say, “We’ve been waiting for you, Madam President.”

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