It seems silly to be asking about the vows Wills and Kate intend to make. It’s 2011, for god’s sake, so really, it only matters what she’s wearing. But much more importantly, Wills-and-Kate is the best thing that’s happened to the world since, well, Charles-and-Diana. Tough break, Libya. Your revolution is being pre-empted.
On the other hand, maybe their vows do matter. I’m speaking of course of the decision to include “obey,” in those vows, the placement of which still rests only in the wife’s recitation of them, if a couple ever even gets that far. This is not to say I could stand to hear some pantywaist cutely return his own vow of obedience—it’s not 1973, FYI—but words like this today occupy an ambiguous space somewhere between my shrugged shoulders and the little girls who deserve to hear on the world’s stage that there’s really only so much shit they have to take. Only in America is that a given.
That’s because in America today, for a wife to make this vow on her wedding day, it’s more a rhetorical device, a way to signal that she’s more special than the rest. “I totally said ‘obey’ in my vows, and it totally didn’t matter! It’s totally just a word,” is what you’ll hear over martinis on a girls’ night out, proof that the bride is so cool, so modern, that she’s not a bitch about things like that. And in a way, it’s good to hear some women assert that they’re over themselves because not many of us are, and certainly not yours truly.
What happens, then, when a flower girl, a daughter, or a thirteen-year-old cousin asks about it? (People, the girls are wondering.) To the young, words mean so much more than they need to; but these are formative years for them. One needn’t shelter children so much though that they’re never exposed to the nuances of adult speech. So do you say, “I’m just gonna say it, honey, but I’m not gonna mean it”? Or better yet, “The priest won’t marry us unless I say it, and I really, really like this building.”
On a singular level, here in America, these are fine enough answers. It illustrates that no one’s above being practical, not even a bride. And it’s good for girls to understand that they’re not actually real princesses, the hope for which never really leaves us.
But those are private occasions centered on private people. What I need to report to you, and what you need to know, is that what a well-known woman says and does can make such a difference to even the most cosmopolitan little girl, and possibly be life-changing to those little girls stuck in the sandy pits of backward religions run by men who don’t even have zippers on their pants yet. The difference that women like Geraldine Ferraro and Christa McAuliffe made in this little girl’s life is incalculable, not to mention Princess Diana, who herself rejected the “obey” clause, and certainly stuck with it–for better and for worse.
So imagine how much it could mean to little girls worldwide to know that Kate, too, was making it known that the word means enough to her that she’s not going to say it. While she’s wearing that million-carat sapphire (the provenance of which is even more amazing: I would kill puppies to wear that thing) and marrying the future king of England, I certainly hope she knows that her decision to use “obey” in her vows is the only even remotely troubling issue she has. Same as so many brides in the western world, independent women all, it might actually not make a difference to her personally. But publicly? Please, Kate, do the little ones a solid. Promise to love and to cherish and be a spectacular queen. I can’t wait for it.
But obey no one on that day but yourself.