The “soft” power of women and the drawbacks of beauty

What is power? What does it mean to be powerful?

And is a woman’s power any different from that of a man’s?

As a woman, these are questions I find myself returning to time and time again. In my quest to understand a woman’s power, I regularly read about extraordinary women’s lives, I observe women everywhere, I follow high-profiled women in the media, and I interview women.

Some of the women who I follow in the media include Kate Middleton, Queen Elizabeth and other royal women, since they generate so much interest; plus they are surrounded by mystery. I’ve blogged about Kate in the past, and I will continue to do so because, arguably, she is powerful. Her power shows up not in having done or contributed much of anything significant really, except for photo opportunities. She has not invented any gadget, nor is she a leader in any industry. Though she has, apparently, helped boost the business of British fashion designers.

Kate’s power shows up in a more quiet, understated way: her beauty. Her feminine energy.

The Guardian journalist, Ros Coward, makes some interesting comments about the British royal women; particularly about the Queen having “soft” power, meaning ruling with feminine attributes. Coward states that the women are the face of the monarchy – and their future.

Like Kate, Princess Diana had that same kind of beauty and feminine power.

Make no mistake, the monarchy knows this and has used it to its fullest advantage as it molds and manufactures Kate’s public image to win over the hearts of British and the people of the Commonwealth. Anyone in the media knows perfectly well that “kids and puppies” make great photo opportunities.

Why? Our hearts open.

But, there is a — gasp!drawback to Kate’s beauty — and the world’s obsession with it.

I am reminded by the tragic Irish mythological heroine, Deirdre, (often referred to as “Deirdre of the Sorrows”), from Pre-Christian times, whose beauty caused kings and lords to wage war and who ultimately died young because of her beauty.

I discovered Deirdre years ago when I was researching Celtic mythology for a project I was working on. This heroine stood out in my mind because I thought it was so fascinating, not to mention tragic, that her beauty was her biggest drawback. As a society, we admire and worship beauty, but we forget, or are not aware, that there are also drawbacks to beauty.

Deirdre is not the only example in either mythology or recent history when a woman’s beauty caused or led to her untimely death, either directly or indirectly. In fact, there are plenty of examples, including Marilyn Munroe and, more recently, Princess Diana. Think of how the world obsessed about every move they made. Marilyn couldn’t live up to the public’s expectations of her. In her case, her beauty indirectly led to her death. In the case of Diana, it was the obsession to get one more image of her – like we didn’t have enough – that directly caused her death.

And so, back to Kate…

Kate’s “softer” power, her beauty, is dangerous – but, only to her. Think of all the energy and buzz constantly being created world-wide about her; all the photos and images that appear in media and blogs daily (including this one). Gee, even Irish soldiers pass out at her beauty while handing out shamrocks (okay, I’m not sure that is why, but the media jokingly made it look like that). That’s a lot of pressure.

It is also a tremendous amount of attention — on her.


© Shannon Skinner 2012