Oscar-winning actor Olivia Colman has called Queen Elizabeth II the “ultimate feminist” after portraying the monarch in the latest season of The Crown.
In an interview with Radio Times ahead of the show’s release on Netflix on Sunday, Colman said she had “fallen in love with the Queen” while playing the role.
So what are Her Majesty’s feminist credentials?
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As Colman says: “She’s the breadwinner. She’s the one on our coins and banknotes. Prince Philip has to walk behind her.”
The actor cited several other ways in which the Queen could be said to have broken gender stereotypes, including her job fixing cars in the Second World War.
History.com notes that Elizabeth II remains “the only female member of the Royal Damily to have entered the Armed Forces and is the only living head of state who served in WWII”.
As an 18-year-old princess, she “donned a pair of coveralls” and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a mechanic and military truck driver “after months of begging her father to let his heir pitch in”, says the site.
The royal also kept her own name when she married and used clothing rations to pay for her wedding dress.
Another favourite tale among fans of the Queen dates back to 1998, when Saudi Arabia’s late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited Balmoral. To the surprise of the king, in whose kingdom women were banned from driving, Elizabeth jumped behind the wheel of one of her Land Rovers and took him for a spin.
Describing the monarch as a “feminist icon” in an article in The Telegraph, British broadcaster Emma Barnett notes that she also “quietly oversaw the change of royal rules of succession allowing an eldest girl to always accede to the throne” and has lauded women’s achievements in her annual speeches to Sandringham’s Women’s Institute, of which the Queen has been a member since 1943.
Perhaps most significantly, Barnett suggests, the Queen’s gender has always been “irrelevant” to her capacity to perform her duties.
“By doing that job stoically and with the utmost dedication, she’s inadvertently done a great deal to normalise the idea of having a woman in charge – which after her reign won’t be the case for at least three generations of the Royal Family,” Barnett says.
However, some critics on social media have refuted Colman’s assessment of the Queen, suggesting that as a “symbol of inequality, privilege and colonial rule”, Her Majesty cannot be viewed as a feminist.
Others argue that her power is “rooted in the oppression of others” and that she has “stayed silent” on women’s rights issues over the years.
When Meghan Markle - a self-declared feminist - married Prince Harry last year, Harpers Bizarre questioned whether it was possible for any member of the Royal Family to be a feminist.
“Despite being led by a woman, the Royal Family has never had an official position on feminism – or indeed any political issue. They are required to remain neutral,” says the magazine.
“The Queen may arguably be the most powerful and influential woman in the world, but her job is bound by duty, small talk and performing at public events. And let’s not forget that any woman who has rebelled against the confines and tradition of the monarchy, who drew attention to herself, has never fared well.”
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