I totally understand skeptics like the New Yorker’s Lauren Collins, who are disinclined to be excited by the news that Kate Middleton is in labor, and who find their republican spines stiffening at the brouhaha. We’re American, and we fought a war for the right to care about Michelle Obama’s arms, rather than Kate Middleton’s birthing suite. But if you’re feeling superior about the paparazzi, and the pending tea towel boom in Britain, and all the ludicrous pomp and circumstance surrounding both the birth and the announcement thereof, you might want to hold up a moment. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may be an awfully privileged set of parents, but the circumstances of the arrival of their first child hold three important ideas for those of us in the former colonies about how we could be doing better by ordinary parents — and when it comes to women leaders.
1. It’s a reminder that Britain outranks us when it comes to paid maternity and paternity leave: It’s easy to mock Prince William for getting two weeks of paid parental leave on the birth of his first child, for which he’ll receive $206. It’s not as if that’s a make-or-break figure for the Cambridge family. But given that the United States remains the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t require employers to give mothers paid time off when they have children — the Family and Medical Leave Act only grants employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave per work year, and makes extending paid leave discretionary — it’s a striking illustration, both culturally and politically, of how far we in the United States are behind the rest of the First World. William may be a member of the Royal Family and second in line for the British throne, but he has an actual job as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot, and by taking time off and getting paid for it, he’s setting a great model both for policy, and for dads who have paid leave available to them, but might be skittish about taking time off work to settle in with their new children and to help their partners.
2. If she’s a girl, the Royal Baby will make British human rights history : As Amy Davidson explains in the New Yorker, the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were expecting coincided with an important development. After centuries of male-preference primogeniture, in which a girl who’d otherwise be heir to the British royal throne can get leapfrogged by her brothers, the Commonwealth countries have agreed to change their policy, which would put Kate and William’s daughter, if they have one, third in line for the British throne, even if she someday has brothers. Does this mean sexism is over forever? Of course not, just as the ascension of women into the top ranks of corporate America doesn’t mean things are changing for women in service occupations. But that doesn’t mean that the eradication of sexist barriers, wherever they stand, is unimportant. As long as the closest a woman gets to the top office into the United States is by marriage, Britain’s willingness to be ruled by women, both by birth and by election, is doing more to challenge the idea that only men can lead countries than our democratic system has achieved so far.3. It’s an opportunity to shine a light on maternal death rates in the U.K. and elsewhere: In 2010, the United Kingdom’s maternal death rate was 12 per 100,000 live births. In the United States, it was almost twice as high, at 21 maternal deaths for 100,000 live births. These numbers are excellent in comparison to countries like Chad, which had the dubious distinction of topping the list that year with 1,100 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. But given, as the New York Times reported earlier this month, that Americans pay more to give birth than citizens of any other country — we spend $50 billion on the 4 million births that happen in the U.S. each year — you’d think we’d be getting better outcomes for our money.