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Since the beginning of time, women have had a costly relationship when it comes to their proximity to power. It’s hard to miss the recent headlines about pop singer Britney Spears, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka using their power to take a stand for their mental health. I’ve been an executive producer on The Crown since its inception and, as we begin to cover a new era, it’s become abundantly clear that some of the well-documented history in our show parallels what we see today with women in powerful positions. To put it simply: Women are initially praised for their efforts, only to be mercilessly scrutinized later.
The Crown centers on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, but in the fourth season we introduce two 20th century icons: Princess Diana and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. They reshaped history and, eventually, the monarchy without knowing the price they would pay as women in power.
Thatcher’s complex relationship with the queen challenged her sense of duty. While Thatcher worked to reshape the country by any means necessary, she was ultimately ousted by her party after 11 years in office and criticized for her leadership by the public. The media gave Thatcher more nicknames than any other prime minister, including “Attila the Hen,” “Iron Lady,” “Milk Snatcher” and “The Grocer’s Daughter” — all of which alluded to her meager upbringing, uncompromising politics or unrelenting leadership style.
Meanwhile, Lady Diana Spencer would end up humanizing the royal family as the world came to see her grow up from a 19-year-old teacher’s assistant to Lady Di. All would soon become enamored of Princess Diana, which resulted in her becoming a massive force adored by heads of state and dignitaries alike, while eventually setting off a new level of fascination with her celebrity that catapulted tabloid culture to manic levels never seen before.
Though season four only begins to touch on the media’s fascination with Diana, we all know too well how this obsession ends: with heartbreak and devastation — a life cut short. The consequences are still seen today as a result of invasive coverage and social media.
For decades, Spears battled the tabloids for her privacy; now those unforgiving headlines are being reexamined as she works to regain control and power surrounding her conservatorship. In late May, Osaka took to her Instagram to come forward after gracefully bowing out of press for the French Open due to her struggles with depression. After showering her with praise for winning the Australian Open, some of the public immediately pounced on her for “unsportsmanlike behavior” and “not being tough enough to handle criticism.” And a few days into the Summer Olympics, Biles took a stand for her mental health and the public sentiment veered from “Simone Is Unstoppable” to “Biles Is a Quitter, Plain and Simple.” To this day, much like some of the female characters in The Crown, women like Spears, Biles and Osaka are villainized when they stand up for themselves and reclaim their power.
Queen Elizabeth II has not been exempt from scrutiny throughout her reign, and even in this current season, we see her pitted against Thatcher overtly in the public eye. Today, we see this kind of scrutiny played out in the public sphere among female politicians and world leaders such as Kamala Harris, the first female vice president of the U.S.; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (the second elected female leader to give birth while in office!); and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Time and again, women in political leadership positions are not granted the same courtesies as their male counterparts. Headlines constantly question their “juggling of motherhood and politics” and their emotional capability for the job.
It’s my hope that The Crown will continue to document and open the door to the changes made by powerful women like Queen Elizabeth and Thatcher. I look forward to more women leaders, politicians, entertainers and athletes feeling empowered to chart their own path and blaze their own trail without the constant sense of being put under a global magnifying glass.
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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