80's Feminist lessons from The Crown

Forty years on from the 80s, here are the lessons we can learn from the era as shown through the latest series of The Crown. 

Ah, the 1980s. Although it feels like yesterday, this pivotal decade in British history has turned 40 this year which makes it officially retro. It’s no wonder, then, that people everywhere are going bananas for the latest series of The Crown. Packed full of 80's nostalgia, the popular television show features many pivotal moments in history that impacted not only our beloved royal family but also society as a whole.

Madonna performing during the Who's That Girl World Tour, 1987
Madonna performing during the Who's That Girl World Tour, 1987

For many young women, this TV series could offer some insight into their parents’ heyday. It could also be a source of inspiration. This was an era when Madonna ruled supreme, Margaret Thatcher was made Prime Minister, and Princess Diana was charming the British public. It was a time of flux, of great possibility and ongoing struggle around equality—a time in which change and progress seemed limitless.

Who better to illustrate this, than Lady Diana herself? A rule-breaker with a short haircut, epic fashion sense, and a fearless attitude that meant she challenged the status quo. She was a woman who embodied the spirit of feminism: women can do anything they set their minds to. We spoke to Taylor Hermerding, cultural expert and editor in didactics at language app Babbel about the role Diana played in shaping society as we know it.

Princess Diana waving to a crow
Diana in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1983

“Diana’s relatability and rule-breaking was of course much the reason that she was nicknamed and loved as the ‘People’s Princess’, instead of one of the royals. This was perhaps what began to position her as an icon amongst women everywhere. In 1981, for example, Diana made history when she famously refused to say that she would 'obey' Prince Charles during their wedding vows, sealing the marriage with a feminist stamp."

"Diana sealed her marriage with a feminist stamp"

"She also chose her sons’ first names herself, taking a modern view of child-rearing and more ownership of motherhood. Charles had reportedly preferred Arthur for their firstborn and Albert for their second, in place of who we’ve all come to know as William and Harry. Rebelling against the constraints of royal childhood, she took her boys to get hamburgers at McDonald’s, rode the tube and the bus, and let them wear jeans and baseball caps. At Disneyland, they stood in line like everyone else. She was hardly behaving in a manner appropriate for a Princess, but that was perhaps her best quality."

John Travolta and Diana dancing at the White House, November 1985
John Travolta and Diana dancing at the White House, November 1985

"All importantly, Diana didn’t let her personality be quashed by royal protocol and she wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers. During the 1995 landmark BBC interview with Martin Bashir, which is currently facing inquiries, she spoke frankly of her 'crowded marriage' to Prince Charles, admitting an affair of her own and openly disclosing her suffering from 'rampant bulimia'. She commented: 'I do things differently, I don’t go by a rule book. I lead from the heart not the head and albeit that’s got me into trouble in my work I understand that, but someone’s got to go out there and love people', Lady Di totally broke down the notion of the siff upper British lip for the first time, actively speaking against the establishment she was married into, as well as her unhappy marriage."

"Diana didn’t let her personality be quashed by royal protocol"

"So, what can we learn from Diana? Perhaps we can take note of her pioneering attitude, and her rejection of the rules. As society moves away from binary terms and embraces a more fluid way of living, it’s easy to forget how impossible such things were only 40 years ago. Diana, with her 'can-do' attitude, her empathy for others, and her consistent fight against 'normative' behaviour and what was 'appropriate' for a woman at that time paved the way for others after her to be more rebellious, more questioning, more bold and adventurous. She refused to back down or be silenced: and this is not only something we can learn from her, it’s something we should endeavour to continue in her honour.”

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