The Importance of Spongebumbles
“Why Women Are Bullying The Meek Out of their Inheritance”
with reference to Kim Kardashian, Charles Dickens, Tamara Ecclestone, and Bob-the-Builder.
Welcome to my new educational reality-tv show, “Learning Through the Lives of Celebrities and Rich People”.
Episode 1: Statistics, Literature, and Spongebumbles.
100% of Kim Kardashian’s previous two marriages have failed. 100% of her mother’s two marriages have failed. So you’d think she would pick a name for her baby that will still work if she and the child ever end up reverting to her maiden name. ‘North Kardashian’ isn’t bad, but it does sound like the name of an American street-corner – which is a bit of a comedown from ‘North West’ which is a whole geographic area.
With more couples choosing not to get married or, at least, not marrying until after a child is born to them, the decision about a child’s surname is becoming a bigger issue. And with divorce rates of about one-in-two in both Britain and America, pregnant women are querying the wisdom of giving a child the father’s surname, especially when the mother herself does not (at least, not yet) have that same surname.
Names colour our perceptions of people, particularly of those we know little else about (tell me you didn’t think Benedict Cumberbatch must be posh when you first heard his name), which is why Charles Dickens popped into my mind while I was having a schadenfreud-ish chuckle to myself at Tamara Ecclestone bemoaning the lot of being incredibly rich.
“There’s a vicious attitude towards anyone who has inherited anything”, she said. She’s probably right but, if she’s smart enough to discern it, then she should also be smart enough to know that she’ll elicit little sympathy by pointing it out. Miss Ecclestone is also done no favours by the fact that her name is reminiscent of a character out of a Dickens’ story, one about people whose names make you think of buffoonish waddling puffing posh fatties – like Cumberbatch indeed, or Spongebumbles.
So anyway Tamara was doing the whole “Woe-is-me,-daughter-and-heir-to-Formula-1-billionaire-Bernie-Ecclestone”-bit and I thought to myself that it’d be interesting to see how she’d feel about being spared the drawbacks of inherited wealth if she happened to have a brother and if Bernie was tempted to act in the old-fashioned manner of handing on succession – and the bulk of the wealth – to the firstborn son.
It may be an old-fashioned notion but this is not an outdated issue. And don’t think it only applies to old farmers eeking a paltry and indivisible living out of a rocky outcrop on some Hebridean clifftop. In England, Mrs Susan Shield is divorcing her husband, Richard – an engineering tycoon with a €50million fortune – in an attempt to prevent him from cutting her and their three daughters out of succession in favour of the only son. After 43 years of marriage the family is now split along the gender-line with the pater-familias being accused of being mentally incapable of making decisions. Money may not buy happiness but it certainly pays for costly and dramatic court cases.
It has long been mooted that the meek will inherit the earth. A half-day in any family-law court would suggest that this will only happen in the unlikely scenario that the meek have absolutely no relatives who aren’t themselves meek. And even if they didn’t, they’d probably just be easily bullied out of their fortune by non-meek total strangers anyway. So, one way or another, the meek are not going to end up with the human-family jewels. And they’re probably just as happy about that since they’d have a hard time coping with the vicious attitude of people that Miss Ecclestone was so generously warning them about. But what I realised, as I thought of Tamara’s words, was that the real reason that the meek won’t inherit the world … is because women will.
(I’m not saying this because I’ve just heard some Beyonce song on the radio and now have some vague but unstoppable urge to fistpump the air while shaking my righteous ‘boot-eh’ and shouting “Girl-power”. Being a skinny white Irish bloke, I think we’re all safe from that – if only because of the implied need for co-ordination and a sense of rhythm.)
Tamara and her sister will probably inherit their Dad’s tremendous wealth because they are his children. (I’m ignoring, for the sake of simplicity, the notion of Bernie dispensing largesse to others through his will). Even if they had a brother, we would expect them all, in our modern society, to inherit an equal amount, regardless of gender or age.
And so there is no longer any financial advantage to being the firstborn son – or indeed being male at all. The only advantage to having a son rather than a daughter would appear to be that old chestnut of ‘keeping the family name alive’ since, in the absence of male children, if the daughters marry and take their husbands’ names, then the family name is lost – at least to this branch of the family tree.
But … since more and more women are not taking the name of their husband but rather retaining their ‘maiden’ name, it is now only the female who can GUARANTEE the passing-on of the family name. A couple must AGREE for the child to be given the father’s surname but a woman can INSIST on it being hers. A woman can have a child either without getting married or just without taking the name of her husband and that child can then carry on her name rather than the father’s. And if both the parents just happen to be the end of their family lines, then it is the father’s family-name which will die out.
And a recent court case gave further cause for rich women to consider not getting married at all. Miss Victoria Luckwell has reverted to her wonderfully ironical maiden name (Dickens would have approved) after a court awarded £1.2million pounds to her ex-husband despite him having signed a pre-nup – and several updated versions thereof – declaring that he would never, in the event of divorce, come looking for any money from Victoria’s family fortune (largely derived from the creation of the Bob-the-Builder tv series by her father’s company). With a sense of outrage and indignation that can possibly only be summoned by someone who has hardly worked a day in their life but who has inherited great wealth and has the prospect of even greater wealth to come, Miss Luckwell seethed outside the courthouse after the judgement. Having cattily disparaged the man who was once the love-of-her-life as a lifelong money-grabbing scam-artist (“He liked rich girls; he used to date Stella McCartney.”), she went on to speak up for the capitalist branch of the feminist movement by declaring: “Sadly I am left to conclude that there is a strong financial disincentive for a wealthy woman to marry if she cannot be assured of protecting her family’s assets”.
Despite the fact that her attitude would seem sexist and misogynistic if the gender-roles were reversed, her conclusion may well strike a chord with women who stand to inherit wealth (the Misses Ecclestone might be sympathetic to Miss Luckwell’s plight). And perhaps the perceived ineffectiveness of an existing pre-nup will have an effect on women who have amassed wealth through their own work, and they might choose not to marry.
And if rich, successful, independent women start doing it, then other women will follow the example of these role-models (while possibly shaking ‘boot-eh’ and singing old Destiny’s Child anthems) and it will become a societal norm. And by extension, through proportional statistics if nothing else, it will become more common for women to retain their maiden name throughout their life. So it will become more common too for women to pass their own family name on to their children rather than giving them the father’s name. Or at least the choice to do so will lie more deliberately within the woman’s grace. And so it is the female who will become the determinant of the family line. The pre-eminence of the male child is gone. Any daughter now has more importance. The family-name will come to be passed down through the female side.
Even if that name is Spongebumble.