Much has been made of the fresh new perspective that Meghan Markle brings to the royal family. But, Camilla Long asks, is it really that easy? Or should we feel sorry for the star of a new horror movie: The Silence of the Markle.
It is less than a month since Meghan “Andie MacDowell” Markle joined the royal family and still I have one burning question: Will the coverage of any other royal wedding ever, ever contain the phrase “sanitary products” again?
You heard it, I heard it and poor, pursed, put-upon Huw “Whitey Lips” Edwards heard it on the BBC too. Not only would Meghan be the people’s princess, screeched 4000 commentators; as a period poverty campaigner she would be the princess of periods as well.
It says everything about the royal family’s desperate scramble to capitalise on the wild, emotional splurge and hysterical, multicultural bum drama of, say, the Kardashians that this achingly cool new Pepsi-ad public relations angle was piped hot onto the new Duchess of Sussex’s bio page on the royal family’s website on Monday morning.
Quivering details of Princess Harry’s views on “the stigmatisation of menstrual health management” were broadcast alongside pictures of the duchess, complete with a bindi on her forehead, on a “learning mission” to a charity in India that offers girls access to tampons and sanitary products so they can continue their education. Meghan volunteered on Skid Row in Los Angeles and in Canadian soup kitchens, it added. She was “proud to be a woman and a feminist”. She had a “lifelong commitment” to “social justice” … blah, blah, blah.
Can a duchess really be “a feminist”, though? I know we’re all in the grip of a lunatic gushy royal commercial break here – in which the royals, never ones to miss a conquest, have fully monetised Meghan’s otherness for their own dubious ends – but can she really “fight for feminism”, as one headline shrieked?
The very fact of her vast and feudal white wedding last month suggests the answer is no. Everything that happened in St George’s Chapel reeked of feminine submission, packed as it was with endless symbols of female purity and patriarchal prowess – the dress, the veil, the silence and the ceremony; the fact that it nearly ran aground because some grumbly old bloke didn’t turn up.
It’s not very feminist, being handed from senior man to junior man in the time-honoured tradition of horses and fairs. It’s not very feminist to let your future husband’s family pay for nearly everything in spite of earning millions yourself, and it’s not really feminist or “empowered” to give up your hard-won financial independence in the form of your job.
And, well, I don’t want to be a double – sorry, triple – sourpuss here, but it turns out the Queen shares my concerns. Meghan’s bio didn’t quite reflect the true values of the monarchy or even a vague sense of reality, so by Wednesday a great jewelled claw had swished out of the sky and pressed Mute on her “learning missions” and “empowerment”.
Meghan will be assigned an aide by the Queen to teach her one learning mission alone: “How to be an effective member of the royal family” – which is royal for: “How to shut up and smile.”
“It will be six months of listening,” sniffed a source. The duchess will visit charities and “proceed with humility”. And so the silencing of Meghan Markle begins.
“Humility” is the most damning word here, implying as it does that Meghan has not only got the wrong end of the sceptre but is already way above her station. “Lacking humility” is a quietly powerful misogynistic slur in the same category as calling a woman “modern” and “ambitious”. “She knows her own mind” and “she’s a self-made woman” also reverberated around the wedding coverage. Of course they were meant as compliments but are dog whistles for: “Who on Earth does she think she is?”
It is rather sad, suggesting as it does that the Queen took one look at Meghan’s appearance at the 70th birthday celebrations for Prince Charles and concluded that her cloying, Madonna-circa-Guy Ritchie “Who, me?” act would soon begin to grate.
If she were an ordinary woman, she could, I don’t know, run a hashtag or write a memoir about the terrible micro-aggressions she has suffered. As a duchess, however, she can’t fight back. She can only respond with a series of ever smaller and tighter gestures, her voice shut off and sidelined in a way she could never have imagined amid the inclusive gush of the wedding. Soon, like Kate, she will be able to express herself only through the medium of tights and hats. Because the thing with the Windsors is this: they always come out on top.
Everything that happened in St George’s Chapel reeked of feminine submission, packed as it was with symbols of female purity and patriarchal prowess.