It’s not only Meghan who will have to ad­just

Woonsocket Call - - OPINION - By AU­TUMN BREW­ING­TON Spe­cial To The Wash­ing­ton Post Brew­ing­ton, a free­lance jour­nal­ist in Wash­ing­ton, was an ed­i­tor at The Wash­ing­ton Post from 2001 to 2014.

Meghan Markle is poised to change the Bri­tish royal fam­ily, but her big­gest im­pact will not come from her bira­cial her­itage, or the fact that she is Amer­i­can, or even that she is di­vorced. It will come from her out­spo­ken­ness.

Be­fore Markle, 36, be­came a global celebrity through her royal ro­mance, she en­gaged the me­dia as an ac­tress and per­son­al­ity. She doc­u­mented her meals, pets and out­ings on Instagram and her “life­style brand” web­site, the Tig. Lighter en­tries in­cluded a March 2016 post on travel in which she con­fessed to clean­ing air­plane sur­faces with an­tibac­te­rial spray, praised pro­bi­otics and lauded a $900 carry-on bag.

Markle shut down the Tig last spring; her Instagram and Twit­ter ac­counts were deleted a few months ago. But even if she no longer shares her ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ences, her trans­parency about her tastes and habits makes her ac­ces­si­ble to the masses in a way that none of her soon-to-be in-laws are. So does her long his­tory of voic­ing opin­ions on more sub­stan­tive mat­ters.

When she was 11, Markle wrote to Proc­tor & Gam­ble and then-first lady Hil­lary Clin­ton, among oth­ers, about an Ivory soap com­mer­cial that said “women are fight­ing greasy pots and pans.” The ad, which Markle con­sid­ered sex­ist, was later changed to say “peo­ple,” and she was pro­filed by lo­cal news.

As an adult, Markle be­came an ad­vo­cate with U.N. Women and an am­bas- sador for the chil­dren’s char­ity World Vi­sion. In 2015, she re­flected pub­licly on be­ing bira­cial and her encounters with racism. “While my mixed her­itage may have cre­ated a grey area sur­round­ing my self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion,” she wrote, “keep­ing me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to em­brace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in be­ing a strong, con­fi­dent mixed-race woman.”

She later wrote that “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches; I’ve al­ways wanted to be a woman who works” and that she was raised to be “a young adult with a so­cial con­scious­ness to do what I could and speak up when I knew some­thing was wrong.”

Markle pub­lished an es­say last spring – while dat­ing Prince Harry – on how the stigma sur­round­ing men­stru­a­tion in­hibits op­por­tu­ni­ties for girls around the globe.

Asked in Feb­ru­ary about her work on women’s em­pow­er­ment, Markle said: “You’ll of­ten hear peo­ple say, ‘You’re help­ing women find their voices.’ And I fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with that be­cause women don’t need to find a voice. They have a voice. They need to feel em­pow­ered to use it, and peo­ple need to be en­cour­aged to lis­ten.” She men­tioned the #MeToo and #Time­sUp move­ments, say­ing that “there is no bet­ter time than to re­ally con­tinue to shine a light on women feel­ing em­pow­ered and peo­ple re­ally help­ing to sup­port them.”

For the po­lit­i­cally neu­tral royals, these are strik­ing state­ments. At the Bri­tish Academy Film Awards in Feb­ru­ary, stars wore black to show sup­port for #Time­sUp; Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, arrived in green. Some saw her dark gown and black rib­bon as a nod to the move­ment, but she avoided di­rectly sig­nal­ing sup­port. Af­ter years in the spot­light, the duchess’ bland state­ments have made her a much-pho­tographed ci­pher. She em­u­lates the queen’s tight-lipped ex­am­ple of royal neu­tral­ity; the monarch is known for wav­ing her gloved hand and say­ing lit­tle that’s con­tro­ver­sial.

Markle, of course, is not ex­pected to be queen.

Yet up­dat­ing an in­her­ently old-fash­ioned in­sti­tu­tion, one built on tra­di­tion, is tricky, and it’s not clear how Markle’s out­spo­ken­ness will fit in with the tra­di­tional royal mys­tique. Wal­ter Bage­hot warned dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era against mix­ing the monar­chy with “the com­bat of pol­i­tics,” or let­ting day­light in upon magic. If the royals appear too re­mote, they risk ir­rel­e­vance; too open, and their or­di­nar­i­ness could un­der­mine their sta­tus. Markle has years of prac­tice bal­anc­ing an im­age and shar­ing her opin­ions. The royals, by con­trast, prac­tice draw­ing cov­er­age to their pub­lic works, not their pri­vate views and lives. The ques­tion, then, is not merely how Markle adapts to royal life but also how the royal fam­ily adapts to its vo­cal ad­di­tion.

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