It’s been abundantly clear from the start that the tabloids have a problem with the Duchess of Sussex.
On 8 January, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle released an unprecedented statement confirming their intention to “step back” as senior members of the royal family.
“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” the Duke and Duchess of Sussex explained, in a post shared on their official @SussexRoyal account. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen.”
The statement went on to outline the couple’s plans to balance their time between the United Kingdom and North America, which they hope “will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity”.
Harry and Meghan’s post has, in under 24 hours, already racked up almost 1.5 million likes – and, naturally, the world’s press has gone positively bananas. “It’s astonishing, it’s momentous,” said the BBC’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond. Elsewhere, the Daily Mail’s front page speaks of the “Queen’s fury” at the revelation – while The Mirror has insisted that the royal couple “didn’t even tell the Queen” of their plans before making the announcement.
On social media, meanwhile, the hashtag #Megxit is growing in popularity, as the general populace – and some unfortunately notorious ‘talking heads’ – join the conversation online.
“Takes quite a special sense of narcissistic self-indulgence to treat the 93 year-old Queen, with a husband in failing health, the way Harry and Meghan have today,” ranted Iain Martin.
Piers Morgan, likewise, decided to pursue this ‘bad manners’ argument, writing: “Just an appalling way to treat his grandmother, let alone the fact she is the Queen.”
And Katie Hopkins, seemingly still keen to spread poison and sow seeds of discontent wherever she can, made a point of piling the blame entirely upon Meghan. “Markle abandoned her own family. Now she has forced Harry to abandon his,” she sniped. “Good riddance to her. Leave our Royal Family alone.”
In the face of so much shock and outrage – almost the entirety of which has been directed at Meghan over Harry – it any wonder that so many have been quick to conclude that the royals’ resignation was influenced by the harsh treatment of the duchess by the British media and general public?
This theory gains even more weight if you visit the couple’s new website and read the ‘Media’ section. It is here that the couple have outlined their intention to remove themselves from the “Royal Rota system”. The ‘Royal Rota’, for those who don’t know, is the name given to the core group of UK outlets which have exclusive access to the official engagements and members of the royal family. Namely, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Times, and The Sun.
“The Duke and Duchess have chosen to revise their media policy to reflect both their forthcoming change as members of the Royal Family with financial independence, and their wish to reshape and broaden access to their work,” it reads.
The couple’s meaning is veiled, but very clear: they are unhappy with the royal family’s current relationship with the press. Whether this is the sole reason for them stepping back as senior royals remains to be seen. However, is it really a surprise that Meghan and Harry decided to release their news directly, through their own Instagram account? That they decided to bypass the usual royal protocols? That they didn’t want to work with the Royal Rota system on this occasion?
Not at all. Especially as the couple have been held up as hate figures by certain members of the press for some time now. Strike that, actually: they haven’t. Meghan has. Indeed, it’s an indisputable fact that, since joining the royal family, criticisms of Meghan have ranged from the offensive to the downright bizarre.
At the time, the press attempted to reduce the talented Suits actor to nothing more than a divorced older woman (Meghan is just three years older than the prince). Some also began questioning her financial background and her ‘motives’ for dating a member of the royal family.
Perhaps most shockingly of all, however, were the loaded comments about Meghan’s ethnicity – and the backlash that this generated on social media. Many racist Twitter trolls claimed that the prince should not be allowed to date a biracial person – harkening back to the mythical concept of ‘blue blood’ and royal purity. And, as Prince Harry was forced to explain in a public statement, paparazzi began to invade the privacy of both Meghan and her family, employing abusive tactics in order to find out more about them.
“Some of it has been hidden from the public,” explained the prince, going on to recall “the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life.”
Meghan attended the Endeavour Fund Awards in a Alexander McQueen tuxedo (aka the glam Hollywood equivalent of every woman’s trusted “jeans and a nice top” combo).
Cue a plethora of screaming headlines, all of which punned the same tired old sexist trope: “Guess who wears the trousers in Prince Harry’s relationship?”
Staunch anti-royalist Germaine Greer sat down with 60 Minutes Australia to talk about Meghan and Harry’s relationship (an odd choice, being as the academic is not a close friend of the couple). And, when asked what she thought the future held for the couple, Greer said: “I think she’ll bolt.”
“She’s bolted before,” she continued, referring to Markle’s 2013 divorce from Trevor Engelson. “She was out the door. I think she’ll bolt.”
Thanks to the bullying circus who followed her dad in the run-up to her wedding, Meghan was forced to release a statement saying he would no longer be attending.
To quote Stylist’s Alix Walker: “Imagine if we were all judged on the families that made us. Imagine if, by some god-awful turn of events, millions and millions of people pulled out their mean little microscopes and put your family under their glare, then began to dissect them cell by cell… imagine if the world’s media decided, after all this scrutiny, that your family was not the right fit, that they were a ‘car crash’, ‘trash’ and ‘unhinged’.
“It’s unimaginable, isn’t it? Because no family deserves to go under somebody else’s microscope. Every family - yours, mine, Meghan’s, Harry’s - is complicated. Full of difficult truths and half-truths and unspoken truths.”
The stream of criticism over Meghan’s royal wedding dress was positively unreal, with some showbiz reporters even making a point of asking celebrities to share their thoughts on the gown. It was Katy Perry’s comments, though, which made headlines at the time.
“I would have done one more fitting. I’m never not going to tell the truth! One more fitting, but I love you.”
The Dark Horse singer added that she preferred Kate Middleton’s 2011 Alexander McQueen bridal look, declaring, “Kate, Kate, Kate won, Kate won!”
I can see your eyes rolling, reader: I know you’re thinking that Perry wasn’t strictly being mean-spirited (she went on to state that she loves and supports the duchess “as another woman”). That sometimes people do look good, or even not as good, as they might. That there’s literally nothing more delicious than discussing fashion choices. That journalists had most likely asked Perry to comment on Meghan’s dress, and she was just playing ball.
However, even if all of the above is true, her comments were still undeniably damaging. They fed into society’s outdated cult of perfectionism, and gave the media’s body and fashion-shaming machine a much-needed boost. And, most aggravatingly, they breathed new life into the most outdated and misogynist narrative of all: that girls are “mean”, women are “bitchy” and we will never, ever find a way to just get along.
A 60-second video, which was shared on Instagram, was captioned simply: “Harry and Meghan join the Queen and the Queen’s Young Leaders for their photo at the palace”. The footage was banal, at best: in it, Meghan sat down and talked to a woman sat beside her, the Queen ensured everyone is positioned correctly, Harry adjusted his trousers… the usual.
“Whoops!” screamed one tabloid. “See the EXACT MOMENT Meghan Markle switches from crossed legs to ‘Duchess Slant’ at palace party.” Another publication claimed to have footage of the moment “Meghan Markle realised she messed up her royal leg cross”. One more bayed: “Meghan Markle broke a royal rule at an event with the Queen.” And there were countless others, all pointing out that Meghan had done the unthinkable: she had “crossed her legs at an event with the Queen.”
It was a painfully obvious example of the press’ attempt to undermine Meghan and dress her up as ‘unsuitable’. Naturally, though, we here at Stylist weren’t standing for it. Read our hot take on the issue here.
Last year, Meghan committed that greatest of all female sins: she wore a bra (ironically, the second greatest of all female sins is not wearing a bra. Go figure, huh?). Worse still, a few zoom-happy trolls had spotted a whole three square inches of it – and were more than happy to use it as an excuse to damn her entire character.
Their tweets were more than enough to outrage certain members of the press, prompting them to pen entire articles about Meghan’s bra strap. The general gist? That, while nobody was hurt this time, we came very close to the downfall of our civilisation as we know it. As always.
There’s no one headline I can pull out here, as countless stories have highlighted the dissimilarities between Middleton and Meghan’s backgrounds. Others have promised to reveal “reasons why Meghan Markle is nothing like Kate Middleton… from relationship history to fashion sense”, or picked apart the differences between “their first public appearances with their Princes”.
Stylist’s Moya Crockett previously highlighted the “obvious undercurrent of racism and classism” running through these articles, writing: “By drawing these distinctions between the two women’s backgrounds, these articles are sending a clear message: Kate is more or less the kind of woman you’d expect a prince to marry, and Meghan… isn’t.”
When Kate wore a one-shoulder gown to an event, she was declared a “true princess” and “vision in white”. When Meghan did the same, the press branded her “vulgar”.
Here’s a headline for you: woman has breakfast. Because that’s all that happened when Meghan caught up with close friend and longterm makeup artist Daniel Martin over a brunch of avocado on toast and tea in London.
“Thank you Meghan for being the consummate hostess this weekend and still being the avocado toast whisperer, YUM!” he wrote on Twitter.
Except for many in the media there was plenty to see. TenDaily spoke to a chef who blasted the meal as a “little Tescos value no-frills” and that it needed “a splash of colour with a few herbs… [or] a wedge of lemon.” For The Sun, it was a “posh lunch but trolls say it looks ‘bland’”.
But it was the Daily Mail who, as ever, took the proverbial cake. Using some aggressive capitalisation, the media dubbed the display “Meghan’s VERY unorthodox afternoon tea.” And in a recent edition of the print newspaper, they took it one step further. “Is Meghan’s favourite snack fuelling drought and murder?”
Why? Because apparently Meghan’s knees have become a receptacle for the ghostly face of her young niece, Princess Charlotte, of course.
The unnamed Metropolitan Office has “quit after being in the job for only about six months”, according to scandalised journalists. They were also quick to note that she’s the “third close aide [of Meghan] to quit in three months”: the couple’s personal assistant Melissa Touabti departed Kensington Palace in December, and private secretary Samantha Cohen also announced she was leaving her role after 17 years with the Royal Family (it’s worth noting that she was only ever intended to fill the position on a temporary basis).
However, while most contented themselves with merely insinuating that Meghan was the driving force behind these departures, one tabloid took things one step further, claiming that her “dictatorial behaviour” has driven a wedge between her and Palace staff. That her desire to be seen as “one of the people” had made things unduly difficult for her security team. That she finds the constant presence of her bodyguards to be incredible “constraining”.
This is, of course, in spite of the fact that the bodyguard is understood to be moving on from the Metropolitan police entirely, and that a spokesperson for Scotland Yard has explicitly denied any sort of personality clash with Meghan. But why let any of these boring details get in the way of a juicy story, eh? And why mention that Prince Charles and Camilla have seen their personal assistant resign as well? Or that Kate Middleton, similarly, lost two members of staff shortly after she married Prince William in 2011? Or that, y’know, people leave jobs sometimes and it’s literally NBD?
They particularly didn’t like it whenever her hand drifted towards her stomach, branding it “showy”.
“She must stop that!” cried one user, as footage of Meghan closing a car door after herself went viral.
Some criticised her for refusing to cart Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor out onto the hospital steps, all so the world’s press could get photos of him and her, in the hours after his birth.
Indeed, according to one tabloid’s (frankly dubious) sources, the royal family hates Meghan. Hates her. So much so that certain members of the clan refer to her by a cruel – and sexist – nickname: ‘the degree wife’.
Naturally, they didn’t name their sources – nor did they reveal which royal has been dropping such suspiciously soundbite-worthy nicknames. The writer did, though, explain what is meant by a ‘degree wife’, for those of us who aren’t up to date with our royal slurs. Playing on the idea that university students typically finish their degrees in three years, the nickname implies that Harry will be done with Meghan by late 2021 – three years after their star-studded royal wedding in 2018.
Whilst on tour in New Zealand, Meghan donned a custom Givenchy skirt crafted from a very fine navy fabric. A very fine fabric, that is, which looked ever so slightly see-through in some photos. And I really do mean ever so slightly: if you squint at the designer number, in the right light, you might *gasp* find evidence that Meghan is wearing underwear under her clothes. If you lean even closer, you’ll most likely also note that she has *double gasp* real human legs under there, too.
“Meghan Markle has SHOCKED royal fans with a see-through dress,” one journalist screamed, presumably after taking a deep sniff of smelling salts to steady their shaking fingers.
“Meghan Markle wore a see-through skirt and nobody noticed,” confided another, making sure to share a photo of said-skirt in a bid to rectify the public’s total lack of awareness.
“Meghan Markle suffers yet another wardrobe malfunction, wears see-through skirt,” wrote another disapprovingly, presumably still dwelling on the fact that Meghan recently forgot to cut the tag off her embroidered red dress from Self-Portrait (a message to this journo: get the f**k over it already).
“Meghan’s see-through skirt in New Zealand was her true Diana moment,” insisted another, jumping at the chance to once again compare Prince Harry’s new wife to his late mother (and share a long-forgotten photo of Diana’s own ‘wardrobe malfunction’ from the 80s).
“Harry’s hair seems to have got a lot thinner since he tied the knot with Meghan Markle in May last year,” one tabloid claimed boldly. “Can the hair loss be blamed on his marriage?”
Whether they’re dubbing her the “divorced American” or concocting stories about her past with Matt Cardle, they’re always there, hammering home the point that Harry didn’t marry a virgin bride.
It all kicked off when an online scam used Meghan’s image – without her consent – to promote their range of diet pills. Throw in some fabricated quotes from the royal (one investigation said that Meghan described the pills as her “passion project” – the very same phrase she used to refer to her Grenfell cookbook) and you have a recipe for dangerously toxic levels of body-shaming bullshit.
In his column, the professional troll Morgan asked Meghan to “stop showing off” her “unimaginable wealth and luxury”, among other things.
I could go on and on, forever and ever, until the end of time. Because it doesn’t stop there. How could it? Meghan has also been criticised or having too much energy. For sweating like all humans do (bar one Pizza Express-frequenting individual we shan’t name here). For having a husband who wants her to be happy (Prince Harry supposedly uttered the words “what Meghan wants, Meghan gets” during preparations for the royal wedding, sparking a severe case of handwringing across the country). For “bewitching” Harry (because apparently there’s no better royal insult than those thrown around in Tudor times). For texting her employees. For being “too American”. For waking up early. For having a “formidable work ethic”.
You get the picture. Essentially, what I’m trying to say is this: all the worst parts of the world’s press seem to have 101 problems with Meghan. And they have made a point of finding new ways to make that clear whenever and wherever they can.
Why? Because Meghan, and all she represents, frightens certain individuals. This is a woman striving to be a force for change, after all, and some institutions prefer that things… well, that things stay the same. Forever.
So what did the media decide to do about it? Well, to quote myself (because I’ve become something of a Meghan Markle correspondent, over the past few years), they constructed a narrative which employs all of the deeply sexist semantics of modern-day language to ensure that the world knows, once and for all, that this woman is Bad News. That she isn’t confident or self-assured. That she is arrogant, cocky, bitchy. That she is not a “woman’s woman”. That she is Duchess Difficult.
It backfired, though. All of those ridiculous headlines about Meghan’s so-called bad behaviour have done nothing more than prove that the media is afraid of her – and that, in my opinion, has made her powerful.
Now that Meghan is poised to unshackle herself from the limits and restrictions that come with life as a senior royal, she can embrace that power fully. She can become the change maker she wants (and has the potential) to be. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what she does next.
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