By Caragh Medlicott
Press attention has been swirling around Prince Harry and his American girlfriend Megahn Markle in recent weeks after he confirmed the pair’s romantic relationship in an official statement. It wasn’t all love hearts and roses though as Prince Harry hit out at media for their coverage of the relationship, and – in particular – their representation of Markle. The statement describes a ‘wave of abuse and harassment’ against her, damning much of the content in the press as ‘outright sexism and racism’.
The reaction of both the media and the general public suggests to me we’re all a lot more old fashioned than we like to think. While both celebrity culture and the obsession with the royal family – (come on people, they’re just a rich family born into a name!)- Is somewhat mind-boggling to me. What is truly disheartening is the downright awful treatment of Markle. People seem enraged that Prince Harry is romantically connected to someone who is, 1) mixed race and 2) an actress who has partaken in some more “steamy” scenes in the US drama series Suits. The implication being that these things somehow lessen her worth as a person, think about that for a minute, that’s really bad, isn’t it? It is racism and it is slut-shaming. No matter how you dress it up, it’s pretty ugly.
The general consensus seems to be that by grace of being a Prince, Harry should be with some white, conservative, pristine daughter-of-a-lord. Because this is someone who is the ‘right match’ for a Prince, because a Prince is inherently better than the average person, right? And any woman who is not white, ‘respectable’ or from a rich family, is ill-fitting of his status. Now I’m sure a lot of people would argue with this, say that’s not what the media or people ranting online have meant at all. But if you strip it back to the bare bones, that is what people have been implying. There’s an overriding sense that people think Markle is just not good enough for Harry. When ultimately they are two people that none of us actually know. They may be public figures, but we don’t know them on a personal level so the ‘who’s punching’ debate isn’t one we can legitimately have.
The articles I have seen swirling online have truly amazed me. The things people pick at make you weep for humanity. There’s been stories on how big (or, apparently, small) Markle’s mother’s house is. A breakdown of her ‘ancestry’ with nod, nod, wink, wink comments about her statements on being proud of her heritage (the undertone being, she’s proud of her history!? Pah! Could you imagine?).
The backlash after Harry’s statement wasn’t much better either. The Sun even said Harry needed to ‘get real’, explaining that as a Prince he can’t expect the same level of privacy as a normal person. While I don’t want to be caught agreeing with The Sun, there is an extent to which Harry can’t expect to receive the same privacy as us lowly commoners. Just as he is afforded many privileges and luxuries most of us could never dream of. However, The Sun are somewhat missing the point in that Harry wasn’t just calling for privacy, but respect. He was calling for the press to refrain from making racist and sexist comments about his girlfriend, and that is, after all, a bit more reasonable.
Others have come out to moan about the amount of attention the story has received, asking why we care about the royal family so much in the first place. I can’t say I disagree with this sentiment, but the unfortunate reality is, a lot of people do care. And while their relationship still gets attention in the media, Markle deserves to be treated with the same level or respect and privacy we would give any other human being with. To me this whole case ultimately reveals that as a society we still have prejudices to fight and hierarchies to break down. No human is inherently better than another, so maybe we should stop acting as such.