By Katie May Huxtable
The Royal Family play a hugely symbolic role in contemporary British society, often acting as a metaphor for what it means to be British. However, with Meghan Markle’s marriage to Prince Harry in May of 2018, a new royal identity has been forged. Being a typical member of British society and being biracial can no longer be perceived as incompatible identities. Yet, the narrative of fairy-tale weddings and a happily-ever-after for Harry has since died down and despite Meghan being in a position of power within British society, she has been subject to ruthless negative press attention.
In recent months, the scrutiny of Meghan in the mainstream media has reached new heights – with articles seeing her criticised about anything from choice of nail varnish, her decision to shut her own car door and the news that she had decided to keep the birth of her firstborn as a much more private affair than seen with previous Royal babies. In a truly astonishing article from the Daily Mail, the suggestion was even made that her decision to eat avocado on toast was assisting the fuelling of murder and drought.
However, this demonisation of Meghan isn’t just a recent media obsession. Back in November of 2016, at an earlier time in Harry and Meghan’s relationship, the Prince felt inclined to release a statement via his Communications Secretary. This statement attacked the press for the racial undertones in coverage surrounding the pair’s relationship:
“Some of this has been very public – the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.
Some of it has been hidden from the public – 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.
…He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game’. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game – it is her life and his.”
New members of the royal family are often racialised to a degree – with Kate frequently projected as a perfectly idealised white princess. Laura Clancy and Hannah Yelin argue that the original emphasis of Meghan as a biracial, feminist woman of progress was a method through which the Royal Family and media outlets could intertwine in order to construct a performance of progression “at a time of a proliferation of old and new misogynies”. This suggestion of progression allows the deflection of attention away from problematic issues surrounding race, gender, class or religion in modern day society. Despite this, underlying whispers of harassment are still prevalent, with all fingers pointing at the tabloid rumour mill through which Meghan has been seen across our front pages for seemingly all the wrong reasons.
It largely comes down to this narrative of othering that the press have created in regard to Meghan. It’s as if media outlets are constantly on edge, creating this tension as they lie in wait for her to step out of line. This discourse of othering is often seen alongside the representation of race within the media and allows us to ask the question of whether the representation of Meghan in the press, as someone who will deviate from dominant royal ideals, is linked to her heritage and broadly shared social representations of race.
Meghan is often presented as a woman who is willing to break away from Royal protocol. Her step towards making her own decisions has seen her dubbed the ‘new Diana’. She, like the Princess of Wales, doesn’t match up to the previously established norms associated with a member of the British monarchy. Media coverage constantly reflects her as an outsider. This is down to her use of her voice and platform as a Royal for what she believes is good, rather than conforming to purely shaking hands and cutting ribbons.
The most recent fuel to the fire in press content surrounding Meghan was the release of the coveted September issue of British Vogue. The month of September is known as one of importance in the fashion world, and this issue of Vogue is always highly anticipated. The reveal that Meghan would guest-edit the issue, alongside current editor Edward Enninful, naturally attracted the usual controversy that seems to follow her every decision.
As the first guest-edited September edition in the magazine’s 103-year history, the Vogue cover centred around the concept of Forces for Change. Rather than featuring Meghan as many expected, it’s cover consisted of fifteen prominent women from the world of fashion, politics, entertainment, and activism. The current Enninful-era of Vogue, since Edward has taken over as Editor-in-Chief, has been committed to diversification. As a gay, black man he has successfully rooted for change. So, working with Meghan, the first biracial member of the British royal family, to give a platform to the voices of a variety of women of all backgrounds, seemed a natural decision. To me, this collaboration between Markle and Enninful aligns perfectly with this current era of Vogue that Enninful successfully strives towards, and promotes the agendas that Meghan consistently stands for.
Naturally, the press disagreed with this entirely.
Some critics suggested that the cover was too political, however the majority found issue in the fact that Royal’s don’t guest-edit magazines. This could arguably have been a fair criticism, if it wasn’t for the fact that Kate Middleton previously guest-edited HuffPost back in 2016, and Prince Charles had guest-edited Country Life Magazine just last year. So, it raises the question, why is it that only when Meghan does it, it is wrong?
It really comes down to the fact that Meghan Markle is a woman in her own right. A woman with her own opinions, a career-driven mindset (having previously starred on American series Suits), a romantic history stretching beyond the Prince to even include a previous marriage, and, most importantly, a dual heritage. All things that, in definition, don’t classify her as Royal. However, despite the press’s constant harassment, Meghan continues to not let her Royal title define her.