Women Behaving Badly: Meghan Markle, Meekness and Misogyny

The ongoingcMegan Markle controversy reached new heights this week after her tell-all interview with American TV show host, Oprah Winfrey. After facing years of mounting hostility, Meghan is now considered an element hostile to the Royal family and has found herself the subject of a very British denunciation. In speaking publicly, Meghan is guilty of the most heinous crime a woman can commit: revealing the misdeeds and misconduct of a powerful patriarchal institution.

Much is made of the racism directed toward Meghan Markle, but little is said about the misogyny intrinsic to her public and private persecution. In Meghan, we have the perfect example of how even the highest ranking female members of the ruling class — literally the epitome of the bourgeoisie, the British monarchy — are still demonised. Left wing men will graciously allow our analysis of the oppression of working women; but they express no concern over the misogyny directed at women of the ruling class. They fail to see that, whilst bourgeois women hold power in their economic position, they are still disadvantaged as members of the female, child-bearing sex. As revolutionaries, we cannot turn a blind eye to (or even revel in) this sex-based oppression simply because it is being conveniently directed at our class enemies. In conversation with Clara Zetkin in 1920, Lenin professed:

We are sensible of the humiliation of the woman [and] the privileges of the man…and will abolish everything which tortures and oppresses the woman worker, the housewife, the peasant woman, the wife of the petty trader, yes, and in many cases the women of the possessing classes.

Lenin

In many ways, the pressure upon Royal women to take up docile domesticity (such as it is in palaces and stately homes) and motherhood is far greater than it is for working women. Of course, there is historical evidence of female oppression within the British monarchy. Blamed for the impotence of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were famously beheaded. Henry divorced Catherine or Aragon and Anne of Cleves for their failure to produce a male heir, whilst his third wife, Jane Seymour, died in childbirth. Princess Diana, Harry’s mother, was also snubbed by the Royals and subjected to vicious media persecution as a result of her outspoken and unconventional attitude to her Royal duties. When Royal women fail to fulfil their child-bearing duty, or refuse to observe the proper feminine meekness expected of them, the consequences can be deadly.

Like Princess Diana before her, Meghan Markle has discovered that domestic disobedience in the Royal family will be crushed with an iron fist. Meghan’s experience has many parallels with Diana’s. Both struggled to contort themselves to the role of silent clotheshorse expected of Royal brides. Admittedly, this has been a significantly greater struggle for Meghan, whose ordinary economic background and blackness were inherently more concerning to the Royal family than Diana’s youthful naivety. As the daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Althorp, and coming from a family who had been closely allied with the Royal family for several generations, presumably Diana was considered a safe bet. However, like Meghan, her disobedience quickly landed her in hot water.

Whilst racial comparisons have been drawn between mainstream media treatment of Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, there has been little-to-no analysis of the two women’s relative feminine subservience. Kate Middleton immediately fell in line with the Royal way of life and dutifully produced three children, thus ensuring the continuation of the Royal line. Kate also proved herself to be Royally loyal during her short-lived breakup with William in 2007, when she refused to disclose any details of the relationship or breakup to the media. In contrast, Meghan’s tell-all interview with Oprah Winfrey firmly establishes her as a difficult woman who cannot be cowed into silence with the threat of Royal discipline. Even Meghan’s choice of interviewer — a black, American woman — is significant in light of the racist and misogynistic abuse she has suffered during the Royal fallout. As always, women’s speech (when not overseen or mediated by a man) is considered a most brazen perversion of female subservience.

In media attacks, Meghan has not so much been described as an interloper explicitly. That would be too obvious and too easily refuted. Instead, she is maligned through character assassination, tone policing and moral outrage. What this policing of women does (and is intended to do) is to operate as a form of discipline. Encouraging women to self-censor acts as a warning to other women that they will be castigated, should they have the audacity to speak freely. Meghan’s mild disobedience has been described as the ‘worst Royal crisis in 85 years’ (Daily Mirror). It is highly unlikely that the media have so soon forgotten Prince Andrew’s close relationship and frequent holidays with convicted child sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein. Incredibly, it seems that we live in a world in which the free speech of women is policed with more severity than the sexuality of men — in which Princes can freely associate with child rapists whilst Princesses cannot express mildly dissenting opinion.

It is no coincidence that this Royal scandal has erupted whilst Meghan is heavily pregnant. Indeed, much media criticism has focused on her pregnancy, making it inherently misogynistic. Research has shown that pregnant women are at higher risk of domestic violence. During pregnancy, there is an intrinsic shift in power from male to female partners. Though the Royal fallout does not pertain to domestic violence, we can still observe this same contempt for pregnant women and the power they are perceived to hold. In Meghan’s case, the Royal paternity of her unborn child raises the stakes considerably. In light of Meghan’s heightened prenatal power, the penalty for her disobedience is proportionately higher. Short of assassination, the Royal family has enacted every punishment available to them — public excommunication and an international media frenzy which pushed Meghan close to suicide.

Ultimately, Meghan Markle poses an issue as misbehaving male property, upsetting the ‘natural’ order of male dominance. Media commentary has picked up on this, emasculating Harry and portraying him as subservient to his wife — a far cry from the coverage of his laddish university days and hyper-masculine army stint. Given that women are considered the private sexual property of the family (and, increasingly, the public property of men at large) there arises a problem when we do not behave as property should. That is to say, that when we express ourselves, offer opinions, recall experiences, give analysis, challenge dominant narratives etc, we are giving signs of life and demonstrating ourselves to be real people — human beings with thoughts and feelings. This is why Mary Daly called much of the love men have of women a necrophilia, because when we show signs of life it is a problem, but when act as objects (things, not humans) we are eroticised. It is also why Engels talks about women needing to undergo ‘re-subjectification’ to be considered multi-dimensional, full human beings, just as men are.

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