meghan markle

The Importance of Meghan Markle’s Engagement to English Royalty

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Little Brown Feminist

Little brown feminist with a big voice.

Recently news broke about the engagement of Suits actress, Meghan Markle, to Prince Harry. However, this is no ordinary engagement, and that is not simply because of its royal nature.

Markle is a divorced, half Jewish/Catholic, non-aristocratic, openly feminist, biracial American actress – to summarise, she is an interesting and complicated character, with a past that does not necessarily fit the typical “princess” mould. Markle will be the first American divorcee to marry into the Royal family in over eight decades, controversial for such a homogenised institution.

meghan markle
Meghan Markle, sourced:

Since news broke out that the pair began dating in 2016, the couple, particularly Markle, faced an onslaught of prejudice from the media. Right-wing British tabloids such as Daily Mail and Daily Star have written incendiary articles using sexist, dog-whistle racist and discriminatory tones about Markle’s family and life back in the USA. This can be connected to the lack of acknowledgement of racism within the UK, particularly toward black women by the media (e.g. Diane Abbott).

Prince Harry addressed these articles by issuing an official statement in November 2016, condemning the “wave of abuse and harassment” his girlfriend had endured. Comparing this to the expectations of public behaviour by the Royal family, this statement is unusual and a welcome change. Markle also addressed the huge media interest regarding their relationship within an interview with Vanity Fair, describing the challenges of dating her Royal beau. While Markle being biracial symbolises a change within the Royal family, the fact that the couple are interracial does not mean racism is gone or that this won’t affect the lives of POC in the United Kingdom. Ask any brown or black person within the UK (or indeed anywhere) and they will tell you that the world is not post-racial; this will certainly not become so when Prince Harry and Meghan marry (not that it should be either).

Some argue that there is a tangible shift in how Markle may change the face of the Royal family. Her relaxed and open image, along with Markle’s demeanour towards her work and philanthropic ventures, indicate a stark difference to the other young princess in the family. While the public image of Princess Kate portrays her work within charity like Markle’s, Kate’s dress style and personal brand has become more regal and demure over time. When Prince William and Princess Kate married in April 2011, the latter had also been branded ‘a commoner’ as she wasn’t from Royal blood (despite being from a wealthy, upper-middle class family with aristocratic ties). Prior to marrying William, Princess Kate had also had a more relaxed public image, with both her dress sense and a job in her family’s company. Since 2011 Kate is more a public figure than a career girl, but this transformation can be understood when viewing the list of Royal rules that the family must adhere to.

meghan markle
Kate before she became a Princess, source:

It is because of this that despite the optimism surrounding Prince Harry and Meghan Markle being engaged, there are still issues concerning how Markle will have to change to become a ‘suitable’ Royal figure. The Royal establishment is built on a patriarchal foundation. It was only recently that the monarchy’s archaic male-headed system was overturned over the ruling forbidding Royal marriage to Catholics. Although Prince Harry will be sixth in line after William and Kate’s new child arrives, there will be still be pressure on the new couple to obey Royal regulations. The fact that Markle has already resigned from her Suits role, and the uncertainty surrounding her ability to voice her opinions regarding the politics tied to her philanthropic work, shows how this has already started to come into effect. These rules are connected to classist and sexist ideas, which challenges the feminist work Markle does. But the couple are in love, so only time will tell how much Markle will be able to change and manoeuvre within the Royal familial system.

Despite issues with British media portrayals of Markle, the fact that the Windsors have willingly embraced her is important; while the Royal family has no political influence, they are part of the international symbol of Britain and what it stands for. Could the future of British royalty reflect the UK’s growing multicultural population?