Meghan Markle has expressed opinions rather than just posing for Vogue – cue the familiar abuse

Let’s not kid ourselves: the reaction we’re seeing to Meghan’s Vogue cover is the direct result of misogynoir. And who knows how it will all end

Harriet Hall
Wednesday 31 July 2019 10:32 BST
Beyoncé and Meghan Markle embrace at The Lion King premiere in London

Scrolling through the social media reaction to the announcement that Meghan Markle guest edited the September issue of British Vogue, you’d be forgiven for assuming no such act had ever been undertaken by someone from the royal household.

Royal women have long graced the cover of the fashion bible. Princess Diana fronted Vogue three times, Princess Anne on several occasions; the Duchess of Cambridge appeared on the cover of the 100th anniversary edition in June 2016. The Duke of Cambridge sat, relaxed and smiling, all popped collar and nonchalantly separated knees, on the cover of GQ in June 2017.

These royals have also contributed their passions, concerns and interests to the content of journalistic outlets. Prince Charles guest edited two editions of Country Life; the Duchess of Cambridge did so for the Huffington Post in 2017 and the Duke of Sussex for the Today programme in December 2017.

And yet – and yet when it comes to Meghan, things are quite different. Deciding not to have her face appear on newsstands, the duchess opted, instead, to champion the lives and work of 15 other women whom she admires, including author and outspoken feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, campaigner and actor Jane Fonda and New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.

And, surprise, surprise, she’s been criticised for doing so. You see, the thing is, you can be a woman in the public eye if you’re content to be docile and well-behaved. But don’t expect to have an opinion.

When Prince William began dating Kate Middleton, she was dubbed a “commoner”. Her unroyal status was deemed crass and beneath him, photographs of her wearing a see-through dress in a charity fashion show circulated – before naked pictures of her were, too. Thankfully for Kate, her throne was usurped by someone even more unpalatable than herself when Meghan arrived: a woman with staunch opinions that she shares publicly, a woman with a romantic past, a career woman... a woman (gasp) of dual heritage.

Criticism surrounding Meghan’s choice of women to promote on the cover has suggested it is too political a move for a royal. The former Suits star has made her opinion of Donald Trump patently clear in the past; which the inclusion of Michelle Obama undoubtedly alluded to.

The monarchy is supposed to be neutral but it isn’t the first time we’ve seen a flash of a political allegiance. Prince Charles and Prince Harry have both been vocal about the dangers of climate change, the Queen revealed her views on the Scottish referendum, William and Kate have asked for more public mental health support.

Let’s not kid ourselves that the reaction we’re seeing to Meghan’s Vogue cover – and everything else she has dared to do, like leave the house after having a baby or support her friend playing tennis – is not the direct result of misogynoir: misogyny against black women.

Are we to happily accept that Princess Michael of Kent wearing a Blackamoor brooch to a Christmas banquet at Buckingham Palace was an innocent mistake? What about the BBC sketch “Meghan Markle’s Royal Sparkle”, in which the duchess at one point threatened the Duchess of Cambridge, saying: “Stay the f*** out of my trailer or I’ll cut you, Kate”?

When it’s not being explicitly written out by Twitter trolls, the approach to Meghan’s perceived otherness unfolds through coded language that describes her and her husband as a “modern couple”. In the same Vogue issue, Harry has spoken out about the dangers of “unconscious racism”. He previously condemned the “racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls”.

As we know, discussing the contemptible idea of female equality raises the hackles of trolls worldwide. Like a dog whistle to incels, say the word feminism and expect the level of vitriol directed towards you to triple. Add in people from minority backgrounds seeking a voice and you’ve a recipe for disaster.

If the royal family began to challenge dangerous viewpoints, celebrate those who speak truth to power and reject the complicity of sitting back and allowing such forces to take hold, perhaps they truly would be modern.

Ultimately, though, while Meghan’s decision to champion women from all walks of life through her guest editorship is admirable and entirely in keeping with the current political climate and long-overdue mainstream discussion of feminism, it feels – as well as a chance to celebrate brilliant women – like a conscious decision to avoid following in her mother-in-law’s footsteps and allowing herself to be centre stage. It’s a real shame – and isn’t it all terrifyingly familiar?

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