Social media has long made it easy for us to weigh in on every news story, and a scandal only compounds the urge. When that scandal happens to be royal, the clamour is almost deafening.
There’s been a marked split over the Sussexes’ decision this week, between those who think the couple are heroes who’ve rejected an outdated and stifling institution, choosing to thrive, not just survive, and those who think Harry and Meghan are selfishly bent on bringing down the monarchy from the inside.
There appears to be little middle ground – but it is interesting, and fairly depressing, how many people have rushed to paint Meghan as a kind of master manipulator.
The narrative of women as manipulators who control their hapless husbands has been around since Eve ‘convinced’ Adam to eat cursed fruit. Women are often charged with slyly controlling the men in our lives, even though we inhabit a world that has always sought to paint us as weak and powerless. So, which is it?
Meghan appears to have stepped up to her role in the family business as expected. But the position she tried to shape for herself was often derided. She curtsied, smiled and wore hats as required, but she also wanted to use her platform in a different way, and that was received badly. So Meghan retired from the public eye somewhat, only to be met with fury – she seemed to be trapped in a space where she couldn’t win.
In many ways, though, I don’t know why we’re surprised. The women who marry into The Firm always endure horrendously sexist criticism. Diana was too emotional, Sarah Ferguson was an embarrassment, ‘Waity’ Kate was too desperate. And that’s putting it all mildly.
As the attacks on his wife grew darker in tone, Prince Harry repeatedly insisted it was unacceptable. His feelings regarding the treatment of his mother are well known. Presumably, watching it now happen to Meghan has been unbearable – the couple have spoken openly about the effect on their mental health.
Perhaps instead of Meghan pulling the strings and forcing a split, Prince Harry weighed up his considerable experience as a lifelong royal and decided that the couple couldn’t continue as before. That he has agency in his own life has barely been taken into consideration.
I’m no royalist. But we shouldn’t accept this level of vitriol against a woman of colour without acknowledging where it comes from. No matter whether the woman gets to wear a crown occasionally.