Daniela Elser: Harry’s latest move highlights double standard with Meghan

OPINION:

Of the approximately 8,475,934 articles which I conservatively estimate have been written about Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex in the nearly two years since she and husband Prince Harry dropped the atomic bomb of Megxit, all of them basically come down to one question: villain or victim?

Was Meghan a casualty of a callous, cold-blooded palace who treated her with a stunning lack of kindness or was she the architect of her own demise, one demanding pre-dawn email at a time? Was she cruelly used by a hidebound institution hellbent on the status quo or did she arrive in the royal midst with foot-stomping imperiousness and a refusal to even casually hew to protocol?

There is not, nor ever will be, even the remotest consensus.

However, there is one aspect of Meghan’s rough handling on which there is not a smidgen of wiggle room: The sexism.

While her status as a bi-racial woman, and the extent to which racism may or may not have played a part in her treatment, has been debated and argued about for years (and will continue to be so, forevermore) what has largely gotten lost in all the finger-pointing is the role that chauvinism has played.

This week, thanks to Harry popping up in the UK media and throwing his support behind a piece of proposed legislation, we have had an exquisitely and horribly perfect example of the double standard that the Duchess faces not as a royal or a person of colour, but as a woman.

Here’s the deal.

For the past couple of months, one of the key charges lobbed at the mother-of-two has been her emergence in the political fray, vocally lobbying American lawmakers over paid parental leave. In October, she wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer about the issue, saying she was writing as a “mom” and as “an engaged citizen and a parent”. (Never mind that this 1010- word missive was sent out on notepaper grandly denoting it came from “The Office of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”. We will leave the question of hypocrisy on the title front for another day.)

Immediately she was lambasted for inserting herself into politics, something members of the Queen’s family restrain themselves from doing.

Never one to back down, next came her appearance at the New York Times’ Dealbook Summit in New York where she reasserted her position, saying “this is one of those issues that is not red or blue” and that “it is not just about the mom”.

Next up, in November she sat down for a pappy, pat interview with controversial talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, an outing that involved a skit that saw her eat like a chipmunk and drink from a baby’s bottle. (What’s that? Susan B Anthony is rolling her eyes from beyond the grave?)

No matter, wearing a puffy sleeved Oscar de la Renta shirt, (it’s currently on sale for $1260.78, which is more that the $1049.34 an average American spends on childcare per month per child) Meghan took up the cudgel again, saying of paid parental leave, “as a mom of two, I will do everything that I can to make sure that we can implement that for people”.

Time and again, there have been certain portions of the British press and the more conservative elements in the US who have repeatedly taken great umbrage at her ignoring the usual royal position of studied muteness and speaking up.

Whether Meghan’s forays into politics were savvy or not, the bottom line is that she has received no end of criticism for it. So what happened when Harry just did essentially exactly the same thing this week? When his position on a proposed piece of legislation hit the news?

Not a single opinion writer or reporter, as far as I am aware, has uttered even the most benignly miffed peep.

On Tuesday, Tory MP and former defence minister Johnny Mercer told the British lower house of parliament that he had spoken to the Duke of Sussex about a cross-party push to scrap visa fees for Commonwealth veterans who want to remain in the UK after serving.

“Last night I had a conversation with Prince Harry about this,” Mercer said, per the Telegraph. “He has contributed hugely to the veterans’ debate and I wanted his view. He said to me, ‘It’s not only morally right, but would mean so much to those who’ve given so much’.”

As with paid parental leave, allowing Commonwealth servicemen and women the chance to more easily stay in the UK seems to simply be common sense. In the same way that supporting caregivers seems eminently logical and kind, so too does offering some sort of very minor boon to the veterans who have done their bit for the Queen and country.

But that sticking point here isn’t the various issues that Harry and Meghan have thrown themselves behind but the reception they have received.

For her, opprobrium and a lot of chest thumping. And for him … crickets.

It’s hard to say for sure what a man marrying into the Queen’s family would face if the situation were reversed. The last holder of a Y chromosome to wed a working member of the house of Windsor was Princess Anne’s second husband, Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence in 1992.

Aside from popping up at events such as Trooping the Colour and the annual Christmas Day royal stroll to church, he has been an Easter Island-esque figure. Silent. Tall. Not much more, in terms of a public presence, than well-dressed wallpaper.

After Tim’s union with Anne, the majority of the royal “I do’s” which have followed have been commoner women marrying princes. There was Prince Edward and PR dynamo (and perennially Nokia brick wielding) Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999; Prince Charles and his lifelong paramour Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005; come 2011, it was Prince William’s turn, walking down the aisle with his university squeeze Kate Middleton and finally, in 2018, Prince Harry tied the knot with blogger, actress and activist Meghan Markle.

Each of these four women, as with Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York decades before them, emerged out of the ceremony into the sunshine as bona fide HRHs and into a blistering trial-by-tabloid.

They were, by turns, seen as too pushy, too quiet, too lazy, too fond of holidays or too fond of spending money. These women, having traded relatively normal lives for royal captivity, were all, to start with, too much of something. Anything. Everything.

Media (and now social media) glee in finding fault and nitpicking with Windsor women is part and horrible parcel of this transition from civvy street to palace lifer.

Just imagine the deluge of chuntering and indignantly puffed-up chests which Meghan would have faced if it had been she, and not Harry, who had thrown their weight behind the Commonwealth veterans visa legislation. You would have been able to hear the uproar from here.

Or take the fact that back in the days when Harry was still a card-carrying working member of the royal family, he consistently rolled up to official outings wearing the same grey suit. Again. And again. And again. If Meghan – or Kate or Sophie or Camilla – adopted the same approach to their workwear and relied on a self-imposed uniform they would come in for a pasting.

Harry himself highlighted the issue of sexism last month during a panel discussion about internet misinformation, saying that “the term Megxit was or is a misogynistic term”.

It is a sh***y but unimpeachable fact that women, part of the royal family or not, face an acute degree of scrutiny, criticism and blame that men never, ever will. The longest serving sovereign in British history might be female but both inside and outside of palace gates, sexism, miserably, is still alive and kicking.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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