What the backlash to Harry and Meghan’s decision says about gender roles

Harry Meghan Markle

On January 8, 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced that they would be stepping back as senior members of the Royal Family and work towards becoming financially independent.

On a post published on their shared official Instagram account, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced that they plan to balance their time between the United Kingdom and North America, which will enable them to raise their son to appreciate his royal tradition and also provide the family with space to focus on their next chapter. 

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“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen. It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages. This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity. We look forward to sharing the full details of this exciting next step in due course, as we continue to collaborate with Her Majesty The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge and all relevant parties. Until then, please accept our deepest thanks for your continued support.” – The Duke and Duchess of Sussex For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio) Image © PA

A post shared by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (@sussexroyal) on

This announcement caused quite a stir among major news organisations as well as on the Royals’ social media accounts, with a lot of negativity and criticism aimed at Markle, just falling short of accusing her of witchcraft.

From blaming her for masterminding conflicts between the family and accusing her of marrying Prince Harry for the fame, to criticising her for holding his hand in the photograph above as a means of exerting control over him, social media users were determined to paint Markle as the culprit.

But what caused a marriage that was initially considered a positive development for UK’s diversity because of Markle’s bi-racial ethnicity to be so heavily scrutinised and questioned by people who have nothing to do with it?

To me, it seems as though Markle’s ethnicity and her being a divorcee prior to her marriage with Prince Harry brings about all this backlash. It is almost as though there could be no other reason other than sheer manipulation that would allow a Prince to want to marry a strong, opinionated woman who comes from a certain racial and ethnic background. 

Ever since her engagement with Prince Harry, Markle’s every move has been dissected by British tabloids, which did not shy away from criticising her at every juncture with obvious racist undertones.

From her pregnancy photos being judged as too “narcissistic”, to criticism about her clothes being too sloppy and comparing her appearance to her “sister-in-law’s nanny,” Markle has been the constant subject of several newspapers as well as social media comments. 

This eventually led to Prince Harry’s statement against tabloid culture, which he referred to as blatant “bullying.” Although it was Prince Harry that made the statement, people did not shy away from attributing his remarks to Markle, claiming she had manipulated him into taking legal action against certain tabloids.

People also conveniently seemed to forget that Prince Harry has quite the history of a rebel, and has previously confessed his displeasure for the royal lifestyle and a desire to leave.

So after the barrage of negativity that has been thrown at Markle, and in extension, her husband’s decision of marrying her, does it really come as a surprise that the couple want to live more private lives and want to shield their son from this antagonistic lifestyle?

Yes, the Royal Family does come with a tradition that spouses are expected to respect and uphold, so perhaps Markle did know what she was getting into. But from the reactions she has received, it is clear that we still live in an inherently sexist society that falls back on age-old clichés and tropes, blaming a woman for familial problems and disputes.

Not just does this narrative assume Markle’s intentions, it also disregards Prince Harry’s agency in the marriage, deeming him a mere puppet. Even if the decision to step back from royal duties did come from Markle, as an equal member of a marriage, she should have the right to voice her opinion and care for the betterment of her family without being castigated. 

One thing that this entire incident has made clear is that the illusory sense of progressiveness and inclusivity that came from the royal wedding are still a far-off dream, since archaic stereotypes and sexism are still deeply entrenched in Britain’s various institutions, be it cultural, political, social, or familial. 

  • Ifath Arwah is an MA Media in Development student at SOAS, with a background in journalism and research. Her interests revolve around gender, migration, and development. 

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