It took 24 hours for pundits to repackage Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview along a partisan divide, and for the rest of us to fall for it.
On Fox News, Tucker Carlson went on the offensive, calling Markle a “narcissist” for going on television to talk about her treatment within the royal family, fixating on the cost of her dress, and rallying viewers to defend the British Crown. Ben Shapiro sang Prince Phillip’s praises before castigating the “b-list actress” for “wielding wokeness.” Meanwhile, the White House issued a statement praising the couple, while the left tweeted its shock that there are racists in Buckingham Palace.
Depending on party affiliation, the public is now expected to join Team Meghan or Team Queen. This totally and completely misses the point. This isn’t a Republican vs. Democrat issue, or a Right vs. Left issue, or even a U.S. vs. U.K. one. It’s a woman issue.
This is a story about a woman speaking out against objectification, abuse, and humiliation. Yet pundits prefer a partisan tailspin rather than taking this woman’s allegations seriously. And many Americans prefer that, too.
Why? Because there’s little scarier than a woman who refuses to suffer in silence. We’d like to think #MeToo and the Women’s March ushered in a new era for female empowerment, but the fallout from the Meghan and Harry interview shows how small our gains have been, and how difficult it is to change deeply embedded cultural stereotypes. The prevailing sentiment in America is still that women should just keep calm and carry on. Sexually harassed? Deal with it. Fired for reporting abuse? Get another job. Humiliated by The Firm? Please disappear.
The sexism driving Marklegate is not new. Just ask other women who have spoken out in recent years — women like Anita Hill, Ashley Judd, Tarana Burke, Christine Blasey Ford, or me. Taking on big institutions is rarely a winning proposition for women. When I was dealing with Fox News, I was criticized immediately, as my lawyers warned I would be. I’m still prevented from telling you the whole story, because I’m under an NDA that Fox won’t release me from (the network won’t even respond to my request for release — and I thought they cleaned up their act?). For the transgression of levying a sexual harassment complaint in a court of law, I was called a skank, a gold digger, and much worse on social media and elsewhere for months. As a woman, when you have a story and a truth, you can expect a terrible reception — especially if you’re going up against something that’s existed for a long time, as Meghan is finding now as she pushes back against the British monarchy.
Now let’s talk about money. Is the $4,700 dress that Meghan wore for the Oprah interview expensive? Yes. Can most women afford one? No. Does an outfit zero out abuse? Also no. In the same way that a woman wearing a short skirt doesn’t warrant her sexual assault, a woman wearing an expensive dress doesn’t excuse acts bullying or racism against her. Money, fame, or accomplishment don’t automatically mean freedom from depression or suicidal ideation. Just ask the families of actor Robin Williams, athlete Kelly Catlin, or K-pop artist Goo Ha-ra. The stereotype that money and privilege take you out of that peril doesn’t hold up at all.
But focusing on money and privilege does serve another purpose: It excuses victim blaming. It’s easier to focus on an item of clothing and assume the worst about a woman than it is to seriously consider her plight.
If we want to really talk about privilege, let’s discuss Prince Andrew, who was quietly removed from his royal duties following allegations that he sexually assaulted and raped minors while buddy-buddying around with Jeffery Epstein. I’d love to hear Tucker Carlson weigh in on this.
We’ve all been obsessed with this generation of royals since Diana and Charles stepped outside the Lindo Wing with baby William in 1982. Personally, I have no idea what it means to marry into The Firm, or if giving such a wide-ranging interview was the right thing for Meghan to do. I wonder how she and Harry will mend family ties because, inevitably, Archie will be curious about his family across the pond, as will baby sister, and I for one hope that the love of family will overrule any other differences. Their choice to do such a public interview means we get to have questions. But let’s not get confused about what’s really going on.
This isn’t partisan politics. It’s sexism. And we need to stay real about that.