Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement to great fanfare exactly one week ago today, but, already, in the grand tradition of treating women (both super-famous and not) like garbage, the misogynistic public shaming of Markle has begun. “Meghan Markle Résumé Reveals Many Skills . . . Like Stripping and Juggling!!!,” TMZ trumpeted today, citing an old, pre-Suits CV in which Markle supposedly lists “stripper” and “masseuse” among her titles. “No wonder Harry put a ring on it.” Actually, Markle may be the one marrying Prince Harry for his noted strip poker skills—but, alas, the sexual shaming is thus far being reserved exclusively for Markle. How utterly predictable.
Since their royal engagement—a rare shot of happiness in what is often a dark, depressing news landscape—there have been copious reports painting Markle as a silly sex object who’s been plucked from obscurity by the prince rather than the accomplished activist she is. At worst, it’s flagrantly racist, like the Daily Mail “headline”: “Now That’s Upwardly Mobile! How in 150 years, Meghan Markle’s family went from cotton slaves to royalty via freedom in the U.S. Civil War.” Other times, it dredges up Markle’s less-glamorous past (her normalcy, it seems, inspires both adoration and mockery), including breathlessly reporting the fact that she formerly side-hustled as a freelance calligrapher who did the invitations for Robin Thicke and Paula Patton’s 2005 wedding, and that—OMG, LOL—in 2006 and 2007, she was a briefcase model on Deal or No Deal. There’s no shame in freelance calligraphy or game show appearances while trying to make it in Hollywood—Markle, ever-gracious, told Esquire in 2013 that the Deal gig was “in the category of things I was doing while I was auditioning to try to make ends meet.” But where are the splashy Us Weekly and TMZ headlines announcing that before Markle was a briefcase model, she was interning at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina? We’ll wait.
That’s because it’s all the more convenient to adhere to the Cinderella story that Markle is nothing more than a pretty girl (and, because, she’s biracial, somehow an extra-lucky one) than a successful 36-year-old woman who starred for seven seasons on a popular and positively reviewed cable drama—USA’s Suits—and a longtime feminist and formidable activist in her own right. Long before she was camping under the stars in Botswana with the prince, Markle was a U.N. Women advocate, an ambassador for World Vision (traveling to Rwanda for the organization’s clean water campaign), and an ambassador for One Young World, speaking out about gender equality and modern slavery. “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches,” she said on a trip to Afghanistan with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a USO tour in 2014. “I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how much of the public chooses to view a woman of what is now Markle’s fame (as I’m sure Kate Middleton will advise over some sherry after royal baby number three is born). Markle was already a target: Remember that Prince Harry was all but forced to confirm their relationship and come to Markle’s defense last year after the initial racist coverage of her, including the Daily Mail headline: “Harry’s Girl Is (Almost) Straight Outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed—so will he be dropping by for tea?” But propping Markle up with anticipatory “when, oh when will they get engaged?” stories only to tear her down with racist and sexist narratives (see also: the absurd observation that she looked pregnant at the couple’s engagement announcement photo-call in her instantly classic white Line coat) feels particularly egregious in the midst of the current #MeToo movement. Reducing an accomplished woman to a mere sex object in the press is part of the same toxic culture that pays women less than men and habitually harasses them at work.
But try as people may to degrade her—and they will continue to—Markle doesn’t appear to be having it. She’s pledged to keep doing important philanthropic work—she and Harry’s first public appearance together as an engaged couple was to mark World AIDS Day—and drowning out the nonsensical noise. “Of course, it’s disheartening,” she said during the couple’s first interview, in which she was asked about the scrutiny of her race. “You know, it’s a shame that that is the climate in this world to focus that much on that . . . but at the end of the day . . . we have never put any focus on that. We’ve just focused on who we are as a couple,” she said. “I think it makes it really easy to just enjoy being together and tune all the rest of that out.”