Illustration by Anna Seibæk Torp-Pedersen
The recent engagement between HRH Harry and Meghan is a funny one, marking the beginning of a royal union but the ending of a Markle-sparkle-ing career.
Meghan Markle isn’t the first and most certainly won’t be the last: a woman whose engagement signals the end of her professional career, and the beginning of her marital life. Grace Kelly did it, a prolific actress who wedded a royal, only to end her acting career to meet the demands of her new marital life. Diana, previously a teacher, gave up her job in preparation for her royal engagement to Prince Charles. Hillary Clinton, wife to Bill Clinton, joined the clan, postponing her political career to undergo her duties as first lady.
Making a point about a woman giving up her career to marry the man she loves is one thing, but making one about an outspoken advocate for women’s rights – claiming she never wanted to be a woman who “lunches” – doing the same is quite another. From the outset Markle aimed to be a woman who earned her own way. In so doing, Markle articulated a clearpoint chief to the aims of Feminism. Financial and professional autonomy, irrespective of sex, give a person the chance to make their own living and career – another principal of Feminism. Markle defends the end of her career as a “change”, and valid this is. Understandably, aristocratic position entails many duties heavy enough to constitute a full-time job and working career – philanthropy, charity work and diplomacy to name a few.
This article isn’t to scrutinise the recent engagement, since the couple has received enough scrutiny as it is. The two are in love. Love is one of the most astounding, albeit rare, gifts of life. It ought to be cherished regardless of a person’s social status. Seeing the two happily declare themselves together truly is a wonderful sight. Love doesn’t compromise any form of progression, not least Feminism, but it is precisely at points like these when questions about Feminism’s place in wider discourse espouse. Where is it along this continuum of progressive change that the personal decisions a woman makes, be it for or against her own autonomy, transgress the original aims set out by Feminism?
Feminism has fought its way through the scraps of patriarchal structure, white male privilege and birth rights long enough to recognise that some achievement has been made. A woman’s choice to end her career exemplifies female prerogative, which Feminism fights for. Withoutthe efforts of Feminism, none of this would have been possible. Provided economic stability isn’t an issue, who cares if a woman has worked hard enough to reap the benefits without working in later married life? I for sure don’t. What I do care about, however, is the significance and, more poignantly, the politics behind the end of Markle’s career and what this says about contemporary women in Britain today. First, Meghan’s career stems from the same voice whose voice that consciously advocated for rights either seeking to or serving female autonomy – highlighting the significance of its sudden end. As for the politics, my second concern lies with the symbolism of Markle’s decision to end her career. Say Suppose money was of no concern, at what point does an axed career, chopped for the sake of newly wedded life, symbolise the end of one’s own financial and personal autonomy? More precisely, does the grey area prevalent here symbolise some existentialism about Feminism as a movement?
The media’s response to the engagement points us in one direction. At no one point has any debate regarding the royal engagement talked seriously about this symbolic end to what is, as it happens, a remarkably successful and autonomous career. Boring a clothing line, a hit TV series and an accolade for humanitarian efforts under the UN, Markle is no shy bloomer. The media’s talks of designers, dresses, dates, invitations, rings – marking astoundingly the lineage from Diana whose engagement marked the same sacrifice in career – reduces this remarkable woman into a political pawn. In comparison to Kate, Meghan has been decidedly outspoken about her views in forwarding the rights of women. To fetishize what will be a beautiful ceremony about two people in love has – in symbolic terms – contained Markle within a strict box outweighing her own expected femininity with her contrasting progressive values. In concentrating on details of the wedding, the symbolic day that will mark properly the end of her personal autonomy, the media’s abject oversight of Markle’s deadening career says a lot about the precarious, and slightly existential, place of Feminism today. It is existential because, if the chief guardians of feminism befall what is expected of them, where does that leave the movement precisely?
And it isn’t just the media. Public attitude has done it too. In what seems a fervently patriotic moment, the recent weeks marking the engagement of Harry and Meghan has seen a similar oversight occur across the nation. Public discourses such as Feminism, for all most of the population has cared, seems to have gone blindly afoot. As sobering as this observation is, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Women have been identified by their physical appearance since time immemorial.
The prime minister, Theresa May, suffers from it daily. As opposed to her male precedents, whose identifiers focus on policy, May is begotten by the media, who choose instead to observe her choice of shoes she opted for. The small amount of attention paid to the media’s treatment and portrayal of women demands new conversations about the representation of working, fully-fledging, careered female figures. As far as laws go, not even the prime minister can legislate social attitude. As for the engagement, the connection between prioritising a woman’s appearance and her either continuing or ending career comes down to my second point: politics. That is, the politics in engendering this divergent treatment of women, both in the media and in real life.
Be it political or symbolic, one thing can be taken from this temporary patriotic blind spot: Feminism has still got a long way to go – for all of us.