Comment Writer Esther Purves reflects on the aftermath of Harry and Meghan stepping down as senior royals, arguing that it reveals the biased attitudes that run through our country

Written by Esther Purves
Second year English Literature student. Manchester, UK.

In January of 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their decision to become financially independent from the Royal Family. The public response was huge, with press reactions ranging from sympathy to anger- all amidst reports that the couple had failed to clear the decision with the Queen. Although it was a deeply personal decision for the couple, the ensuing conversations and narratives have revealed less about Meghan and Harry, and more about the attitudes and ideologies that run through this country. Here are four things that we have learned about the UK since the couple revealed their decision. 

We don’t really care about the £2.4m house. 

When the news broke of Meghan and Harry’s decision, anger rose over their £2.4m cottage, which was refurbished using the taxpayers money last year. It was demanded that the couple repay the costs of the refurbishment, a promise that the couple have made since. As the Daily Mail branded the couple as thieves living ‘on stolen land’, the outrage at this misuse of taxes was echoed throughout media outlets and on social media. But why is this outrage over taxpayer’s money exclusive to Meghan and Harry?

Why is this outrage over taxpayer’s money exclusive to Meghan and Harry?

In 2018-2019, the Royal Family cost the taxpayer £6.7 million, a 41% increase from the previous year. If there were genuine calls for fair spending of taxes, this narrative would have been established years ago. Austerity has been in play for 10 years, with food bank usage rising by 73%, while Universal Credit has led to an income reduction of £1000 for over 2 million people. £67 million has the potential to mediate against the vast social inequality at play in this country. And yet people only choose to be annoyed at Royals living off their tax when they defy the expectations of the monarchy. We aren’t annoyed that Harry and Meghan are living in their £2.4m taxpayer funded house, we are annoyed that they have risen against the monarchy that we hold so precious. Their use of tax is only a convenient excuse. 

We are uncomfortable with equal partnership in heterosexual couples.

Much of the speculation surrounding Meghan and Harry’s decision has surrounded Meghan’s role in the family. Tabloids have claimed that she has ‘completely changed’ Prince Harry and has ‘taken total control’ over their life together. What these narratives highlight, more so than Meghan’s character, is a discomfort at Harry appearing to sacrifice his life for Meghan. This poses a threat to established gender roles.

On announcement of their engagement, Meghan planned to give up her career in the US and move to the UK. No one batted an eyelid. There was no tabloid coverage of how Harry was taking control over Meghan’s life. Meghan’s actions were expected and adhered to the way we understand gender dynamics in heterosexual couples- the woman must make sacrifices for her husband. This narrative of Meghan’s control speaks to the ridiculous double standard that exists in this country and highlights the deep discomfort of women being on a truly equal level to their male counterpart. 

We enjoy believing that a black princess makes our country progressive.

Taking a look headlines after the much-anticipated wedding of Meghan and Harry reveals a celebration of Britain rather than the wedding itself: ‘It really was a black service’, ‘Meghan Markle on the Bicultural Blackness’,  ‘Meghan Markle Was Proudly Black at Her Wedding’. Their wedding was used to transform this country’s identity. A black gospel choir at a Royal wedding officially made us progressive. This label for the UK was given in contrast to attitudes occurring within the country. Last year alone, there was an 11% increase in racially motivated hate crimes. But the fact that the UK has a black princess, surely means that the rates will decrease? This naivety has capitalised off Meghan Markle being used as a symbol of our progressive nature. Perhaps the anger at her stepping down is derived from an anger at our country no longer being seen in this way. Without her, there isn’t much left in this country that points to our open-mindedness. [pullquote align="fullwidth" size="normal"]This narrative of Meghan’s control speaks to the ridiculous double standard that exists in this country

We indulge in persecutory narratives depicted in the media.  

The media coverage of Meghan in comparison to her royal counterparts can only be described as toxic,

The media coverage of Meghan in comparison to her royal counterparts can only be described as toxic

biased and racially motivated. Meghan was slammed for caressing her baby bump for ‘photo opportunities’ while Kate was celebrated for holding her bump as a sign of love. Meghan was criticised for having her hands in her pockets while Hello Magazine’s front cover depicted the Queen doing the same thing. In perhaps the most absurd comparison of articles, Meghan’s avocado toast linked her to human rights abuse and drought, while Kate’s avocado was deemed a morning sickness cure. The continual bias against Meghan in the media continues because readers produce a market for it. Readers clearly enjoy persecuting Meghan through their reading, and in doing so they have driven Meghan and Harry away from their positions as senior royals. This creates an ultimate paradox; those that slate Meghan from stepping down from her Royal duties love to hate on her for being a Royal in the first place.