Harry & Meghan – what the first episodes reveal about Meghan’s reputation within the royal family
As an expert in the contemporary British monarchy, I watched the first three episodes of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, closely.
What came across most was how Meghan’s gender, race and class intersected in her treatment both by the media and by “the Firm” (an unofficial nickname for the British monarchy and its staff that describes the institution as a business) itself.
As with their 2021 Oprah interview, this documentary is a forum for the couple to account for their treatment by the Firm. These kinds of royal confessionals risk damaging the monarchy, as they cast a light “behind the scenes” of an institution which relies on magic and majesty to maintain its image.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “‘Archetypes’ by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — redefining womanhood”
Patriarchy and women’s bodies
Princess Diana’s traumas in the royal family have been well covered over the decades, including by the Panorama documentary she used to tell her own story in 1995. Like Meghan, Diana spoke about her mental health and a lack of support from the Firm. Harry & Meghan also makes comparisons between Diana and Meghan, claiming that both women were hounded by the paparazzi throughout their royal lives.
Meghan talks about “men sitting in cars all the time” outside her house, waiting for her to leave. In any other situation, she says, this would amount to stalking. As Meghan mentions, gender matters here. Celebrities like Britney Spears have spoken out about the unique pressures women face from tabloid intrusion.
The economy surrounding these women encompasses multiple industries, from cosmetic surgery to fashion brands, who benefit from paparazzi exploitation. Britney Spears’ body became an economy in itself as paparazzi pictures of her were worth so much money.
For royal women, this takes on a new imperative. The monarchy is reliant on women’s bodies for its reproduction – literally, the reproduction of heirs. Royal women’s bodies are fetishised as reproductive of the nation, as they birth the next “symbol” of Britishness. This also accounts for the hidden meaning behind those questions from within the royal family about the colour of Archie’s skin – they are asking how “British” (or rather, how white) her baby might look.
It is not just about clothing and branding, but about how royal ...