The headlines were, sadly, to be expected: after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s first “official” outing together in Toronto this weekend, a flurry of over-egged excitement from newscasters all over the world ensued. After Markle and Prince Harry both attended the Invictus Games, she was immediately a talking point – her outfit (“worlds apart from demure Kate’s early days” the Daily Mail proclaimed), who she was sitting next to (mystery male!) and literally how much she clapped when her boyfriend took to the stage (Vanity Fair).
Aware, perhaps, of the attention that she and her boyfriend would attract on appearing together, Markle didn’t even sit next to Prince Harry. Instead, they were 20 seats apart. And, for some people, that was all a bit much. Ever the controversialist, Piers Morgan today branded the move “ridiculous”, saying it was “common sense” for the pair to sit together. Only, he couldn’t quite be polite about it. Instead, he spoke about Markle as someone Harry “is having sex with”.
“When have you ever been to a sporting event when you’re 50m from the person you’re having sex with?” he said, exasperated. The comments prompted his co-host, Susanna Reid, to hit back, challenging Morgan for having the audacity to mention their sex lives at “12 minutes past seven” in the morning.
Markle’s life, now, is defined by being a less important, less valuable side to her partner
Reid was right – it was unnecessary. It was “vulgar”, as reported in the tabloids, and it was crass, too. But it was also indicative of the way that men like Morgan see fit to speak about women, especially women in the public eye. It’s oddly sexualised – despite there being no need or context for such a thing – derogatory and demeaning. The connotation is that she’s a “thing” to be “had”, rather than a consensual, equal part of a relationship.
And isn’t that just how we see fit to speak about the likes of Markle, now she’s essentially public property? For now, until she’s a “mother”, she’s either an expectant wife-to-be, desperately waiting for her boyfriend to propose, or she’s a throwaway “other half”. Already women in the public eye are subject to disproportionate scrutiny – their bodies depicted and analysed, their every move held up to unattainable standards. In public life, gender roles are magnified. And nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the likes of the royal family. Not only is she now fair game for comparative exercises with Kate Middleton, rather than being an individual in her own right, but Markle’s life, now, is defined by being a less important, less valuable side to her partner.
And so the headlines roll about Markle and give way to flippant remarks, and give permission to people like Morgan publicly referring to her not even as a girlfriend or a partner, but as someone another person is fucking. Unsurprising, perhaps. But revealing, all the same.