The latest Meghan Markle backlash has underlined a sexist double standard, and we need to talk about it.
Meghan Markle – still the Duchess of Sussex, for the time being – is travelling back to the UK to join her husband Prince Harry for their final round of royal engagements. Why focus on the fact that she’s joining our International Women’s Day celebrations, though, when the world’s press can instead poke holes in her childcare arrangements?
You’ll no doubt have seen that pretty much everyone has honed in on the fact that Meghan is “expected to leave baby Archie in Canada” while she’s working in the UK. Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it: it’s over a nine hour flight, he’s a small baby, and there is an actual global pandemic to consider, too. (Not-so-fun fact: the number of UK Coronavirus cases jumped to 85 on Wednesday 4 March, compared to 33 in Canada.)
Of course, the tabloids haven’t really considered any of the above, and instead gone for their usual option: publicly dragging Meghan, and encouraging their readers to do the same.
Completely ignoring the fact that Meghan has yet to issue an official statement about her childcare plans, some have suggested that her “refusal” to bring her son to the UK was down to pure “spite” – with the sole aim of making Archie’s great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, “very sad”. Others have insisted that the decision has caused a “security headache” (despite the fact that Harry, already in the UK, is using his own security team).
And everyone else? Well, warming to that overriding theme of ‘shame, shame, shame’, they’ve pointed out that this is far from the first time Meghan has left her baby son at home while she goes out to work.
The implication is clear: that Meghan is a terrible mother/human being, and fully deserving of our criticism. Unlike, say, Kate Middleton, who is currently in Ireland with her husband, Prince William – leaving their three children, George, Charlotte and Louis, in the care of their nanny back in London.
Oh yeah, you bet I went there.
Let’s set aside the constant headache that is the tabloids’ double standards over Kate and Meghan. (I’m not here to pit woman against woman, and we all already know that the press treats one of these duchesses very different to the other – it has done since the very beginning.)
Instead, let’s take a look at the fact that Harry has been in the UK for a few days now, and nobody has once commented on the fact that he left his young baby in another country to do so. Because that, my friends, is where things get really interesting.
Every year in the UK, 54,000 women lose their jobs for the simple crime of getting pregnant. Nobody bats an eyelid when women manage to get dinner on the table, the washing on the line, the dishes scrubbed and the kids picked up from school – yet there’s often a 12-piece band on standby whenever men so much as change a nappy. And then there’s the constant stream of ‘work-life balance’ questions that famous women are asked on the red carpet, too.
As Jennifer Garner once noted: “[Me and my then-husband Ben Affleck] got home at night and we compared notes. And I told him every single person who interviewed me, I mean every single one… asked me, ‘How do you balance work and family?’ and he said the only thing that people asked him repeatedly was about the tits on the Blurred Lines girl [Emily Ratajkowski, Affleck’s co-star in Gone Girl].
“As for work-life balance, he said no one asked him about it that day. As a matter of fact, no one had ever asked him about it. And we do share the same family. Isn’t it time to kinda change that conversation?”
So why is the pressure solely placed on women when it comes to parenting? Why are the standards so very, very different? Why do we take such glee in tearing other mothers down? Because that’s what we’ve always done, really – and, sadly, attitudes show little sign of changing.
Last year, the British Social Attitudes Survey – an annual report into the British public’s opinions on the “global, social and economic” issues facing the UK – found that 72% of people surveyed still believed that “a woman’s job is to look after the home”. Another 33% said mothers should “stay at home”, while 38% believed they should work part-time.
Eleanor Taylor, lead author of the report, noted: “When it comes to maternal employment, the majority of people still think either mothers should stay at home or work part-time, particularly when there is a child under school age.
“In addition, regarding parental leave, there is little difference between the sexes, with a majority feeling the mother should take all or most of the leave.”
You all know what I’m going to say: the media has tremendous power in shaping people’s opinions about the world. And it’s clear that Meghan doesn’t fit their idea of what a perfect mother should look like. But so what? That’s a good thing!
The year is 2020, and there really shouldn’t be just one perfect mother ideal. To paraphrase Parks And Recreation’s indomitable Leslie Knope: if you want to stay home with your baby, that’s great. If you wanna have a career, that’s great, too. Do both, or neither, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t judge someone else for what they have decided to do.