'Women can do it all' - Meghan Markle on what it means to be a woman in the 21st century
In 2014, a little-known US actress named Meghan Markle was going places.
Her charity work had brought her to the attention of the UN and she had been asked to present at the organisation’s HeForShe event on gender equality.
Seated in an inner circle comprised of global heavyweights ranging from the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to the head of Unesco, she listened to British actress Emma Watson give her powerful speech on gender equality.
“It was a moment as inspiring as it was bewildering,” Markle subsequently wrote in an article for Weekend magazine in the Irish Independent.
The actress was in Dublin attending the One Young World summit that same year.
“There in the Security Council room, I think something in the ethos changed. I think the world shook a bit, yes, but so did Hollywood and what it means to be an ‘It Girl’… She is ‘it’ — has it all, looks the part, and walks a red carpet with the same routine familiarity as most of us order our morning coffee.”
Markle’s statement was prescient. Fast-forward four years and what had begun as a tremor has forged a seismic shift in gender politics in Hollywood and around the world.
Gross sexism in the US film industry has been exposed with the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo has become a global movement for equality — not just in Hollywood but in every industry, workplace and home.
Markle’s world has been shaken too. A blossoming romance with Britain’s Prince Harry has turned her life upside down.
Tomorrow, she will marry said Prince, consolidating a union that has caused her to change her nationality and religion, end her acting career and withdraw from the charities that had brought her together with the UN four years previously. What Markle will do next is anyone’s guess.
Will she become blanded out as a waving royal or find new ways to be an ambassador for effective change? Here, we remember Markle as she was in 2014:
“Gender equality issues are nothing new to me. I wrote a story on my website, The TIG (thetig.com) about the first moment I became a feminist; a pivotal event in elementary school when a few classmates purged some of their inadvertent misogyny on me: “Women belong in the kitchen,” they said. I was 11 years old and their words made me turtle.
“I felt small. I felt confused, seeing as I come from a lineage of housekeepers and domestics — I thought of my grandmother seeing a floor-to-ceiling window and standing gobsmacked at how long it would take to clean it. My grandma didn’t see the world through rose-tinted glasses. She saw the world through smudged glass. That is what she knew, and much of what I knew of her and — quite frankly — it was enough.
“As was working in a kitchen or being a stay-at-home mom, balancing the weight of the world with grace and resilience, a child tugging on your pant leg and a spoon in hand for stirring the not so proverbial pot. Suffice to say, I saw nothing wrong with women being in the kitchen, nor caring for the home. Because the fact is, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“Echoing back to this day in class, it was the assumption — the single minded quip that rolled so easily off my classmates’ tongues — that troubled me. It still does. Earlier this year, when a professional baseball player, Daniel Murphy, took two games off to be on a brief paternity leave, he received a backlash. Gender stereotypes were clearly in play — he needed to be on the field, while his wife needed to be at home. Or so said public opinion. How rare is it for men to be asked in a job interview how they will juggle family and kids with work? Meanwhile, I can’t think of a woman in the corporate world who isn’t burdened with that question at every turn. ‘Oh, you have kids? How will you manage?
’“When I was asked to join the panel of One Young World 2014 in Dublin, I was over the moon. My day job is working on a TV series called Suits, playing a strong and layered female character, whose self-identification is not wrapped up solely being in the kitchen, nor simply being the girlfriend. Both of those facets of ‘Rachel’ exist, but as with real life they are just a couple of pieces to the very complex puzzle.
“The opportunity to head off to One Young World to be part of a discourse for young women to feel empowered to know that their worth, their reach and their level of opportunity is what they make for themselves is invaluable. And perhaps the more vital piece of this puzzle is the knowledge that the young men at One Young World see this too.
“They see a world where their wives are not the women behind every great man, but rather beside them; a world that echoes the modern history of Ireland, helmed by women such as President Mary Robinson and President Mary McAleese and now the first female Ambassador to the US for Ireland, Anne Anderson. Women can do it all.
“I recently met the former president of Finland, Lady President Tarja Halonen, backstage before our event at the UN. A staffer came in and asked if she needed anything — water, a pen... the usual suspects of such events.
“Lady President asked for one thing: lipstick. To be a feminist, to be a lady, to be a president, to be a woman does not mean fighting against the stereotype of gender roles, but embracing the idea that one can rule a country and wear lipstick; be a breadwinner at work, and a bread baker with her kids at home.
“I don’t see the world through rose-tinted glasses, nor through smudged glass as my grandmother did, but I do see the world — fully, beautifully, and most importantly, clearly.”