Caitlin McBride: No, it's not offensive to call Meghan Markle 'Prince Harry's girlfriend'
There are few things more frustrating for a woman than to be considered only for her association with a man.
And few women know that feeling more than Meghan Markle, a woman whose achievements have been entirely overshadowed by her relationship with Prince Harry, a man who was previously considered to be the most eligible bachelor in the world before she "nabbed" him.
There’s a problem with celebrity culture these days. The bar as to what constitutes a star has all but disappeared – we have ‘Snapchat stars’, ‘Instagram stars’ and celebrity doctors, trainers and accountants.
Photographers, picture agencies and websites around the world make their money from publishing pictures of these celebrities and as the user appetite increases, so must we feed the beast. This means that people who never would have been considered story-worthy 10 years ago suddenly find themselves legitimately famous in certain parts of the world.
So, an actress on a show like Suits, which is better known for its sleek wardrobe and unparalleled views of New York City than cohesive, award-winning storylines, would only to get consistent media coverage because of her personal life.
Sure, she can use her profile for good – which Markle does in spades – as an ambassador for World Vision, visiting developing countries and perpetuating empowering discourse through feminist essays with select publications.
But fame is fame. She is the most Googled actress in the world, not because of her role as Rachel Zane, but for her relationship with Prince Harry.
So the tagline accompanying her appearance on the cover of the latest issue of Vanity Fair should come as no surprise, “She’s just wild about Harry! Meghan Markle and the sudden glare of the spotlight that comes with being Prince Harry’s girl”.
The cover was a serious coup, one of presumably many last hurrahs for outgoing editor-in-chief Graydon Carter: a sit-down and Peter Lindbergh photoshoot with the (likely) future British princess in her first interview about a relationship which has captivated the world.
And while Suits’ viewership is nothing to be scoffed at, most people had absolutely no idea who she was before her relationship became public last year. One person, who seems to be missing the point is actress Priyanka Chopra, who hasn't missed an opportunity to inject herself in the Meghan Markle/Prince Harry narrative, leaping to her defence over the interview, which she labelled “a little sexist”.
It isn’t the first time she took insult at the way her friend was described. She was rightfully vocal she appeared on The Wendy Williams Show and Meghan wasn’t referred to by name, but only as ‘Prince Harry’s girlfriend’.
And it's not like major magazine titles aren’t exempt from sexist interviews – Vogue regularly hires middle aged men to write profiles on its 20-year-old cover stars and VF’s interview with Margot Robbie in 2016 was largely criticised for its emphasis on her sex scenes and physical appearance.
But context is key and the only reason she is on the cover of Vanity Fair is because of her relationship. Did they have to call a 35-year-old woman, ‘Prince Harry’s girl’? No. But Markle is sharp and no doubt knew her appearance wouldn’t be limited to talking about her charity work.
The feature itself is a sanitised, Disney version of a royal romance, painting only the vaguest picture of their life together, despite the interview taking place in her Toronto home. She seems acutely aware of the obligation facing her if (but more likely, when) she becomes a royal-in-law, as she has an inside view of the intense scrutiny facing Kate Middleton.
“We're a couple. We're in love. I'm sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It's part of what makes it so special, that it's just ours. But we're happy. Personally, I love a great love story."
The lack of juicy details are indicative of either two things: a). Meghan Markle is an incredibly boring woman, or the more likely option of b). She has been well trained by the royal spin machine, utilising her boyfriend’s communications team, comprised of seasoned professionals who ensure the continuity of the royal family’s mainstream popularity with carefully constructed interviews and public appearances.
Here is where I take issue with Chopra’s comments. She laments her friend’s description as a “little sexist” for focusing on the only interesting part of her public life, and not her career. She has starred on exactly one tv show and before that, only secured bit parts in made-for-tv movies and American soap operas. Her star was certainly one on the rise, but hadn’t quite risen past B+ yet.
“It would have been nice to write about her not just her boyfriend. I'm just saying. I mean, she's an actor, she's an activist, she's a philanthropist. I mean, she does so much more,” she told Entertainment Tonight.
You don’t see the other stars of Suits aren’t landing one of the most prestigious magazine covers in the world. In fact, they’re not on many magazine covers at all and their most high profile interviews of late have been in reference to questions about their co-star.
The commercial partnerships she’s ended since dating Harry? A brand ambassador role with Reitmans, a Canadian department store and her lifestyle blog The Tig, which she described as “a hub for the discerning palate - those with a hunger for food, travel, fashion & beauty.”
The idea of partnering off to increase a woman’s worth is a familiar concept for many who found themselves dating a more-famous other half. Take Amal Alamuddin, a world-renowned human rights barrister who happens to be married to George Clooney; a woman whose professional achievements vastly overshadow that of her husband. But he’s Hollywood and she’s High Court.
Markle herself acknowledged the newfound wave of attention – the paparazzi camping outside her home and the endless tabloid reports and "revelations". "It has its challenges, and it comes in waves - some days it can feel more challenging than others. And right out of the gate it was surprising the way things changed. But I still have this support system all around me, and, of course, my boyfriend's support.”
For royal watchers, this means we may get to see more of Markle than we ever have of Kate Middleton (she only ever posed for magazine cover and that was British Vogue’s centennial issue), but likely more debate about what we’re supposed to call her.