It was royal wedding day, sometime between Oprah arriving and poor Chelsy Davy making the uncomfortable face that launched a thousand memes. CBS’s commentators were chattering away, trying to fill the airtime as we waited for Meghan to depart for the ceremony. I was listening with half an ear as they made time-passing small talk about her dress, the weather, the celebrity arrivals. Then, the conversation turned to her new title, the Duchess of Sussex. “I call her the Duchess of Success,” riffed one male commentator. I stopped and listened more closely, hoping I’d misheard. “Duchess of Success” he said again, clearly proud of—and not at all concerned by—his cheesy, tone deaf, deeply disappointing new nickname for Meghan Markle.
Terrible pun aside, hearing someone call Markle the “Duchess of Success” felt so jarring because it perfectly illustrated of the problematic ways her marriage to Prince Harry has been treated in the media. If this commentator was calling her the “Duchess of Success” because of all of her many accomplishments as an actress and activist, well, that’s one thing. But our subtle-misogyny-detecting spidey senses tell us otherwise. In fact, it sounded an awful lot like this male reporter was bestowing her with this title because she’d unlocked the ultimate in female accomplishment: Bagging herself a wealthy white man who will confer on her all the status and importance she could never hope to attain as “just” a woman on her own.
This conversation, of course, is quite literally a tale as old as time (looking at you and your Stockholm Syndrome, Belle), and why we also cringed every time people called the royal wedding a fairy tale. Those are about a helpless female being saved by a powerful man… and if anyone’s rescuing anyone in this scenario it’s the 36-year-old multi-millionaire doing the unemployed younger guy who lives in his grandmother’s backyard a solid. (Before you come for us, yes, we do know that Harry does great work with his various charity initiatives.)
We’re all for celebrating the union of two adults who are going to do their best to build a life together. What we’re not here for is glorifying marriage as ~the~ goal of a woman’s life—and reinforcing the tired, limiting trope that finding oneself a princess is really the best thing that could ever happen to a gal. In fact, given the sort of life she’ll now lead in the public eye (think, hounded by paparazzi, privacy a thing of the past, forced to wear nude stockings in summertime), you wouldn’t be crazy in pitying poor Princess Meghan. Duchess of Success? Duchess of Stress, Isolation and Sacrifice, more likely.
Oh, and one more thing: Enough with all those questions to women of colour at viewing parties about whether Meghan Markle gave them “hope.” Hope for what exactly? That they too might get to experience an onslaught of racism at the hands of the British tabloids and Internet trolls? Or have a relative of your then-fiancé publicly bait you by wearing racist jewellery to a family occasion? If Meghan is giving anyone “hope,” it’s in the example she’s setting of grace under pressure. Keeping your cool in front of over a billion people while wrangling a 16-foot train AND a wisp of hair that won’t stay put? Now, that’s what we call success.