Ingeborg van Teeseling

By Denying Meghan Markle’s Experience, Have We Learned Nothing?

Buckingham Palace, London, England (Photo by Jean Carlo Emer on Unsplash)

Recently, we’ve supported women who have bravely spoken about their trauma. However, the denial of Meghan Markle’s experience makes me think we’ve missed the point.

 

Wow, imagine being the Duchess of Sussex. Or, should I say Meghan Markle, because that seems to be one of the issues here. ‘You could see the actress at work,’ was the general tenor of the comments I heard today. The older and more conservative people were, the less they believed what Markle had to tell Oprah. I find that interesting, especially after the weeks we’ve had in Australia.

We were confronted with Brittany Higgins, the 2,500 girls responding to Chanel Contos’ petition and a woman accusing the Attorney-General. It made us angry. It made most women I know furious and simmering with rage. But we were also optimistic.

After this, surely, women would be believed if they told their stories of abuse. Surely, surely, we wouldn’t be dismissed as wingers, liars, manipulators. And then came Meghan. Like nothing had happened, here it was again: ‘she was in it for the money,’ ‘she was privileged and should shut up,’ ‘she only wanted to hurt people,’ ‘she should have known what she was in for and played by their rules.’ Seriously, people, have we learned nothing?

 

 

As you know, it was International Women’s Day when we saw Meghan and Harry talk. I had just been listening to the radio, where women were encouraged to call in with their agendas for the future: what still needs fixing, what seems to be intractable? I expected the big things: equal pay, fixing domestic violence, a better future for girls. But what we got was something much more fundamental.

Caller after caller had the same complaint: at work, whether that was in hospitality or a hospital, they were confronted, on a daily basis, with one imperative from their customers: ‘Smile, girlie!’

Whether it was a male punter in a bar or a man waiting to have his bloods taken, they found it acceptable to tell the women who worked there to smile. Not the male nurses, obviously, just the females. Not the male bartender, just his female colleague.

It made them sick, and angry, and a few of them were clearly ready to bash people’s heads in. We understand that, right?!

And yet, we ask Markle to do the same. ‘Smile, girlie!’ You’ve got a prince and money and a baby on the way. Don’t complain about racism, or horrible treatment or being strapped in a straitjacket for the rest of your life; smile! Be pretty, be grateful, and smile.

And shut up, that is also important. Don’t speak, don’t criticize your betters. And because you are a woman, men are always your betters. The System, the Firm, the Family; what do you think you are doing wanting a voice, woman with the ‘exotic DNA?’ Do you want to go see your friends, after being locked inside for four months? Don’t be ridiculous! Do you eat avocado, cradle your baby bump, bring out a cookbook with refugee women? Shame on you! Are you beautiful? Do you have opinions? Does he love you? Bad, bad, bad!

It was that word that kept coming back throughout the interview: voice. Not just speaking, but being heard.

The story of the Little Mermaid who had her tongue ripped out, the price for the prince. The bullying that was ‘happening because I was breathing.’ And the response, in between bouts of suicidal thoughts: ‘I wanted to roar!’

So do I, Duchess, and so do most of us.

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating to Australia from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She is writing a book and runs Lifebooks, telling people's life stories.

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