Why do women get the blame?
British expat and Mona's resident TV enthusiast, Oumi Karenga-Hewitt reviews ‘Harry & Meghan’ and explores why we've been conditioned to hate prominent women and forgive the men - and how we should view media with a new lens; one that is less trusting and more critical.
* This article was written prior to the release of Prince Harry’s memoir ‘Spare’.
If you haven’t been following along, parts of the media are up in arms after ‘Harry & Meghan’ aired on Netflix. I’d been eagerly awaiting the release and so tuned in immediately after a 17-hour flight from the UK. I knew what this series would ignite in the media and the British public, but even I’ve been surprised at the fallout.
I’m a huge TV fan and cycle through all the streaming and free-to-air apps daily checking out what’s new. To say that Harry and Meghan, as a couple, are interesting to me is an understatement, I’m black, British, married to a white man, and have a bi-racial child. So, I thought I’d unpack the series and some of the things that have happened since.
‘Harry & Meghan’ is a six-part docuseries by Netflix that was released in two parts. It chronicles the couple’s relationship since they got together in 2016. As much as I love the pair, we have to acknowledge that Harry and Meghan are extremely privileged, wealthy, celebrities. They have family, friends, and seemingly, great love in their lives. Not everyone has these things and at a time when so many people are struggling, I don’t want to skip past the eye-roll moments of “come on!” that I experienced while watching the show (of which there were a few).
I liked the docuseries, seeing all the behind the scenes stuff and hearing their side of the story but it was definitely a slow burn. If you don’t have an interest in the couple or the Royals, you might lose interest. Episodes three and five were great, the history of the British Empire and uncovering the extent of palace-media relations was interesting.
The series feels like a cross between ‘Love is Blind’, ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ and biopic style documentaries. The combination of talking heads, behind the scenes, news headlines and archive footage makes for an entertaining series. Each episode focuses on a key event or conflict in their lives, with the British press being the continuing thread.
A brief, episode-by-episode breakdown is at the end of this article but the biggest takeaway for me watching the series was realising that as much as the media (and social media) can be dangerous everywhere, it’s a different story in the UK. The media, and the social media narrative that builds around current events, is creating a more damaging impact on all of us. We are no longer getting verifiable facts but a version of facts that suit whatever narrative those in power want us to believe. I find it shocking how quickly the media can get us to turn on someone or something – and equally allow some people to escape from any real kind of scrutiny.
A modern doomsday machine
When you think of doomsday, you think nuclear weapons or acts of God that change the world as we know it. The British Media are that. I’m not joking. It is a deadly machine that has been building over generations, becoming more insidious, more ruthless; being fed by people who want to build power and mould public opinion. What’s difficult is that we are all being drawn in and feeding it, building an ever more intelligent machine.
People who didn’t grow up in the UK maybe don’t realise how ruthless the British Press are, or the power they hold. There are of course tabloids everywhere and scandal sells no matter where you are but the extent to which the British media will go is beyond normal. Look no further than one of Prince Harry’s exes, Caroline Flack, who took her own life in early 2020. Caroline was a well-known TV personality who had dazzled the nation in Series 12 of Strictly Come Dancing (think Sophie Monk meets Sonia Kruger). The British tabloids spent years building her up, putting her on a pedestal but when positive stories were no longer selling, they tore her down.
This cycle is all too common with women in the public eye. Men are forgiven their crimes, their ‘blunders’ and ‘gaffes’ with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. When women ‘lose favour’ they are humiliated, belittled, and threatened. We are pitted against each other to make sure that there’s only ever one woman on top. And the men that stand by these women? They are emasculated, pitied or ignored.
The backlash following the release of ‘Harry & Meghan’ was unsurprisingly led by the British tabloids – namely The Daily Mail and The Sun but don’t worry, Aussie journos got in on it too with The Australian piling on. The loudest and most vile content came from usual (white, male) suspects, Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson. On the one hand, we have Piers who hates seeing them all over the news, but takes every chance to talk about them. His article following Part One, dripping with foul adjectives and adverbs at every opportunity, is keeping them centre stage.
Then we have Jeremy, bolstered by a racist and sexist publication, claims to hate Meghan so much that he stays up at night thinking of her being paraded through the streets naked so people can throw faeces at her. After his own daughter called him out online for his violent misogyny, he ‘apologised’ with a tweet beginning “oh dear”.
However, we’ve got to be clear here. This is not really about any one person or media outlet. My anger and frustrations are at the systems and structures in place that allow and facilitate the bigotry and inequality we see day to day.
How does Jeremy Clarkson write an article like that which gets approved and published in a national newspaper? How many people read his violent words about Meghan and thought ‘yep, looks good’. All you need to do is look at the media coverage of Prince Andrew and Meghan Markle to see the lengths people will go to ignore and minimise a man’s actions over those of a woman. Eating avocados is enough to warrant terror connection headlines for Meghan but being best friends with sex offenders and sex traffickers is ‘embarrassing’ and ‘regrettable’ for Prince Andrew. Even paying a £12 million settlement to his alleged abuse victim, Virginia Giuffre seems to have floated through the news cycle like an exposé into the latest fad diet gripping the nation. Papers write about it but front page, hard-hitting opinion pieces? No.
Is it any wonder that white men are given so much latitude in the media?
In Australia, non-European and Indigenous representation across current affairs and news programming was 11% even though these groups make up 28% of the population. The biggest disparity being non-Europeans (6% representation vs 25% population). Additionally, women are still an unheard voice amongst a sea of men SCREAMING to get their point across. Two thirds of quotes used across the media landscape in May 2021 were from men, across all areas of news, except arts and entertainment where women made up 51%. When the majority of perspectives we hear are from white men, are we surprised that sexist and racist commentary goes unchecked?
What’s worse is that women have to fear the backlash that comes from doing or saying something that makes them a target for abuse, usually laced with threats of sexual assault, and if you’re a person of colour maybe a slur thrown in.
Remember, earlier in 2022, people flocked to admonish Australian of the Year, Grace Tame for not smiling at then Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Of the notable objectors were Liberal Senator James McGrath and TV personality, Peter van Onselen. Peter had a lot to say in The Australian article, slamming Tame as “ungracious, rude and childish”, annoyed that she wouldn’t smile for the cameras and “barely acknowledging his existence when standing next to him”. Come on, that’s Scott, he’s important, you’re beneath him so act like it, dammit!
Once he started to get his own backlash, he came out with the classic ‘non-apology’ And like Scott, it seems his revelation came after speaking with women in his life. Peter said, “I think it was probably unnecessary for me to bother to write the opinion piece. To say all of those things. I can just think it”. At least it didn’t start with ‘Oh dear…’.
When comparing the public abuse that men and women face, an Amnesty International UK investigation found that women in politics receive a huge amount of online abuse. Dianne Abbott, the UK’s first black, female MP received 31% of abusive tweets analysed. Of the total abusive tweets 41% were directed at women of colour, even though there were 8 times more white MPs in the study. If you ever wanted a reason to look up misogynoir, here’s your chance.
Throughout the ‘Harry & Meghan’ docuseries, we hear how studious Meghan was as child, how when she joined The Firm she tried to ‘blend in’ by following the rules, supporting the Royal Family at engagements across the world, even with her outfit choices – just go along with everything and don’t rock the boat. But nothing she did was enough to quell the constant online hate, diligently fuelled by the media and their ‘palace sources’.
It wasn’t enough for Meghan, because we (women and black women specifically) are not part of The Institution. No matter how hard we try, we are not part of the Western World. We are not part of the boys’ club. It wasn’t designed for us.
They’ll build us up but as soon as we’re too popular, or step too far outside the cultural space we’ve been given - THAT’S the moment that we have forgotten our place.
Well, that was depressing. What now?
Don’t get all your news from The Australian, Daily Telegraph or The Daily Mail. Don’t get your news from social media. Sure, they are constantly on top of what is going on in the world and if something has happened, they’re probably first to report it - but take their perspective with a silo of salt. Take in a diverse range of media sources and decide for yourself what you think about the event or topic.
Be a bit reflective. If everyone in your world looks like you and has had similar experiences, you probably hold a lot of unconscious bias (and that’s ok), but start to evaluate why you have an uncomfortable feeling about Sudanese people; why the term ‘black-on-black’ crime is common in American media but ‘white-on-white crime’ isn’t; and why Meghan Markle was included at the centre of a POLITICO article about narcissists alongside Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Kanye West – but Prince Harry (who was also referenced in the article) wasn’t.
The world is huge and we have access to so much information. Let’s stop feeding the doomsday machines, think about who is serving you and your communities. It might not be Meghan Markle but it sure as hell isn’t Piers Morgan.
'Harry & Meghan' - episode breakdown
A somewhat brief summary of my thoughts viewing each episode – which I have titled based on what the main focus area was for me. Plus a few quotes and photos from the series.
Episode 1 – Becoming Harry
Mostly about Harry’s upbringing, this episode looks at their courtship with a big focus on Harry’s distaste for the British media. We get an insight into the experience of being born into an ‘Invisible Contract’ with the media. There’s a pretty sad moment where it seems the young Princess Beatrice is asked to “do something different” by paparazzi on a holiday. To say she looks uncomfortable is an understatement and we can even hear a voice asking if she’s ok. You also see a lot about Princess Diana with discussion around how the media targeted her relentlessly.
“Every proprietor and editor of every publication, that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image has blood on his hands today”. Earl Charles Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother
Episode 2 – Becoming Meghan
As someone who grew up with the Royal Family an ever-present entity, you kind of feel like you grew up WITH them, so it was interesting learning more about Meghan’s upbringing, education and activism. ICYMI, as a child, Meghan got a sexist dishwashing advert changed by writing a letter to the company; …and there was me at 12 playing with a Furby’s.
My big takeaway from this episode was seeing (and remembering) how hopeful the Black British community were when the couple got engaged. A lot of us thought this might open a door to a less racist Britain. Those hopes were fleeting and I think the increased tensions because of Brexit primed people to be, if anything, more open with their racism across the social spectrum.
Episode 3 – Going to the Chapel
Welcome to a brief history on imperialism and the Commonwealth! I loved this episode because the lack of education there is about colonisation is beyond belief. Afua Hirsch describes the Commonwealth as Empire 2.0 and honestly, there are moments in this that I just feel sad calling myself British.
This is probably the most ‘dramatic’ episode of the first part and we learn more about royal protocols. A big thing in this episode is the point where Meghan realises that discussing anything controversial is a big no-no; in this case women’s rights. Protocols not only cover what you wear, they dictate what you can believe (in public). You also see how Meghan’s world becomes smaller and smaller, as she is given ‘advice’ by the Palace, advice that does nothing to reduce the relentless media attention.
Episode 4 – Married with Children
Kicking off Part Two is the wedding, where we see the couple’s rise in popularity, in particular with Meghan. They talk about how the Australia & New Zealand tour seemed to change everything; it was at that point that they became too popular. They had now become international icons, which hadn’t been seen within the Royal Family since Princess Diana.
Then came the racial dog whistles and comparisons with Kate. Headlines now feature the monikers: Diva, Bully, Duchess Difficult, Hurricane Meghan. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the media is building an aggressive, difficult, and selfish Meghan; in direct contrast to the ‘right kind of Royal’ Kate. We also see the how the South African Tour garnered sympathy for Meghan, after she revealed her struggle with being a new mum.
Episode 5 – The Firm
If you were looking for drama and bombshells – THIS is the episode! Harry took no prisoners and we start to see that maybe this whole scandal is a modern Cain & Abel.
We learn that the media teams of each royal couple are essentially in bed with the British press, trading stories on the other couples as and when it benefits their ‘client’. This didn’t really make sense to me but I do find it interesting that tabloid fodder like Prince William allegedly having an affair barely broke the news cycle, but articles conflating Meghan’s love of avocados with “fuelling human rights abuses, drought and murder” did.
They decide to leave and, at this point, everything seems to be Meghan’s fault. “How predictable that she’d get the blame… Misogyny at its best”, Harry says in the episode.
A few tweets shared in the docuseries include: “Prince Harry, way to put your genetic line in the shredder”, “How funny would it be if MM died in a tunnel”, “This is why interracial marriage is a no-go”.
Episode 6 – Extraction
Enter Fairy Godfather, Tyler Perry. The couple have left the UK and are in Canada when they find out that they will be losing their security detail. While it sounds a bit ridiculous for the regular person, when you’ve had hordes of people following your every move for years, the idea of losing a layer of protection probably wasn’t ideal. We see the couple move to Beverley Hills to stay at Tyler Perry’s house where they are able to live unbothered for a time but that doesn’t last long with the tabloids catching up to them.
Throughout the second part of the series, The Daily Mail had been leading a lot of the media attacks on Meghan, with the couple deciding to sue publisher, Associated Newspapers for printing private letters. We learn more about the ongoing case, which had been going for three years (Spoiler alert: Meghan wins the case). We see more about the Oprah interview, Meghan’s miscarriage and third pregnancy with Lilibet.
We finish up with the couple looking back but kind of just moving on with their lives. It was a bit anti-climactic… I suppose I had to remember I wasn’t watching the season finale of Offspring or Grey’s Anatomy.
About the author
Oumi Karenga-Hewitt has lived in regional Australia since 2015. She has a Bachelor of English Language and Literature and has spent much of her life working in marketing, education, and regional development.
Oumi is passionate about storytelling and the performing arts. In 2022, she will be teaching Writing for Performance for young people through NIDA Connect.
Oumi is Vice-Chair of Western Riverina Arts and is studying a Bachelor of Teaching (English and Drama).