In 2007 we witnessed, the entire world witnessed, the breakdown of Britney Spears. So public and so undone, we witnessed this young woman whose career was on course to make her a bonafide legend in the industry, come apart before our eyes. The press ran its stories with searing and jeering headlines, putting it all on display for us to consume, and consume we did by the ink barrel and column inches. The men who came into her life, gave their exposés or sang songs that spilled secrets revealed at a time that would have found her to be most vulnerable. We the public in our adulation watched and commented without a thought or care for what internal struggle she’d been dealing with.
For years, public figures, celebrities etc. have been expected to grin and bear whatever it is the press is willing to dish out because it is the deal they make with the devil. The press has a free agency on celebrity sanity, and it is theirs to tear into as they want to without fear of comeuppance.
In 2019 we witnessed the way in which Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, was vilified by the press for nothing other than an audacity to be herself and not play the ridiculous games of the British tabloid media, a game they have come to expect members of the royal family to partake in, particularly the women. With Meghan it went up another notch because in the midst of the cheap outtakes and tattle was misogynoir; a particular brand of misogyny aimed specifically at Black woman, overt racism, and good old sexism at the hands of the white allied fourth estate.
Harry and Meghan stepping back as senior royals, in 2019 brought with it a cacophony of missteps by the couple for sure, but more important it revealed the inner workings and machinations of an institution so imbibed in a culture even more so archaic that it was easy to see how a woman as forward thinking and progressive as Meghan could never fit into a pre-moulded role. Everything she was going to do was always going to be seen as contrary.
Most every woman who has married into the royal family has had to put up with the irritating British tabloid, the cost of doing business is a few misogynistic headlines. From the Diana days, to Meghan’s, every one of them is expected to look the other way in a bid to maintain a façade. Remember Fergie? She could not even get a job in England, she had to go to America, be an advocate of weight watchers in order to pay her bills and even so, the press hounded her for it. all because of how she chose to live her life post-divorce from a royal family member with even more skeletons in his closet. The stories about Kate Middleton before she became the duchess, the awful way in which they press treated her mother, the labels strewn her way… and then came Meghan with her independent wealth and media savvy. She brought something more to the royal family by dint of simply being different, working class, American, self-made, a celebrity, a feminist, an activist, a divorcee, a woman of colour… and she was never going to fit into the pre-conceived notion of what a royal family wife ought to be.
When Harry and Meghan decided to step back from public royal life, it was met with all sorts of commentary from all quarters of the media who were spitting with rage when the couple called their bluff and did what they’d been asking her to do, along with her husband and child. This is not a family about to look back in regret and the British tabloid especially loathe that. One of the reasons sighted by couple was a need for them to control the press access to them outside the royal rota, and protect part of their privacy. A thing that is being thrown in their faces time and again when they deign to raise their heads above the parapet with every breaking news revolving around them. However it should be noted that seeking privacy, even as a public figure- which they remain- does not mean living in exile. They simply want to be able to speak up for themselves in the face of a constantly vilifying, and quite frankly, ridiculous press. They want to do it their own way. Who can blame them?
And if it looks like they are eating their cake and having it sometimes, so be it. If she doesn’t want to play the roulette game of the press whilst courting some press, then kudos to her. For a long time the press has gotten away with murder, quite literally, when it comes to the women in the royal family whilst the men, with questionable and deplorable morals, have gotten away with everything else. From endangered avocados to life threatening flowers, the press finds a way to lay it at the feet of Meghan. So if she is the first woman not to toe that precarious line then so be it and if she wants to post an Instagram picture whilst announcing her pregnancy having gone through a miscarriage, an announcement that gives hope to women who have gone through the same ordeal, guess what? She gets to do that too.
The measure of a woman because of marriage to a popular person should not be that she can grin and bear the bullshit. The press readily dismisses that behind these headlines and salacious stories are human beings with real feelings and emotions and heart ache. Much like they dismissed it at the time of her late mother-in-law’s death. They want us to remember their faults but not consider their feelings. Neither pedigree nor position should diminish the humanity of a person. The press would do well to tread with care.
Britney Spears’ humanity was put on display so sadistically, during the most vulnerable moments in her life but the press is yet to learn the many lessons to be learnt from that. Lessons stemming from the death of the late Princess Diana; Meghan’s mother-in-law.