With Meghan-bashing getting nastier by the day, a voraciously vocal group of fans have got her back. Anyone dissing the new duchess had better watch out for her rock-solid sisterhood
‘I am EXTREMELY protective of Meghan Markle despite not knowing her. I will not apologize,” tweeted Chrissy Teigen recently, in response to a snide critique from the controversial commentator Katie Hopkins about the Duchess of Sussex’s class, or lack thereof. “All I want… is for people to stop having a go at Meghan,” added the political commentator Jane Merrick in between Brexit analyses. The Irish senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee summed it up: “For God’s sake… Please leave her alone.”
Meet the Meyhive, not dissimilar to Beyoncé’s Beyhive. In recent months, a wave of social-media posts, think pieces and social commentary from female figures public and private (and a lone male, George Clooney) has showcased a growing affinity with Meghan, and an avid protectiveness of the everywoman she stands for. This group of women are in their thirties and forties, career-oriented, outspoken and outside the usual royalists. They are becoming increasingly attached to Meghan as a relatable symbol of modern womanhood. And, as every aspect of that gets lampooned, these women are getting mad, and vocal, in her defence. With the news that Kensington Palace has even been seeking advice from Instagram on how to block abusive comments targeted at the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, the Meyhive have their work cut out for them.
These women follow JK Rowling, an early Meghan supporter, who, in response to the royal engagement and ensuing comments on Meghan’s (un)suitability as a royal spouse due to her divorcée status, famously tweeted #TeamDivorcée. Emily Brooks, editor of the Australian online women’s platform Future Women, witnessed a similar phenomenon when covering Meghan and Harry’s tour of the country in October 2018. The website ran a think piece pointing out the challenges Meghan might face when trying to be a beautifully presented public “wife” figure, while also trying make an impact. It received a seismic backlash from readers for even asking the question. “It was one of our most controversial pieces of the year, and what we found was young, professional women are extremely protective of her,” says Brooks.
From her career and achievements to her clothes, Meghan is the poster girl of aspiration for many. Elizabeth Holmes’s Instagram account So Many Thoughts, which is a fashion commentary on the Meghan “brand”, among other royal topics, has seen a 30% rise to more than 90,000 followers in the past year, largely, she says, due to her Meghan posts. Holmes’s audience is made up mostly of 25- to 34-year-old women. “Meghan has definitely brought a new fan base to the royal family,” says Holmes. “She seemed like one of ‘us’ and she came with some baggage. I hated her family drama for her sake, but I also think everybody related to that, too.”
What is clear is that for many professional women, when it comes to Meghan, it’s personal. “I relate to her far more than I have any other high-profile modern royal,” says the broadcaster and former barrister Afua Hirsch. “I feel almost emotionally invested in her experience of going into an extremely regressive, traditional establishment setting as a woman not from that background.”
Meghan’s biracial identity has also been a source of affinity for many. “I also relate to her on a race level because this is a very white establishment she is coming into as a woman of colour,” adds Hirsch. “And nobody is ever going to say anything overtly racist [in public]. Instead, we hear all the same very loaded language about how she is so controversial and she doesn’t get tradition and how things are done — ‘she’s aggressive’ and ‘she’s unreasonable’. I’m hearing all kinds of angry-black-women code underneath that.” Online trolls are, however, another matter entirely: according to reports, staff at Kensington Palace now spend several hours a week removing racist and sexist insults from its social-media accounts.
Meghan’s age, in an era when women are leaving it later to marry and have children, is also a sensitive matter for many. For Marina Pen, 38, a group strategy director based in New York, media speculation about Meghan’s fertility and age “hit a nerve for me and, I suspect, many other women”, she says. “This is a reality that a lot of women of the same age face.” Subsequent criticism of public bump-cradling has also been ardently defended by the Meyhive.
Much has been made of Meghan’s apparent ambition and media savviness, but now that personal branding, networking and side hustles are becoming the norm, criticism of this feels oddly retro to the aspirations of most working women. Holmes adds that self-branding is a “big part of being a professional woman today, whatever industry you’re in”. Having a brand and presence is an important means of networking and career-building, she explains. “It’s naïve to think they would marry for love and that’s it. The wife of a prince has a very public-facing role, and she should be strategic in what she wants to accomplish and what causes she wants to champion. Rather than criticise her for that, I think we should commend her.”
With her network of influencers, politicians and celebrity friends such as Serena Williams, Priyanka Chopra, and George and Amal Clooney, Meghan wields tremendous soft power that is perhaps more relevant even than that of the royal establishment.
Among the haters, Meghan’s apparent commerciality (or relatively close connections to fashion brands as a former influencer) has been criticised. But Jessica Matlin, beauty director at Harper’s Bazaar US, argues that her fashion and beauty choices go beyond mere diplomacy; that they advance her more feminist outlook in a subtly subversive way. “Everything Meghan does — whether it’s wearing a messy bun or doing the no-make-up-make-up look — is a reminder that she’s completely comfortable with herself,” she says. “Rather than ticking all the boxes one would expect from a new royal — the English Rose make-up, not a hair out of place, all capped with a fascinator — she’s showing up as she was, and that takes power.”
How long can Meghan-bashing remain the status quo? Now that increasing numbers of consumers are pushing back against lazy stereotyping about everything from gender to age, anti-woman sentiment goes against the new feminist mood. All the bad press actually unwittingly places her as an emblem for being more than just a royal wife. “Meghan Markle is representative of a new zeitgeist that challenges the cultural perception and portrayal of women,” concludes cultural commentator Professor Caryn Franklin. “I know she will continue to be one of our most important and high-profile women for a long time to come.”
In the meantime, the Meyhive has her back.
Lucie Greene is chief futurist at the advertising agency J Walter Thompson