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Life in the palace: From Meghan Markle to Princess Latifa, empowerment is a tough battle for royal women

Life in the palace: From Meghan Markle to Princess Latifa, empowerment is a tough battle for royal women

Curbed freedom

Text: Adelina Tan


As the world progresses towards gender equality and autonomy, empowerment is still far from the reaches of many women in royal families

It’s March 2021. As the world commemorated the day dedicated to advancing gender equality, Meghan Markle tackled empowerment in a way only she could—by seeking to reclaim the narrative surrounding “Megxit”.

In that infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey (we’re awaiting all the spoofs and pop-culture references sure to come in the near future), she and Prince Harry revealed details about the British royal family that is keeping the British side—or their advisors—very busy in the realms of damage control.

Was she right to do it? We could debate about it for hours and still have differing opinions. (PS: It’s okay to say “Let’s agree to disagree.”) But, did Meghan have a right to give the interview? Yes, she did. Just as any members of the royal family are entitled to step forward and give their side of the storyif “The Firm” (aka the British monarchy) deems it appropriate.

But they’ll surely (eventually) find a way, one which lets them keep a “stiff upper lip” and remain dignified. The allegations of racism and elitism are appalling, but is anyone truly surprised? Regardless of what (or who) we choose to believe, rather than shrugging it off and getting on with life—it’s important to keep having these uncomfortable conversations. Trying to silence Meghan Markle is akin to reinforcing the “good girls are seen but not heard” stereotype.

Change does not come from keeping silent. Princess Diana was branded a troublemaker and attention-seeker when she spoke out. However, her ordeals paved the way for slightly more leeway within the tightly-controlled British monarchy. One thing hasn’t really changed, though, then and now. Members of the House of Windsor—whether by birth or marriage—still have little autonomy over their personal lives.

They’re not the only royals trapped in a life where material luxuries are abundant, but freedom is a luxury they cannot afford. In 2018, Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler, made headlines when she was apparently brought back to her home country against her will. It wasn't her first escape attempt from the patriarchy she'd described within her own family. Dubai claims it was a mission to rescue her from being tricked by criminals—presumably her co-conspirators—seeking money.

Independence was also a thorny issue with Masako, the current Empress of Japan. Harvard-educated and acing her job as a senior diplomat, she gave it all up to marry her prince (her parents were not allowed to attend the wedding). She had to surrender her passport, ID, and her right to drive a car. Stepping out of the palace wasn't allowed without the permission of royal aides. This dramatic change in lifestyle broke her spirit and plunged her into a long battle with adjustment disorder.

Meghan, likewise, alleged that she went into depression and considered taking her own life when she was a working royal. Upon begging for access to mental health treatment, her request was allegedly denied. “I couldn't, you know, call an Uber to the palace,” she divulged in the #OprahMeghanHarry interview. “I mean, you have to understand as well, when I joined that family, that was the last time, until we came here, that I saw my passport, my driver's license, my keys. All that gets turned over.”

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Of course, Meghan and Empress Masako could have chosen not to marry a prince. Which is what Chelsea Davy, Prince Harry’s ex, did. The strong-willed Zimbabwean businesswoman decided freedom was too high a price to pay for love. Why, though, does any woman have to make such a terrible choice: The heart or the mind? Royalty or sanity?

Empress Masako reportedly rejected her royal proposal twice before finally trading the fulfilling life she loved for the restrained duties of a princess and future empress. Her daughter, Princess Aiko, is not eligible to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne under Japan's Imperial Succession Law. If the law was changed to allow for female succession, she may have to choose between marriage and the throne. Princess Aiko will lose her title when she weds a commoner, as dictated by the Imperial House Law. Japan abolished its nobility class in 1947, so anyone she marries is bound to come from the "hoi polloi".

At a time where we’re championing women empowerment, we cannot not talk about what is happening within the gilded walls of the world’s palaces. With modern monarchs assuming constitutional and representational duties, it’s only right for royal families to set an inspiring and empowering example for the women they represent.

For more Meghan Markle-related stories, click here.