On 29th October, 2019, an article on uk.reuters.com and several other media outlets across the world, reported on the British Female cross-party MPs who had come together and decided in a letter, to express their support of The Duchess of Sussex in her quest to get the media to stop with the relentless bullying and report fairly on her and her family. British female Parliamentarian, Holly Lynch, Labor Party MP for Halifax, West Yorkshire, had been the figure behind the organizing and publishing of the letter which was then signed by 71 of her fellow, female colleagues. The letter specifically stated the understanding that these female MPs shared with the Duchess of the abuse and intimidation that were often used to disparage women in public office.
As has since become the norm, a section in the UK media were not impressed by this move. This would very soon after, be evidenced by GMB Host, Piers Morgan’s tweet suggesting that the move by the British female MPs was a very dangerous attempt to suppress freedom of the press. I strongly disagree. For anyone who has paid attention to the kind of treatment that women in politics are often subjected to and specifically by their male counterparts, you can clearly see that this move by the British female MPs is not only welcome, but necessary. Long before I began writing for Meghanpedia, in an essay dated July 30th 2018, for Nigerian based literary journal Arts and Africa, I felt compelled to write;
“It would have been interesting, though, if this positive feminist wave, had equally made its way to the political world where women in politics still suffer stereotypes. They are considered to be the weaker sex and therefore, not expected to boldly air their views. Brazilian Lawmaker and Feminist, Marielle Franco, a woman of color, was murdered for what is believed to be her outspokenness in promoting human rights. For speaking up against extra-judicial killings and police brutality, Marielle took an assassin’s several bullets that ended her life. In a Brazil that is still struggling with race issues, it is suspected that the fact that she was of mixed-race heritage was a contributing factor to her assassination. Across the world, women in politics are still fighting to be recognised as respectable people, without their marital status and other factors associated with womanhood, being used as an unfair gauge for their eligibility.
In Kenya, emphasis has in the past, been put on a female politician’s looks rather than on her ability to deliver to the people she represents. The previous year, UK’s Daily Mail came under fire for focusing on the legs of British Prime Minister, Theresa May and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in what many termed an offensive, front page headline.”
At the time, I had no idea what we were up against concerning the treatment of The Duchess but over a year later, this essay I wrote whose main focus was actually on the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan, feels almost prophetic to me as an individual. It was actually this move by the British female Parliamentarians to openly show support for Duchess Meghan, that prompted me to research on female politicians and specifically the ones who held the very first political positions as women in their respective countries, in a bid to make it clear to the likes of Piers Morgan and his ilk that there is nothing dangerous in speaking up against misogynoir, misogyny and racial abuse of women of color whether in the public eye or not.
Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor
Nancy Astor was an American-born British female politician and the first female MP to take her seat on 1st December 1919 in Plymouth as per Wikipedia’s description of her. She was equally the first woman to sit in the House of Commons where she served until 1945 when she was persuaded to step down. While reading about Nancy Astor, I was struck by just how similar the criticism she faced then, is to the kind of unfair criticism that Duchess Meghan faces today.
Having being born in America and brought up in America before relocating to England, Nancy gained attention first, as a woman and as someone who did not follow the rules, often attributed to her American upbringing. Duchess Meghan has often been accused in sections of the British Media of being a chronic rule breaker, too Hollywood and barely understanding “royal protocol” simply because she is an American and not the so called English Rose illusion created by the British press.
Wikipedia goes on to describe the treatment of Nancy Astor in the following statement;
Early in her first term, MP Horatio Bottomley who wanted to dominate the “Soldier’s friend” issue and thought she was an obstacle, sought to ruin her political career. He capitalized on her opposition to divorce reform and her efforts to maintain wartime alcohol restrictions. He portrayed her as a hypocrite as she was divorced; he noted that the reform bill she opposed would allow women to have the kind of divorce she had had in America.
Does this ring a bell to you Duchess Meghan fans? We have heard it all, equally directed at our Duchess.
An article appearing on www.theguardian.com and dated 2nd March 2019 by Labor MP for Leeds West, Rachel Reeves, focusing on her new book, Women of Westminster which tells the story of the achievement of women in parliament and titled Power dressing: Why Female MPs have faced a century of scrutiny, discusses her research findings specifically on the dressing of British female politicians. In the article, Rachel states;
“But I was also struck when researching the history by the focus, since day one, on how female MPs dressed- so often used to trivialize or objectify. But female MPs have also used fashion and appearance, to tell something about them and their politics often to a great effect.”
This quickly reminded me of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Oceania Tour. On October 22nd 2018, Harry and Meghan were pictured walking hand in hand on Fraser Island with Meghan wearing a striped maxi dress by Reformation. Some of the criticism of her outfit choice which I was privy to, was the fact that some thought the side slit on the dress was too high up thus branding her trashy while others felt her breasts would pop out of the same dress which they cruelly implied was slutty and reminiscent of her Hollywood days. In short, she had “again” broken royal protocol. On a hot, sunny day, Duchess Meghan’s attire which she was comfortable in and did not bother her husband at all, was negatively scrutinized for being on her.
When on October 29nd, 2018, and still on the same tour, Meghan chose a white blazer dress with side pockets to meet with people who work in the creative arts at Courtnay Creative in Wellington, New Zealand, she was again criticized for being photographed with her hand in her pocket. What many of these so called critiques always fail to realize is that Meghan is very socially conscious with her dressing. Meghan has been known to choose items of clothing and accessories sometimes from little known designers. While on her recent Southern Africa tour with husband, Harry, Meghan picked her order of jeans and tiny dungarees for baby Archie at Tshepo Jeans. To find out more about the founder of Tshepo Jeans, their About Us page says it all. And as if this is not enough, you just need to read the stories behind some of the brands that Meghan dons.
Rachel Reeves in her article for The Guardian goes on to state;
When Jennie Lee was elected in 1929 at the age of 24, the press regularly focused on her clothing. One newspaper said she took “the Speaker’s breath away” with “the assurance of a Bond mannequin” as she walked into the chamber in a bright green dress “of the clinging variety.”
The desire to sexualize women in the public eye and involved in serious matters such as politics is quite evident in this statement. However, my focus was not only on British female politicians who had achieved firsts in the political world.
Jeannette Pickering Rankin
Jeannette Pickering Rankin was the first woman to hold federal office in the United States as per her Wikipedia description. She was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Republican from Montana in 1916 and again in 1940. (courtesy Wikipedia) And while Jeannette seemed lucky not to suffer as much negative criticism as her British counterparts, something in her description caught my eye.
Her election generated considerable nationwide interest including, reportedly, several marriage proposals.
It was as if many men assumed that with her election and subsequent thrust in the public eye, Jeannette was now open for marriage from any available stranger. She would later be singled out for criticism when she voted against the declaration of war on Germany. It should be noted that 49 male representatives and 6 Senators had equally voted against the same but it was Jeannette, a woman, who would be the only one to be criticized for it.
In Kenya, the first Kenyan female mayor in Kisumu town and later first female MP Kisumu Town Constituency in 1969 was Grace Onyango. Her Wikipedia description details how she joined the race to replace the recently deceased Kisumu Mayor, Mathias Ondiek in 1965. Originally, it continues, there were two other women in the race but they both dropped out because of the hostile environment and abuses from male competitors. The culture would carry on into present day Kenya where some female lawmakers have been unfortunate enough to be physically assaulted in public by their male colleagues. The justification; they deserved it for being mouthy or challenging a man.
From these accounts, it is very clear that to be a female politician, in whatever part of the world, is to equally put up with disrespect and character assassinations for daring to be outspoken and getting into what is believed to be a man’s world. When you see Hillary Clinton voicing her support for Meghan as she continuously gets viciously attacked by the media, trust me, she knows what it’s like. When you see British female MPs voicing their support for Meghan, they know what it’s like. And it’s downright ugly and despicable. These are mothers, wives and sisters who have been subjected to this kind of treatment without a care in the world for their feelings. If there was ever a time to speak up against it, the time is now. The time is right and nobody should downplay it whatsoever.