10 Feb 2020

Helen Lewis - the limitations put on women by the media

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:07 pm on 10 February 2020

To understand the architecture of misogyny, what defines what is and isn't appropriate behaviour for women, look no further than the most famous house in the world, the House of Windsor, says British columnist Helen Lewis.

Lewis, who was deputy editor of the New Statesman and now writes for The Atlantic, says the Team Kate or Team Meghan rivalry created by the British media gives women only two options: the traditional wife or the more modern one.

(L-R) Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle (R) arrive to attend the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day church service.

(L-R) Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and US actress and fiancee of Britain's Prince Harry Meghan Markle (R) arrive to attend the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day church service. Photo: AFP

Lewis told Jesse Mulligan, that as soon as Meghan Markle joined the royal family, you could see the way that the women were being framed as polar opposites.

“It’s something that’s got, because we’re in Britain, overtones of class, overtones about Englishness vs Americaness, race-based overtones, but the thing that fascinates me is that fact that Kate Middleton always used to receive bad press from the tabloids here, she was ‘waitey Katey’ who just hung around and never had a real job, trying to get her hooks into Prince William and then as soon as Meghan Markle comes along, suddenly, she’s saying very left-wing things, political, talking about racism, sexism, so that’s quite scary to some people.”

Kate Middleton is suddenly framed in the media as the English Rose, she says.  

It’s a Shakespearian arena to play out huge conflicts in public life, she says.

It's a battle about what makes a ‘good girl’ and what kinds of things you will get praised for, she says.

“And actually, how can you reconcile that with trying to fight for equal rights, fight for advances in feminism?”

You can’t, she says.

“As soon as you open your mouth, that’s when all of the things get thrown at you, that get thrown at Meghan Markle about how you’re uppity and getting above yourself, you’re overly woke.”

Pitting women against each other is a way to contain them, she says.

“If you have very male-dominated industries or very male-dominated media…what you do is imply that there’s one spot for women and all women have got to fight it out, duke it out for that one spot and they’re each other’s competition.”

Women with children feel constantly judged, she says.

“People use children in order to police women and their behaviour and I think that’s what you see being played out in the coverage of Kate and Meghan.”

The Yoko Ono trope that everything is brilliant until a woman comes along and ‘broke up the band’, is a well-worn one.

Prince William and Prince Harry aren’t judged in the same way, despite being working fathers, she says.

Helen Lewis’ book Difficult Woman is due out in March and you can find more stories here on Atlantic Woman.