The Royal Wedding is now over and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are now hopefully happily beginning their married life. As usual, such an event has been the cause of much coverage in the media, for better and for worse. A particularly common question asked before, during and after has been, does Meghan represent a change to British Society?
When Meghan and Harry announced their engagement, The Guardian shouted, “Britain’s relationship with race will change forever.” However, sociologists have said that this is naïve. Kehinde Andrews, sociology professor at Birmingham City University, has said that, “She won’t be allowed to be a black princess. The only way she can be accepted is to pass for white… If there are people who are celebrating, it’s a bit naive, and they’ll be very disappointed.”
Could it be that we are approaching the subject from the wrong angle, though? Should we consider more that Meghan demonstrates how our society has already changed rather than ponder whether it will? She has a black mother and white father, so is biracial. In 2014, 1.2 million people in Britain described themselves as “mixed.” This represents the third largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the UK at the moment. Research by ISER (Institute for Social and Economic Research) found that 0.88% of adults defined themselves as “mixed”, but this is increasing with 2.9% of children reporting as “mixed” and 8.9% of children living in mixed race households. So Meghan Markle may or may not change British Society moving forwards, but we can argue that she is already representative of the way in which society is already changing.
Meghan and Prince Harry chose to marry rather than cohabit. The number of marriages has reduced since the 1970s in the UK, so they have chosen to ignore this trend by marrying.
Meghan Markle is also a divorcee. She was married in 2011 to her long-term boyfriend but divorced 2 years later in a no-fault divorce. Meghan is not the first divorcee in the Royal Family, of course. Prince Charles and Camilla are both divorcees and married. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson also divorced. The number of divorces has increased since the 1970s, with a large part of it down to the fact that in 1975 the divorce law made it easier and more acceptable. The Office for National Statistics found that 130, 473 couples divorced in 2013, but this was actually a 3% drop at that time. In fact, divorce rates are currently at their lowest level for 40 years. Part of this is the acceptance of people living together rather than marrying. Seventy percent of people who get divorced end up getting married again.
Meghan has also expressed her strong belief in herself as a woman and a feminist. It is not just talk. At the age of eleven, she campaigned against an advert using sexist language to sell washing up liquid. From 13 – 17 years of age, she was involved in volunteering in soup kitchens. She continues to work with the United Nation’s Women and World Vision groups. In a speech at the UN forum on International Women’s Day in 2015 she said, “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.” Meghan also broke with tradition and gave a speech at her wedding. She has expressed her views on feminism frequently.
So, does Meghan represent a change for the future of British Society? We hope so. But we should also consider that she represents how British Society has already changed.