Meghan Markle: Behind the loathing of the Duchess of Sussex

Almost as soon as Oprah Winfreys sit-down with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, aired, the vitriol came roaring like a hurricane.
Criticism has, of course, closely followed the couple since stepping down as senior royals last year, and while there has been much public support over the tell-all interview in which Meghan, 39, said she had felt suicidal while pregnant but was denied mental health support, and that a senior anggota of the royal family had expressed concerns over the colour of her unborn babys skin the visceral hatred has been difficult to miss.

We hear from Meghan for the first time in the latest clip from the upcoming Oprah interview.

More specifically, the visceral hatred of Meghan.

Conservative commentators predictably led the charge.

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After Meghan admitted she didnt want to be alive any more, Piers Morgan shot back on Good Morning Britain: I dont believe a word she said.

(Hes since left the breakfast show and is digging his heels in, repeatedly referring to Meghans bull.....) Shortly after, US journalist Megyn Kelly said: You can become a princess. You can live in a palace. You can [have] access to the crown jewels and still somehow find yourself a victim.

And there have been the memes: a fake image of Queen Elizabeth brandishing a gun in an apparent desire for revenge over Meghans; Meghan and Harrys faces photoshopped onto each others bodies to indicate the prince isnt wearing the pants.

Composite: Stuff
The fallout from Piers Morgan's views over Meghan Markle has shaped opinions.

Time and again, the words calculated, pathetic, deceitful, outspoken are cropping up beside Meghans name.

These sentiments are echoing far and wide on social media, in group messages, in comments and letters received by this publication.

So how does this one woman draw such intense loathing from people who do not know her personally?

Its been quite dramatic, says Jayashri Kulkarni, a Monash University professor of psychiatry. Meghan embodies privilege, wealth, power, fame, shes a celebrity, shes the antithetical to the conservative look of a princess so shes already othered in that sense.

Associate Professor Lauren Rosewarne, a University of Melbourne sociologist, adds: Shes a woman, shes an outsider to the royal institution, shes a person of colour, shes smart, and shes American. So she hits a number of factors that stir judgment and in this case thats manifesting in a disproportionate amount of hatred.

The Age and Sydney Morning Heralds reader editor Orietta Guerrera says comment moderators found that while several readers expressed sympathy for Meghan, she received far more criticism than any other royal, and at levels similar to figures such as Donald Trump. Guerrera adds that comments containing racist attacks were rejected.

Beyonc shows support for Meghan Markle: 'We Are All Strengthened and Inspired by You'

There were many comments questioning her honesty ... She was commonly depicted as an attention seeker, drama queen and manipulator, she says.

First off, Kulkarni says, it is much easier to hate a famous person than someone within your social sphere. And celebrities like Meghan are seen as fair game because they put themselves in the public eye, she says.

More crucially, Rosewarne says for three years people have, perhaps indirectly, absorbed a negative image of Meghan that has been tirelessly pushed by the tabloid press; from the comparisons to her dutiful sister-in-law to the insinuations she is trying to be Diana 2.0 and the use of the term Megxit.

Rosewarne says this creates an audience that is ready to tear someone down. The downfall of Britney Spears, recently recounted in a New York Times documentary, shows how the tabloids can destroy a person.

The uncomfortable truth, Rosewarne says, is that this means much of the public disdain levelled at Meghan is grounded in racism and sexism.

[Because] the input for the hatred has likely been stoked by an absolutely sexist and racist tabloid press, she says. Comments can be racist or sexist even if a person doesnt see themselves that way: this isnt about self-perception.

Take, for example, the anger over Meghan being apparently manipulative.

Theres this idea that Harry is so hapless in this and has been bamboozled by this woman, Rosewarne says. Even if the worst things people say about [Meghan] are true, lets say she has engineered this entire thing, if it was a man we wouldnt actually be judging the way we are this is an age-old stereotype of women with their innate witchiness.

Australian National University sociology professor Mary Lou Rasmussen says when the white man Prince Harry is completely off the hook (despite long expressing his unhappiness as a royal), race and gender are unquestionably at play in the irrational loathing of Meghan. [It] speaks to things [people] cant say but feel really deeply whether they are aware of it or not, Rasmussen says, explaining ingrained prejudices are often unconscious and influenced by social structures.

And due to discomfort around racism, Rasmussen says many viewers didnt give Meghans claims credibility. They see her as someone who is shrill instead of someone who is giving a valuable account.

Rosewarne says unless people have lived experience of discrimination, they struggle to see it. They come up with other reasons as to why this woman is a problem, she says, but points out labelling Meghan calculating and gold digger are gendered.

Or calling her a mouthy American falls into the racist trope of the angry black woman.

Much divide has been on generational lines. A British YouGov poll found that in the wake of the Oprah interview, those under age 25 were mostly siding with the Sussexes, while those 50 and older were firmly backing the royal family.

Rosewarne says some older people view the interview as a crude betrayal of the Queen, who is deeply private, and the institution she heads.

Most people in Australia have never known another monarch, Rosewarne says, adding there is a great sense of respect for her legacy, even among those who dont consider themselves royalists.

Also, Kulkarni says, older generations have typically been raised to deal with problems with a stiff upper lip. So this [interview] is seen as washing your dirty linen in public. Rosewarne says younger people are often considered oversensitive or snowflakes for their oversharing and woke politics and this is what Meghan represents.

Rick Rycroft/AP
Australian newspapers report in Sydney on the interview of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex by Oprah Winfrey.

Rasmussen adds: [The interview is] attacking values of the older generation saying their silence around issues [such as racism and mental health] is a problem.

Rosewarne stresses not everyone has to like Meghan. She is likely flawed ... Were never going to know a true story, we dont have a surround sound view of everything that went on.

And its OK to eye-roll at some of the antics of the Sussexes as a couple for example much has been made of their financial motives or their decision to do a tell-all with Oprah rather than continue trying to find a resolution privately. This is not automatically racist or sexist, says Rasmussen.

Kulkarni warns that the problem with much of the hostility to Meghan is the ripple effect disdainful commentary has on others in the community who are made to feel hurt, further stigmatised and afraid to speak out whether it be over racial, gender or mental health issues.

Critical evaluation and balanced discussion is not a bad thing, Kulkarni says. [But] hateful language and hateful behaviour really lead to all sorts of unwanted effects ... If the language is inflammatory then its not just Meghan in the firing line, its all women of colour, or its all women, or all people with mental illness, it becomes this bigger group.

Unfortunately the general public got caught up in the is this real or not real thats really dangerous and unhelpful.

Kulkarni says that the gut response of disbelief and looking for an agenda feeds a troubling narrative: Meghan was called a liar for saying she felt suicidal and experienced racism in the same week it emerged Brittany Higgins the former Liberal staffer who was allegedly sexually assaulted at Federal Parliament was called a lying cow by her ex-boss. Whats coming through is this thread of invalidation of women in crisis situations, Kulkarni says.

Its important and healthy for people to interrogate themselves to understand why they are feeling anger, says Kulkarni.

She explains that hating a celebrity involves well-known psychological mechanisms to deal with internal conflict at a distance.

What people are actually doing is displacing events, views or feelings they may harbour for something or somebody and projecting onto somebody else, Kulkarni says.

Its like when youve had a dreadful time at work but you cant deal with it there, so you get home and pick a fight with your spouse. Its the displacement of the problem.

In the case of Meghan, the problem she embodies could be a range of things.

People who have strong views one way or the other [should] self-reflect on what underpins the strong emotional response, Kulkarni says.

Its also possible that people who are pro-Meghan have a visceral hate of the royal family.

Rasmussen agrees, and urges people to examine how their feelings are for Meghan compared to other figures, like Prince Harry, Princess Diana or Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

If youre feeling a stronger level of hate for Meghan, question that, she says. None of us is a saint. Its a kind of wake-up call for us to think about what things are we not seeing.

Need to talk?

Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

* Lifeline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

* Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

* Healthline 0800 611 116

* Samaritans 0800 726 666

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