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Commentary: The summer of Meghan Markle and all the tired ways we talk about royal women

A cameraman watches the crowd, as the crowd watches the live nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the official viewing grounds in Windsor, England, May 19, 2018. (Alexander Coggin/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

The first summer of Meghan Markle's royalty is coming to an end and, as a diligent student of her tabloid coverage, here is what I have learned: She is going to Balmoral for the queen's summer holiday, and that will be a test. She had her first solo outing with the queen, in Cheshire, and that was a test. She crossed her legs and not her ankles once in public, and that was a test she failed, but then she sat next to the toilets in the economy section of an airplane when she flew to the south of France and that was a test she passed.

In the narrative of Meghan and Queen Elizabeth II, the queen is like Regina George, sneakily setting up little mean-girl tests for Meghan the way we decided Queen Elizabeth did for Diana and then Camilla and then Kate, because naturally a 92-year-old monarch's primary concern is hazing her granddaughter-in-law.

This one time, Meghan didn't know whether to let the queen get into a car first, so she asked, and this was somehow mortifying. Meghan likes pasta, but the queen doesn't serve it at her table, and will Meghan be able to survive one meal without pasta, or will she, like most people deprived of pasta for one meal, wither into an empty husk as she wails, "Rigatoni. Rigatoni."?

Three months ago when Meghan married Prince Harry, everyone speculated that the presence of a divorced biracial American 30-something would forever change the monarchy. This column was going to attempt to evaluate that endeavor, and what I have discovered in my research is that this past weekend was Meghan's birthday and she wore a colorblock dress from Club Monaco and accidentally flashed her bra.

Royal watching is seen as a silly sport, but it's actually a controlled science experiment. To examine the first three months of Meghan Markle's royalty is to have an unfettered look at the tired stories we tell about women when they're not allowed to rebut the narrative.

What does it mean to be a princess in 2018? What does it mean to be a queen? The royal family's job is to function as figureheads - to offend nobody, to take no positions. For 60 years, the head of that family has been a woman.

The combination of these two circumstances has resulted in the coverage of the modern monarchy being oddly feminized: Nobody can know what the queen is thinking, so let's turn our attention to her renewed love of gardening and a photo gallery of her 51 best hats. The women of the royal family have become the perfect targets for British and American societies struggling with sexism: The women are there to be judged. They are not allowed to talk back.

During President Donald Trump's recent European tour, he had rocky encounters with British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The only stateswoman he seemed to enjoy meeting was Queen Elizabeth, whose entire job consists of saying nothing and being polite.

"I was asked to have tea with the queen, who is incredible by the way," Trump said. "I'm waiting. I was about 15 minutes early and I'm waiting with my wife and that's fine. Hey, it's the queen, right? We can wait."

It fell to the internet to produce contradictory evidence: Earlier this week someone uploaded footage of the queen stoically eyeing her watch while herself waiting on the president.

At least her foil in that narrative wasn't another woman.

"Meghan Markle's rising popularity causes tension with Kate Middleton," says Us Weekly.

"Tension inside the royal household. Is it because of Meghan Markle?" asks the Royal UK, a gossip site.

Meghan's family, the white side, is still crazy, we learn via our tabloid education. Meghan's mom hung out with Oprah. Meghan sometimes dresses like her deceased mother-in-law, in the sense that they have both worn clothes that are, for example, blue. When this happens, Town & Country will do a pictorial spread that implies Meghan is trying to take Diana's place.

Meghan Markle Meghan Markle.

I read stories about her and I think I'm supposed to believe that she's representative of all women, or our complicated notions about them. Maybe pretending to like you, maybe about to stab you in the back. Proving her own worthiness to the public by wearing the right thing. Proving her humility, by situating herself near the airplane toilet. Doing the best she can while never getting it quite right.

This article was written by Monica Hesse, a reporter for The Washington Post.

  
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