It has become one of the most famous lines from an interview of all time: “Were you silent or were you si-lenced?”. I don’t even need to tell you who said it, you already know (and if you don’t, please go do your homework).
It’s been one-and-a-half years since the Duchess of Sussex spoke with Oprah Winfrey about the institutional cruelty and difficulties she faced as a biracial working member of the Royal Family. A period in her life where, despite the near-impossible challenges of royal life, she was encouraged to take the hits and maintain a stiff upper lip.
Since then, and after settling into a new life in California, the public’s time with Meghan has been surprisingly minimal. Though the duchess has opened up on occasion, including a deeply personal op-ed on miscarriage in 2020, she has really only been seen via her ongoing charitable work. Her personal life and image are still very much shaped through the lens of the media.
But that could all be about to change after the launch of Archewell Audio’s first podcast, Archetypes. Part of the Sussexes’ partnership with Spotify, the series attempts to uncover the origin of stereotypes about women and how they shape narratives in culture.
As someone who has been called every name under the sun, it’s not only an important conversation about how society talks about women, but also a clever way of taking on the detractors Meghan was previously unable to answer back to.
At a time when female politicians still face misogyny from their male counterparts and the media, and women in the workplace continue to push against archaic barriers, the podcast has entered the arena at a perfect moment.
And Meghan isn’t doing it alone. Over a dozen episodes, she’ll be joined by prominent guests and friends including Mindy Kaling, Mariah Carey, Ziwe Fumudoh and Margaret Cho.
The topics raised are issues that the duchess knows all too well— overcoming stereotypes as a woman of colour, inequality in the workplace, climbing the career ladder without privilege and, sexist labels. And from what I’ve heard so far, it pulls no punches.
For Meghan, she says, her own ambition was weaponised against her the moment she entered the royal bubble. She’s not wrong.
Just last month a tawdry book on the duchess by a male journalist featured close to three dozen uses of the word, almost exclusively negatively. “Ambitious and ruthless”, “socially ambitious”, “ambitious networker”, “ambitious and hungry”, “a very ambitious… brazen hussy”. The list was long.
“I don't ever remember personally feeling the negative connotation behind the word ‘ambitious’ until I started dating my now husband,” she admits. “So, since I've felt the negativity behind it, it's really hard to un-feel it. I can't unsee it, either, in the millions of girls and women who make themselves smaller – —so much smaller – —on a regular basis.”
While discussing how ambition and motherhood co-exist, the duchess also reflects on a chilling moment during her time as a working royal. It was after the Sussexes’ first engagement on a 2019 tour of South Africa, she reveals, that an aide informed the couple about a fire in Archie’s nursery.
Though the infant narrowly avoided harm, as his nanny had taken him elsewhere in the house just moments earlier, news of the incident left the couple seriously shaken up.
“Everyone’s in tears. . . And what do we have to do? Go out and do another official engagement? I said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense’,” she adds, before describing how palace staff pushed the couple on to their next engagement instead of pulling the brakes and telling the public what happened. “Optics” being the concern, not how anyone was feeling.
It’s these moments that the public will be hearing about for the first time. And while each episode of the show is designed to illuminate the lived experiences of other women, Meghan has also found a way to undo some of her public dehumanisation in the process.
Better yet, the outraged reaction from the British press and world of royal commentators will also quietly prove many of the points raised in the show. Because, predictably, many pounced the second the show went live.
“Vapid and preposterous,” sniffed the Times’s one-star review which, like a grumpy old man at a bus stop, went on to complain about Prince Harry’s use of the word “vibes” and the repeated use of “Californian platitudes”.
The Daily Mail dedicated a lengthy report on how “pathetic” and “yawn”-worthy contents of the show are, while also assigning a team of reporters to pump out 16 (and counting) articles about its first episode.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a conversation about the Sussexes without mentioning the palace’s “fears”. I’m told Buckingham Palace aides were most definitely not keeping calm, nor carrying on after the show’s premiere on Tuesday, worried about what else might be shared over the next 12 weeks.
Two aides have already pushed back on Meghan's 'precise recollection' of events in South Africa – one told a tabloid that it was a smoking heater, not a fire (does it matter?) and another claimed it is 'unfair' to share such stories when the Royal Household cannot comment.
But then this is the reality that the royal institution helped create. Uncensored and unbothered, Meghan, like Harry, has managed to create a healthier and happier existence since being shown the door after the couple’s half in, half out proposal was rejected.
The two are now free to show their battle scars as and when they see fit.
“People should expect the real me in this and probably the me they have never gotten to know,” Meghan – who uses no title, no surname in promos for the series – says about the show, which is currently Spotify's second most listened to podcast. “I’m just excited to be myself and talk and be unfiltered.”
Once silenced by the establishment, it’s clear that Meghan finally has her voice back. A voice that will be very familiar to those who followed her before Harry. This time, however, she’s brought an entire movement alongside it.