Opinion / Princesses in distress: Meghan Markle isn’t the only royal who’s struggled with palace life – so did Princess Diana, Emperor Naruhito’s wife Masako and Dubai’s Princess Latifa

Princess Diana with Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle. Members of the House of Windsor – whether by birth or marriage – still have little autonomy over their personal lives. Photo: @oprahmagazine
It’s March 2021. As the world celebrated International Women’s Day, the day dedicated to advancing gender equality, Meghan Markle tackled empowerment in a way only she could – by seeking to reclaim the narrative surrounding “Megxit”. In that infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey (we’re awaiting all the spoofs and pop-culture references sure to come soon), she and Prince Harry revealed details about the British royal family that must be keeping the British side – or their advisers – very busy in the realms of damage control.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry during their interview with Oprah Winfrey. Photo: @oprahmagazine/Instagram

Was Meghan right to do the interview? We could debate about it for hours and still have differing opinions. The same goes for the appalling allegations of racism and elitism, and who we choose to believe.

But regardless of whether you’re on the side of Harry and Meghan or Buckingham Palace, one thing’s for certain – nobody’s shrugging off the current conversation around the British royals and getting on with life.
In fact, having uncomfortable conversations is important. How else will anything change, especially when it comes to women’s issues? Princess Diana might have been branded a troublemaker and attention-seeker by some when she spoke out, but her ordeals paved the way for more leeway within the tightly controlled British monarchy.

One thing hasn’t really changed, though. Members of the House of Windsor – whether by birth or marriage – still have little autonomy over their personal lives. The same goes for other royals around the world. In 2018, Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai’s ruler, made headlines when she was apparently brought back to her home country against her will. In a video, she explained that she decided to flee in part due to maltreatment from her father. Meanwhile, according to Sky News, Dubai claimed the retrieval was a mission to rescue her from being tricked by criminals seeking money – presumably her co-conspirators.

Independence was also a thorny issue with Masako, the current Empress of Japan. Despite being Harvard-educated and having a career as a senior diplomat, she gave it all up to marry her prince. Her parents were not allowed to attend her wedding. She has remained low profile since the early 2000s and, according to BBC News, was also diagnosed with adjustment disorder. Some speculate that her dramatic change in lifestyle was the cause.
Meghan, likewise, said that she became depressed and even considered taking her own life when she was a working royal. Upon begging for access to mental health treatment, her request was allegedly denied. “I couldn’t, you know, call an Uber to the palace,” she divulged in the #OprahMeghanHarry interview. “I mean, you have to understand as well, when I joined that family, that was the last time, until we came here, that I saw my passport, my driving licence, my keys. All that gets turned over.”

Of course, Meghan and Empress Masako could have chosen not to marry a prince – which is what Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry’s ex, did. The strong-willed Zimbabwean businesswoman decided her freedom was too high a price to pay for love. But why, though, does a woman have to make such a terrible choice between her relationship and her independence and mental health?

Empress Masako reportedly rejected Emperor Naruhito’s royal proposal twice before finally trading freedom for the duties of a princess and future empress. Her daughter, Princess Aiko, is not eligible to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne under Japan’s Imperial Household Law, which stipulates that heirs must be male. But if the law were to change to allow female succession, Aiko may have to choose between marriage and the throne. She would lose her title if she marries a commoner, as dictated by the Imperial House Law. Since Japan abolished its noble class in 1947, anyone she marries is bound to come from the hoi polloi.

At a time where we’re championing female empowerment more than we were in the past, we can’t not talk about what is happening within the gilded walls of the world’s palaces. With modern monarchs assuming constitutional and representational duties, it’s only right for royal families to set an inspiring and empowering example for the women they represent.

This article originally appeared on Buro Malaysia.

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  • In Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duchess of Sussex discussed the difficulties of living with the British royal family
  • Harvard-educated Empress Masako gave up her career as a diplomat but her daughter Princess Aiko can’t ascend the throne due to the Imperial Household Law