We’ve all witnessed the relentless negative comments about Meghan Markle who says she felt suicidal while she was pregnant. Many women are subjected to bullying while pregnant, putting both their health and their unborn child’s health at risk. It has to stop.
There has been a lot said about the Meghan and Harry interview. What is clear is the difference in perception between those who think Meghan was treated in a racist way and those who don’t. There is a gulf between the two and it is no coincidence that the vast majority of those who don’t perceive it as racist are white. Similarly, surveys show that when it comes to gender equality there is a big difference in perceptions about inequality between men and women with men significantly more likely to think things are more equal.
That is not to say that those who haven’t experienced racism or sexism don’t see it or don’t understand all the different, insidious forms it can take, but those who can’t see it seem to lack the ability to imagine something they haven’t experienced. How do we change that? Lecturing people doesn’t seem to work. It is about conversations and we’ve had so many of these since #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. People have opened up about their own experiences in order to push the needle forward, hoping that telling their stories will make people understand. But conversation is a two-way thing and it requires people to listen. How do you encourage people to be better at listening, particularly when it is something they maybe don’t want to hear? How do you make them feel that it is not about attacking them, but about greater self awareness and mutual understanding and that everyone benefits from it?
We have seen that it is through collective action, through speaking out and up for others, through countering the relentlessness of racism with the relentlessness of what it feels like, what it does to you, to be constantly thinking about how other people might perceive you negatively just because of the colour of your skin. My daughter was badly bullied at school. The first school where it happened was unable to do anything about it. They had all the policies and they took action when an obvious racist incident took place, but they were unable to deal with the everyday stuff – the shunning, the making her feel different and weird and ugly and stupid – that they had no idea how to deal with. They asked me. I’m not a teacher, but I think there are some obvious ways you can make people feel included and it’s not by treating the bullied person as the problem that needs to be fixed through more confidence training, etc. Telling your story relentlessly is traumatic, though. It involves constantly reliving bad feelings. We need to be aware of the emotional impact of tackling bullying of all kinds.
One of the things that struck we about the Meghan Markle case is that some of the worst attacks on her came when she was pregnant and breastfeeding. Indeed, she is pregnant again now. Harry told of coming home to her every night breastfeeding in tears. Bullies seem to be at their worst when people are at their most vulnerable – maybe because they think they are more likely to get away with it. There are so many women who have been subjected to bullying behaviour while pregnant or on maternity leave. It says a lot about an organisation if it turns a blind eye to this. I’ve certainly been there and I know several others who have too. The consequences are potentially horrendous and it makes the bullying all the more unforgivable, particularly when it is enabled by HR.
Meghan and Harry may be royals, but many people read the press and the bullying that we see in the papers every day, which sees women in particular scrutinised and judged on their every decision, stereotyped as victim or manipulator, has a much wider impact. It trickles down. The problem is not the people being bullied. The problem is the bullies and they should be isolated and called out for what they are.