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OPINION

Why Americans should hope Britain ditches its monarchy

The institution that made Meghan Markle’s life miserable has global influence — little of it good.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II attends a ceremony to mark her official birthday, at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Southeast England, on June 13, 2020.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II attends a ceremony to mark her official birthday, at Windsor Castle in Windsor, Southeast England, on June 13, 2020.TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

As if parenthood didn’t come with enough stress and worry, now I have a new fear: What if my baby daughter grows up to marry a prince?

I know the odds are low. Thankfully, there aren’t very many eligible candidates left to marry. But much of the world seems intent on selling that fairytale fantasy — like it’s a good thing!

Those messages are almost impossible to avoid. The princess-industrial complex has its tentacles everywhere: clothes, toys, cartoons, books. For every girl who actually grows up to be a princess, there’s a billion more taught to dream about ascending to a royal pedestal (for some reason, nobody tries to sell little boys on becoming a prince).

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But as Meghan Markle learned the hard way, the dream is a nightmare. In her bombshell interview Sunday with Oprah Winfrey, the wife of Britain’s Prince Harry related all the ways she was mistreated by the British royal family, which seemed indifferent to her mental health when she came under tabloid attack and contemptuous of her mixed-race heritage.

She’s not the first accomplished woman ground down by the insane institution of modern monarchy. Former Belmont resident Empress Masako Owada graduated from Harvard and had a bright diplomatic career ahead of her until she married a Japanese royal, in 1993. The media then spent years speculating about her uterus; she eventually withdrew from public life.

And of course, there’s Princess Diana, Harry’s mother and the ultimate modern victim of royalty. These days royals don’t behead their wives: They let the tabloids roast them for years, until they die in a car accident fleeing a horde of paparazzi. Some progress.

Not that those born into the monarchy, or the men in royal families, necessarily have it much better. In the Oprah interview, Prince Harry said that he couldn’t leave the miserable life he was born into, a never-ending procession of Gilbert and Sullivan costumes and railway station ribbon-cuttings. He felt “trapped,” he told Oprah. “Like the rest of my family are. My father, my brother — they don’t get to leave. I have huge compassion for that.” Royals are stuck, prevented by law or custom from retiring in dignity. At 94, Queen Elizabeth II still has to work; it took a special act of parliament before the emperor of Japan, Masako’s father-in-law, was allowed to abdicate, at age 85. It’s elder abuse, and someone should tell the United Nations.

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Obviously, the plight of a few very privileged people isn’t likely to evoke much sympathy. In exchange for their service, members of the British royal family do get palaces, silly hats, and unlimited corgis. Countries that keep their monarchies value the tradition they embody, the tourism dollars their palaces attract, and the national pride they evoke, and I suppose there’s probably something rewarding about providing that service to a grateful nation.

I also recognize that as an American, and in particular a resident of Boston, I’m the last person entitled to an opinion on the British monarchy. We had our say some time back. If people in Britain really want to keep curtsying, ultimately that’s their business.

Still, the British monarchy casts its obnoxious spell worldwide, and we’d all be better off if the scandal unleashed by Meghan’s interview reinvigorates the republican movement in Britain. I suspect, based on Meghan’s interview, that members of the Windsor family themselves would secretly welcome permission to retire to Florida, where Prince Charles could answer his true calling and spend his remaining days writing grumpy letters to the editor.

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But the biggest winners if Britain abolished its monarchy would be everyone else. The monarchy represents and, by its worldwide fame, advertises, backward attitudes — about race and class, but particularly about gender. Because what really worries me is not that my daughter actually will marry a prince, but the million subtle and not-so-subtle messages that she should want to.

Getting rid of monarchies would obviously not erase that possibility — not with the gazillions of books and movies with princess themes still in circulation. But while the modern monarchy has no political power, it does have cultural power, and abolishing it would at least cut off the modern wellspring of those harmful and ridiculous messages.


Alan Wirzbicki is Globe deputy editor for editorials. He can be reached at alan.wirzbicki@globe.com.