Meghan Markle’s New Podcast ‘Archetypes’ Is Breaking Down Barriers and Stereotypes
'Archetypes' hit the top spot on the Spotify charts, knocking controversial podcast host Joe Rogan from the No. 1 slot. Photo: Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images
It would appear Meghan Markle got the last laugh over on her detractors. The Duchess of Sussex’s hotly anticipated podcast, Archetypes with Meghan, launched this past Wednesday. The British tabloids whipped up a froth of savage criticism for the hour-long debut interview with tennis great Serena Williams, with the theme “The Misconception of Ambition.”
But by Thursday, it was revealed Archetypes hit the top spot on the Spotify charts, knocking controversial podcast host Joe Rogan from the No. 1 slot. Listeners, apparently, don’t care that the Daily Mail’s Jan Moir pulled out all the stops to come up with this scalding review: “Like a dumpling bobbing around in a vapid broth of self-reverence, Meghan doesn’t really want to help others — she just wants to marinate and exult in her own triumph, and to be admired above all.” The Times wasn’t much kinder, likening the experience of listening to the podcast to being “locked in the relaxation room of a wellness spa with an unusually self-involved yoga instructor.” Ouch.
Out of all the deals the Sussexes signed with media companies upon their leave-taking of working royal status, this podcast is perhaps the best platform for Markle. She has a terrific voice for the audio-driven medium, and has chosen a subject — female empowerment, or in the stated purpose of the project, an examination of “the labels that try to hold women back” — worthy of our time. Most importantly, the “unfiltered” (her description) nature of the broadcast allows Markle a voice, something she sorely missed during her time at the palace.
As The Daily Beast pointed out, the timing of the broadcast — 12 episodes dropped weekly on Wednesdays — means she will be a part of the conversation in her own way as she and Harry go back to England in September.
There was criticism of Markle repeating some of her familiar stories — most expressly the anecdote she began the podcast with, about the time she was 11 and she wrote to Procter & Gamble to get them to address a sexist dishwashing ad. I have to admit, as someone who interviews people for a living, anecdotes can get stale. I doubt there will be few people who have followed the duchess’ television and royal careers who have not encountered that story. And yet: this is the debut of the podcast. It was good to set up her bona fides as a feminist and activist, as well as push back against claims that Meghan’s letter writing may not have directly influenced P&G’s decision to change the ad. Whatever the case, it’s difficult to dispute that experience was transformative for her.
The one piece of real news in the 57-minute podcast was about a nursery fire in her son Archie’s room when she and Harry were on tour in South Africa. It is a harrowing story, and it hints at the fact there were far more behind-the-scenes incidents that will be revealed by the couple over time. Luckily, little Archie was not in the room at the time, but the near miss will stay with his parents for a lifetime.
The British press dissected this story, too, and honestly, it is a shame to say Markle was making the podcast about herself here. It was in response to Williams’ story about having to play in a tournament when her daughter, Alexis, was ill. That is what people do in conversation! They exchange stories! Meghan isn’t a journalist, paid to do a one-sided interview. She was clear that her podcast was about offering conversations. In this case, with someone she calls a “dear, dear friend.”
In upcoming interviews, Markle will no doubt have some similar experiences with her guests. Next up is super diva Mariah Carey. Other names on this season’s list include Margaret Cho and Mindy Kaling as well as Robin Thede and Ziwe. She also includes the opinions of experts: in the ambition segment, she asked Dr. Laura Kray, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and faculty director of the university’s Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership, to weigh in on expectations of women who are just trying to balance their responsibilities.
“Ambitious women who have children and then come back to work and attempt to perform at the highest level are violating people’s expectations of what the most important thing for women to be, to be nurturing and to, you know, love children. And so anything that a woman does that could potentially call that into doubt is going to incur backlash.”
These are important topics. “When men have children and they take time off and then they come back, they often experience a boost in their pay,” says Kray. “People will say, well, he’s got kids now. We need to help him to support his family. And it benefits them career-wise when they have kids.”
This is another example of the importance of women having conversations with each other. If I had been in that studio, I would recount how when I was a single mother with no support, I once had a female boss look me in the eye and tell me she was giving a project to male co-worker whose wife had just had a baby, because he needed the money. As if my two children’s mouths fed themselves. See? That is how conversations go. They should elicit a response about a listener’s own experience. So the fact that Markle is being criticized for that kind of natural, human response shows how ridiculous her critics have become.
It gets clearer to me by the day how much we all need to be talking about women’s experiences in life and career. Sexism and misogyny and racism and double standards are not going to go anywhere until the swell of voices accumulates into a wave that can’t be ignored. It is going to be a long and hard process. Things have not changed much since little Meghan wrote to a soap company. But she is back using her voice. Do I sometimes privately wish she would speak with fewer platitudes, because I privately think it diminishes the message just a smidge? Unvarnished is a good accompaniment to unfiltered. But that is her authentic voice. It certainly sounds like the same woman who wrote The Tig, a project that was unfairly dismissed as lifestyle-lite. She put ideas and actions into that website. She should be applauded for the effort. Because anyone who isn’t making an effort to contribute to this very important conversation should really sit down.
Meghan gave a monologue at the end of her episode. She encapsulated her points: “The misconception that if you’re an ambitious woman, you have an agenda, you must be calculating, or you’re selfish or aggressive, or a climber, and that if you’re that fierce or strong or brave, then you somehow deserve whatever gets thrown at you. However disproportionate or unfair it may be.”
The headline became about a comment many perceived to be a broadside against the British royal family: “I don’t ever remember feeling the negative connotation behind the word ambitious until I started dating my now husband.” But the messages in her podcast will last a longer test of time.
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