‘Spare’ time.

Have I read the book? Yes, of course. I am not a royal watcher, fanatic or even much of a fan. I have to confess that when I took a tour through the crown jewels last year, I was slightly sickened as I had just walked past quite a few sleeping bags in shop doorways. Did I feel saddened when the queen died? Yes – it was the end of an era. But I am not really interested in royalty to the extent some people are.

Having set that straight, I will always read a book that is causing debate. I don’t want to hear everyone else’s point of view, I want to have my own opinion. I even tried reading CoHo, but I only made it to page 5. Not my thing. And having read Spare, I must admit, it was interesting, so I am going to weigh in on the discussion.

I have read a lot of positive, and a lot of negative comments on twitter etc. Many of the negatives seem to be attacking Meghan as a woman, labelling her with stereotypical female archetypes which boil down to centuries old ideas about women as witches or predators if they happen to speak up just that little too loudly Harry meanwhile has been targeted as a spoilt and ungrateful moaner for daring to criticise an institution into which he was born, privileged. But I noticed something else. I noticed that readers of the book who liked it were receiving hate, especially if they were not British. One comment: ‘You’re not even English, how can you know anything about our royal family. We pay our taxes.’ And so forth. I mean, if you are not even English, you can’t have OPINIONS, right? Which leads me to think that some of the racism that Megan may have experienced may also be attributed to her being American. (remember Mrs Simpson?) In England, for some, different in any way is threatening. It always has been.

As you know, I teach English as one of my ‘jobs.’ When I am deep in analysis of 17th to 19th century texts, the subtext is so often that different is a threat. Just look at Dracula for instance. In the Victorian era, the ‘other’ was a huge fear, a threat to the Empire and its stability and power. And there it is, personified in an exotic, foreign, blood-sucking vampire. Of course it’s more than just that, but it’s there. And just go to the scene with he female vampires – erotic, red lipped ‘fallen women.’ Lucy becomes corrupted by her own sexual and outspoken nature, whereas Mina, the archetype of the ‘angel in the house’ does not yield to temptation, and helps to defeat the foreign menace. She’s a ‘good, sweet’ woman, protected by ‘brave, brave men.’

So it is no surprise that the media present the royal story in a similar way. There are so many layers of subtext – woman, (slut!) divorced (OH MY- slut!) American, (foreign! EEK! stealing British boy), mixed race (corrupting the pure royal blue blood oh my!) intelligent (opinionated! help!) outspoken (big mouth, vulgar) strong (unfeminine) good looking (must be surgery/vain) critical (bitch). She gets the brunt of it. Harry – what a great story – the old story – brother against brother, (spoilt, ungrateful, traitor to the King etc) In general, people like to put other people, especially ones who don’t fit their views of the world, into categories and boxes.

After reading the book and watching the documentary, I had changed my mixed feelings from – ‘why can’t they just stop moaning when they have so much money and privilege’, and ‘ they must be getting quite a bit of money for all this’ to thinking, do you know what, there might just be some truth in this. (and also some of the proceeds of the book have gone to charity).

There are a few reasons. why I paused for thought. What stood out the most was that Harry is a young man who has never recovered from the death of his mother. This was made much worse because he was part of an institution that seems not to allow healing, recovery, emotion to show or warmth. Families can definitely be toxic, but so often this is hidden. What better way to hide it than twisting the hate onto the victim? I cite my recent modest success- some people start behaving differently as soon as you are happy or achieve something which does not fit their view of you. The box where they would like you to be to make them feel better about themselves. (I just want to add here that I am NOT talking personally about my own close family here who are amazing.)

I have certainly been a victim of gaslighting and targeting in the past. I totally understand the frustration with being blocked at every turn. You are desperate to tell your story. Contrary to what many people believe, there are not ‘two sides to every story’ or ‘no smoke without fire’ – there is always one true one and one which is mostly a lie. Sadly, the lie is often the one which is believed – perhaps the liar has more money, power or influence. Perhaps they are just a very good liar and well practised at it. And the more you try desperately to tell your truth, the more your words and actions are twisted against you. You are told you are the one with the problem. You are not ‘normal.’ You are ‘vindictive.’ YOU are the ‘abuser.’ And the real abuser looks squeaky clean as they manipulate everyone around them until even you become convinced there might be something wrong with YOU. And when you do share your story (the gory details of which people love to hear,) they then say you are talking too much! It’s inappropriate. They shut you down. You make them feel uncomfortable.

So, you wake up and fight. In my true story, many years ago, facts and hard evidence got twisted and ignored – it cost me and my family a lot of money and emotional energy to stop it all. I had to leave my job. (someone came into my workplace and stirred up trouble) I had to leave my home. and let go of material wealth and possessions I had paid for. (in so many ways!) It extended past me onto people close to me – someone ‘anonymous’ called the workplace of a person close to me to try to get him into trouble. It didn’t work, luckily. Someone broke into my phone and changed a number and name so they could text me pretending to be another person and try to make me say things which would help to provide ‘evidence’ for my bad character. Luckily, I guessed, because the person can’t spell! But when you hear this, it sounds totally unbelievable right? But this really happened. Whatever I did and said was twisted so I looked like the bad guy. Some people might still think that. But do you know what? I no longer care. I know what I know. (But I kept the hard evidence just so I can remind myself that I do know what is fact and what is fiction. )

There is a reason people choose to tell their stories. It’s not always to be judged as attention-seeking. It’s a need to set the record straight. Sometimes it’s a way to help others. And, on that subject, and for that reason, I am listening carefully to the story in this book. And maybe that is why I am walking 56 miles in February for women’s refuge. I am relatively privileged in my life, so I decided to use my daily walk to help someone who needs to escape from a toxic situation. Whatever your age, gender, background, race or intelligence, you can still be a victim of abuse. It doesn’t make you weak or stupid. And even if you are rich, you can still be suffering in a toxic situation. And someone needs to listen carefully to your story. Someone needs to believe you. That is where your journey to freedom begins.

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