In all the coverage Monday of the next ‘commoner’ to marry into the British royal family, with the engagement of American actress Meghan Markle to Prince Harry, one anecdote shows how she became an activist, a feminist and a savvy campaigner to effect change — and what attracted the philanthropic duo to each other.
As she told the UN Women Summit in a speech on International Women’s Day — March 8, 2015 — at an event for HeForShe, she recounted how as a pre-teen she unwittingly influenced a major global brand to change a tagline to be more inclusive.
As an 11-year-old growing up in Los Angeles, California, as Mashable notes, during a social studies class to assess bias in advertising she saw a TV ad for Ivory Clear dishwashing liquid with the tagline, “Women all over the world are fighting greasy pots and pans.” She recalled feeling “shocked and angry” and “so hurt” after “two boys from my class said: ‘yeah, that’s where women belong—in the kitchen.'”
Markle decided to protest by writing letters to people she admired who might take notice: then-First Lady, Hillary Clinton, journalist Linda Ellerbee (the NBC vet who launched and hosted Nick News for kids on Nickelodeon) and Los Angeles-based women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred. She also wrote to Ivory’s manufacturer, Procter and Gamble.
All three women responded to Markle with letters of encouragement, and about a month later, after she was profiled on Ellerbee’s Nick News program, P&G changed the ad’s tagline to “people” instead of “moms” — making her a real-life example of an empowered girl in the spirit of P&G’s later groundbreaking platform, the Always “Like a Girl” campaign.
“When I was just 11 years old, I unknowingly and somehow accidentally became a female advocate,” she said in her UN speech, describing the experience that “reshaped” her notion of “what is possible” (watch below).
Markle, an ambassador for the United Nations’ UN Women organization (along with being an ambassador for World Vision and One Young World), has been honored for her philanthropic work by Vanity Fair. She credits the incident with making her a lifelong champion of the rights of women and girls. As Markle put it (and also explained to Larry King), “I am proud to be a woman and feminist.”
— Meghan Markle (@meghanmarkle) March 8, 2017
Her 2015 remarks to the UN Women’s Summit:
When I was just 11 years old I unknowlingly and somehow accidentally became a female advocate. It was around the same time as the Beijing (women’s) conference (in 1995), so a little over 20 years ago, where in my hometwon of Los Angeles a pivotal moment reshaped my notion of what is possible. I had been in school, watching a TV show in elementary school, and this commercial came on with the tagline for this dishwashing liquid. The tagline said ‘Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.’ Two boys from my class said, ‘Yeah, that’s where women belong—in the kitchen!’
I remember feeling shocked and angry and also just feeling so hurt. It just wasn’t right, and something needed to be done. So I went home and I told my dad what had happened, and he encouraged me to write letters, so I did, to the most powerful people I could think of. Now my 11-year-old self worked out that if I really wanted someone to hear me, well, then I should write a letter to the First Lady. So off I went, scribbling away to our First Lady at the time, Hillary Clinton. I also put pen to paper and I wrote a letter to my news source at the time, Linda Ellerbee, who hosted a kids’news program, and then to powerhouse attorney Gloria Allred, because even at 11 I wanted to cover all my bases. Finally, I wrote to the (dish) soap manufacturer, and a few weeks went by.
To my surprise, I received letters of encouragement from Hillary Clinton, from Linda Ellerbee and from Gloria Allred. It was amazing. The kids news show sent a camera crew to my home to cover the story, and it was roughly a month later when the soap manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, changed the commercial for their Ivory Clear dishwashing liquid. They changed it from ‘Women all over American are fighting greasy pots and pans’ to ‘People all over America.’ It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions, at the age of 11. I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality.
As she continued in her UN Women speech, it’s clear that her marriage with Prince Harry will see her use her platform to continue to lobby for equality and change in the spirit of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana. As Markle commented:
Equality means that a wife is equal to her husband, a sister to her brother. Not better, not worse—they are equal. UN Women has defined the year 2030 as the expiration date for gender inequality, and here’s what’s staggering. The studies show that at the current rate, the elimination of gender inequality won’t be possible until 2095.
— Meghan Markle (@meghanmarkle) March 11, 2015