‘Archetypes’ by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex — redefining womanhood
Maverick Life listens to ‘Archetypes’, the new podcast by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Is it worth the hype?
Archetypes, the new podcast by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, is centred on the labels put on women and how narratives can be changed in ways that celebrate femininity and womanhood.
The podcast begins with a broadcast of some of the labels used to negatively describe women, words like “bitch”, “crazy”, “dramatic” and “diva”.
The Collins Dictionary defines an “archetype” as “something that is considered to be a perfect or typical example of a particular kind of person or thing because it has all their most important characteristics.” And in fact, Archetypes digs into this meaning, investigating how labels, stereotypes and portrayals of women are used to be defining characteristics of women.
“It’s time to cut through the noise. We’re gonna get to the roots of these words and understand why they persist,” Meghan says in the podcast trailer.
“This is Archetypes — my podcast about the labels and tropes that try to hold women back. Over the course of the next dozen episodes, we’re going to live inside and rip apart the boxes women have been placed into for generations — boxes like diva, crazy, the b-word, slut,” Meghan says.
More importantly, however, the show goes further than discarding these archetypes and asks women to define themselves, on their own terms, and in their own words. The theme song of the show, I Am Woman by Emmy Meli, also sets the tone for a fun and engaging listen.
The first episode features tennis great Serena Williams, who recently announced her retirement from the sport, and the conversation centres on the word “ambition”.
Now at the end of her tennis career, Williams has no more time for sugar-coating her frustrations, feelings and experiences. And yet, she also brings joy and gratitude as she reflects on her life in the sport.
“Often women are definitely put in these different boxes when we are ambitious or when we do have goals or when we reach our goals, it’s a negative connotation on how we reach the goals,” she says.
Archetypes also features various experts amidst the conversations, which add depth to the podcast and add a change of pace. Dr Laura Kray, an expert on the social and psychological barriers influencing women’s career attainment, says:
“An ambitious woman is power hungry, manipulative, is not trusted, whereas an ambitious man is seen as… a role model. He’s a captain of industry. So we see people using these different terms for the identical behaviour. So the only explanation is, it boils down to antipathy towards women.”
The episode takes some time to get going and introduce the guest, and Williams’ presence is detracted from by a few too many anecdotes by the host, which gets in the way in times of the richness of the athlete’s perspectives.
With such powerful guests, stories of Meghan’s childhood, school years and career don’t quite bring the same sort of impact that Serena Williams playing Wimbledon or Mariah Carey singing with Aretha Franklin do. Meghan is an accomplished woman in her own right, but they don’t quite pack the same punch when listeners tune in to hear her guests, and sit through minutes of “introduction” first.
The second episode features Mariah Carey and is themed around the word “diva”, as well as an awkward moment when the singer calls Meghan a diva, which doesn’t sit well with the host initially.
“You give us diva moments sometimes Meghan,” Carey says.
There is an audible pause, as Meghan takes in a sharp inhale of breath.
“I do — what kind of diva moments do I give you?”, she responds anxiously. There is a fumbling back-and-forth next, as the two unpack the other’s perspectives.
“It was all going swimmingly until that moment happened, it stopped me in my tracks… when she called me a diva! I started to sweat a little bit. I started squirming in my chair in this quiet revolt,” Meghan tells the listener.
“So she must have felt my nervous laughter, and you all would’ve heard it too. And she jumped right in to make sure I was crystal clear. When she said ‘diva’, she was talking about the way that I dress, the posture, the clothing, the “fabulousness” as she sees it. She meant diva as a compliment. But I heard it as a dig. I heard it as the word diva, as I think of it. But, in that moment, as she explained to me, she meant it as chic, as aspirational.
“Mariah’s own relationship with the diva… the nuances she sees… the history — both personal and cultural — that she carries… they got me thinking even more deeply about my own complicated feelings towards the label,” Meghan says.
The way Meghan acknowledges this awkwardness, and leans into it, using it as an opportunity to explore how labels are subjective and affect people in different ways invites the listener to learn with her, and see into other points of view.
“How one very charged word can mean something different for each of us, it’s mind-blowing to me,” she says.
On stage in 1998, Carey tells the audience: “I’m doing my best to be a diva this evening!”, and this audio clip springboards the episode into a discussion of the evolution of the word from fabulous to attention-seeker. And further, how women are reclaiming “diva” as a positive.
“She’s not just a singer and a songwriter; she’s also a producer, an actress, a mother, a worldwide icon… and unapologetically: a diva,” Meghan says of Carey.
At the end of each episode, Meghan asks her guests how their childhood selves would have described them, and then how they describe themselves in the present-day, in three words each.
Quiet, competitive and a perfectionist, child Serena Williams would say. Today, Williams described herself as: “Thoughtful; so I listen. I would say compassionate, and I would say very funny, if I do say so myself!”
“You know, we’ll go with sad, lonely and eventually triumphant,” Carey believes her childhood self would say. And today? “Exhausted, angry, yet hopeful.”
This moment shared in each episode brings vulnerability to the show, making the guests relatable to the audience. However, with a show hosted by one celebrity speaking exclusively (so far) to other celebrities, there is an unavoidable distance between show and listener. The snippets of Meghan and Harry’s conversations in the background also feel a bit forced.
The first episode was released on 23 August, and the show has already bumped the infamous The Joe Rogan Experience off the top spot on Spotify’s podcast charts.
South Africans, on Twitter at least, also felt strongly about the podcast, with #VoetsekMeghan trending on the social media platform. This came after Meghan shared a story in the first episode of a fire breaking out in her son’s room while she and her family were in South Africa. Moments after confirming their son was unharmed, Meghan and Harry were expected to leave for their next event.
“Everyone’s in tears, everyone’s shaken. And what do we have to do? Go out and do another official engagement. I said, ‘This doesn’t make any sense. Can you just tell people what happened?’ And so much, I think, optically. The focus ends up being on how it looks instead of how it feels,” Meghan says. Her story was intended to show the tensions between motherhood and duty, and yet, the reactions were again on how it looks, not how she felt as a mother.
Much of the commentary surrounding the show is centred on what the podcast is trying to move away from: how a woman’s existence is defined by the labels people put on her.
“And part of the humanising and the breaking through of these labels and these archetypes and these boxes that we’re put into is having some understanding on the human moments behind the scenes that people might not have any awareness of and to give each other a break,” she says.
Meghan’s marriage to Prince Harry, is, understandably, getting more airtime with the launch of this show, focusing more on him and the Royal Family than on Archetypes itself.
There are a few moments that could be construed as subtle digs at Harry’s family, including the expectation that the couple would keep working after the fire in South Africa. But focussing on what is or is not meant, by picking out rumour and supposition, is a disservice to the show.
As Meghan says in the first episode, “when we don’t swim in the shallow end, and instead choose to dive into the deep end, that’s when we gain a more nuanced understanding of each other”. In this way, the podcast is a fascinating listen, but a true assessment of the show can only be made after pushing through all of the noise. DM/ML
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