The great-granddaughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst has described the treatment of the Duchess of Sussex as “sad”.
Dr Helen Pankhurst told the PA news agency people are “so uncomfortable still” with “a woman standing up for herself – not just smiling”.
The 58-year-old added: “Expectations are still around women just looking, and men doing and saying. As soon as a woman does and says, there’s a lot of critique.
“As soon as the woman shines, there’s a lot of critique.”
Meghan, who has been asked to vacate Frogmore Cottage with her husband the Duke of Sussex, has faced criticism since speaking out about her experience in the royal family.
Jeremy Clarkson’s comments that he “hated” her were published in The Sun in December, with the presenter and journalist later saying he was “horrified to have caused so much hurt”.
Pankhurst told PA: “The media portrayal and the hounding of celebrities – one minute they’re up on a pedestal and the next minute they’re being raked through the dirt and treated appallingly – is really harmful to everyone, not least those who are in the middle of that.
“I think it’s sad the way that she has been treated.”
The gender equality activist, scholar and senior adviser to Care International has launched a podcast ahead of International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, co-hosted by singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
Stars including Beverley Knight, Raye and Imelda May performed songs for the one-off special episode, Walk4Women.
David Tennant, Michael Sheen and Lemn Sissay have all also shared messages of support.
The podcast, designed to be listened to while walking, features interviews by Pankhurst and Ellis-Bextor with women in leadership positions, including Daria Khrystenko, a Ukrainian refugee who fled Kyiv and now helps other refugees to settle in Poland.
Also featured is Sherine Ibrahim, who supports women and girls impacted by the Turkey and Syria earthquakes in February, and works to prevent sexual exploitation.
Pankhurst, whose famous activist ancestors also include grandmother Sylvia Pankhurst and aunt Christabel Pankhurst, said looking at natural disasters such as the earthquake or other humanitarian crises through the lens of gender is “so imperative and so lacking”.
She said: “Women are socially and biologically experiencing different things.
“Socially, they’re involved in care of the elderly, the young, the disabled, the ill. They are responsible for making sure that families can eat.
“Biologically, there are issues around pregnancy and menstruation and all sorts of factors that need to be considered in any emergency.
“Young girls [are] particularly vulnerable. Patterns of early marriage often increase in situations of insecurity… Girls are more likely to be pulled out of education.”
In the UK, the cost-of-living crisis will leave women even more vulnerable to violence, she warned.
“Violence is so endemic here – as it is globally – [and it’s] particularly bad in situations of crisis. We saw that even with Covid, a form of crisis, and we will see it with the cost of living.
“In any crisis, you tend to see violence go up – there’s a global pattern that happens like that. So yes, we will see those figures [come out in relation to the cost of living].”
Pankhurst urged men to “have the courage to be more active allies” this IWD.
She said: “I think it’s almost more important for a man to be a feminist and be proudly so and loudly so, and change views of those men around him that are perpetuating patriarchy.”
Her great-grandmother “would be frustrated with the rate of pace of change”, she added.
“She’d be saying, ‘Come on, we can do better. We don’t want to wait another 200 years’.
She added: “There are not enough women in Parliament – I firmly believe if you had more women politicians, a lot of this would be much higher on the priority chain.”
The Walk4Women podcast is available to download at careinternational.org.uk/walk4women, Spotify, Apple, Google and Acast.
Published: by Radio NewsHub