In announcing on Instagram that she was seeking asylum in an unnamed country – recent photographs appear to show her in the Netherlands, alongside her fiancé, taking part in a memorial service for victims of the plane – Alizadeh claimed Iranian authorities had used her as a propaganda “tool”.
“They took me wherever they wanted,” wrote the 21-year-old. “Whatever they said, I wore. Every sentence they ordered, I repeated.” She decried the state’s “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery” and its insistence on controlling women through the compulsory hijab.
We might say Alizadeh acquiesced in such restrictions, playing nice with Iran’s power structure until she could make a bid for freedom. But most athletes living under authoritarian regimes are forced to strike a devil’s bargain with authorities.
Perhaps, Alizadeh, like many Iran watchers, believed the Republic was moving inexorably towards greater liberalism. Whatever the case, in or out of the ring she had few choices beyond fight or fold. Even now, she’s still pleading the cause of her oppressed sisters at home.
Women’s empowerment is also a cause Meghan Markle wanted to promote via her royal pulpit. Did her devil’s bargain entail giving up personal autonomy – a formidable acting career – to win more freedom for the world’s downtrodden women? It is the most generous reading of Meghan’s choice, a choice to put herself in a gilded cage.
At the risk of appearing cold as London in midwinter, the Duchess of Sussex had many more options than fight the system or fold. There was flee, for instance. I know, I know, things escalate. One minute you’re on a casual blind date with the sixth in line to the British throne, the next you’re walking down the aisle in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, as 1.9 billion people – bar one sour columnist in Melbourne – look on.
But a true act of rebellion, not to mention romance, would have seen the couple eloping into the night on a motorcycle rather than staging a wedding whose cost to the British taxpayer could sustain a small developing country. Especially when their toxic predicament was apparent even before Meghan officially joined The Firm.
I don’t for a moment excuse the racism, sexism and unfiltered cruelty the tabloids unleash on Markle, to what we can assume is the Palace’s indifference, or worse. But as others have pointed out, when Princess Diana scored a role in this demonic fairytale she was a teenage kindergarten teacher. Markle, on the other hand, was more worldly, divorced and living in an age of social media savagery. And she had the benefit of her late mother-in-law’s tragic example.
Like religious fundamentalism, royalty exists under the rigid hand of tradition, with all “isms” intact. The whole point of royalty is entrenched unfairness; unfairness to those locked out of its genetically bestowed privileges and unfairness to the royals who find themselves locked in.
This dysfunctional love-hate relationship expresses itself in the British tabloids’ coverage, which thrives on disrespecting boundaries. Markle’s treatment, however appalling, is not Yoko Ono’s vilification redux, though the woman-as-spoiler narrative still has currency. The gutter press treats royals like public property because they are public property.
I feel for Markle in a personal sense. I just can’t join those who champion her as a feminist cause, emblematic of all “strong women” who take on a stuffy institution. We shouldn’t be looking to rewrite fairytales with PC endings. We should be shredding fairytales as the rubbish they are.
Meanwhile there’s one hell of a strong woman somewhere in the Netherlands who has taken the painful step of cutting ties with her family and motherland, who won’t be visiting home anytime soon, country mansion or no country mansion. Looking for a brown feminist hero worthy of breathless attention? Take a bow, Kimia Alizadeh.
Julie Szego is a Melbourne writer.
Julie Szego is an author and freelance journalist.