It's 2018.

The Queen has an iPad, princes are able to marry divorcees, princesses can give birth in hospital instead of at home and royal children are educated in schools rather than by governesses.

But for all the modernising of the monarchy, one Victorian anachronism remains: Princesses don't have paid jobs.

When Meghan Markle walks up the aisle to marry Prince Harry this Saturday, she will formally be giving up a successful acting career. For 15 years she worked hard to build a reputation, earn an income and become proficient in her field. So why does marrying a prince preclude her from paid work?

Meghan Markle, pictured with co-star Patrick J Adams, worked hard to grow her career, and was the star of the hit show Suits for seven seasons. Picture: Shane Mahood/USA Network
Meghan Markle, pictured with co-star Patrick J Adams, worked hard to grow her career, and was the star of the hit show Suits for seven seasons. Picture: Shane Mahood/USA Network

More than 60 years after Grace Kelly abandoned her glittering Hollywood career to marry Monaco's Prince Rainier III, Markle's decision indicates that feminism appears to stop firmly at the palace gates.

As sixth in line to the throne, Prince Harry is unlikely to ever become king and yet she clearly feels she needs to give up the career she enjoyed to be his helper.

"I don't see it as giving anything up," she told the BBC following the couple's engagement announcement. "I see it as a change. It's a new chapter."

While Markle is entitled to follow any path she chooses, surely a woman who has publicly promoted equality and female advancement would want to show that it is possible to be a duchess and pursue a day job?

Granted, the royal family are heavily involved in charities and philanthropic interests but if they're to be truly relevant in the 21st century it's time they dropped the antediluvian notion of princesses and duchesses as women who waft around in expensive clothes and nude heels shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries.

Work provides purpose, an opportunity to use your talents and, of course, the satisfaction of earning your own money. How much happier Princess Margaret might have been if she'd been able to gain self-worth from a job.

Likewise, the young Lady Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson may have found greater contentment within the royal family if they had a purpose beyond being simply the Princess of Wales and Duchess of York. Obviously, Diana grew into her humanitarian causes, but how much more affirming her life could have been if she'd had the opportunity to garner similar self-worth in the early years of her marriage.

Interestingly, Grace Kelly would later say she regretted giving up acting for marriage.

"How many wonderful roles I might have played now?" she lamented, according to J Randy Taraborrelli's book on the princess, Once Upon A Time. "How might my life have turned out? That one decision (to marry Prince Rainier) changed my entire future."

While the welcoming of a divorced, mixed-race actor into the royal family illustrates the Queen's determination to move with the times towards a more diverse and egalitarian monarchy, there is nothing progressive about the need for these young women to devote themselves to the royal agenda. Having a job is liberating and it allows couples to bring fresh experiences and conversation to their relationship. What if Amal Clooney had fallen for Prince Harry - would she, too, have given up her job?

One woman who thinks Markle is making a mistake is Prince Edward's former girlfriend, actor Ruthie Henshall.

The five-time Olivier Award nominee dated the Queen's youngest son in the '90s but ended the relationship to pursue her acting career. She believes marrying into the royal family and continuing to work is not mutually exclusive.

"It should be about love, not duty, and I think it (Harry and Meghan) could work and be rather wonderful. But the issue is whether she has to give up acting - and she's a very successful actress by all accounts. I do think she will find it hard."

Henshall says she could never have given up her career for royal life.

"I would have been unhappy," she says.

Whether Markle lives to regret ditching her job remains to be seen. But for young women watching the world over, the "princess" fairytale remains as confected and constrained as it's ever been



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