Senior Researches Meghan Markle for American Studies Major


Courtesy Finley Peay

Finley Peay came up with the idea to write her research paper on Meghan Markle while studying abroad in London

As an American studies major, Finley Peay, FCLC ’20, has a deadline at the end of the semester for her research project on Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and the media’s portrayal of her feminism and race.

On Dec. 9, Peay will present her paper titled “This is What a Feminist Looks Like?: Meghan Markle and the Racial Politics of Popular Feminism” at the American studies research symposium in Walsh Library.

As an American studies major, Peay has been building up to writing her research paper for over a year. In her junior year, she submitted a research proposal as part of her “Approaches to American Studies” class.

That proposal was on the development of the Sunbelt and Evangelical politics, but while studying abroad in London she became fascinated with the role of a royalty and Meghan Markle. When she arrived back at Fordham in New York, Peay honed her ideas from Europe in an academic study.

Peay’s paper has three parts: the history and application of the “tragic mulatto” archetype, popular and neoliberal feminism and an analysis of Meghan Markle’s treatment in those categories.

So far, Peay said she has found that the media portrays Markle as either a “tragic mulatto,” a role into which celebrities like Mariah Carey and Alica Keys have been forced in the past, or as a feminist.

“She’s been heralded as this amazing feminist icon who joined the British royalty, but she goes around, gives speeches and says the words, but what is she actually doing to make change on that level, not just in her position as a royal but also before?” said Peay.

To study Markle, Peay has looked at articles in magazines such as Vogue and Elle as well as watching a documentary that came out in October. To explore the themes and stereotypes Markle has been placed in, she has read books on the history of popular feminism. These resources led her to question how Markle’s identity is framed.

“How is she using her fame, as well as her intersectional position as a biracial woman, to appeal and more broadly cater to all of the races and all of the gender expressions and identities, to broaden feminism and make them feel more welcome in the movement?” said Peay.

In her presentation, Peay will explore these themes and then sit on a panel with other American studies major seniors who wrote about similar topics.

“You are accountable for questions that your moderator might ask you that might be outside of your research, and there’s only so many times you can say, ‘Oh, I don’t know but that’s a great question and I’ll look into it,’” said Peay.

She also said that having a class with 11 or 12 other American studies majors who are working toward research papers has been helpful. They point each other toward sources and ideas and have grown close with each other and their academic advisors.

“Get an advisor who will give you constructive criticism but also get another advisor who will give you unconditional support,” said Peay. “Also make sure it’s something that you’re passionate about before you start, otherwise you will be really exhausted with the project by the time you’re done.”

The American studies major advisor is Christopher Dietrich. Peay said while he does not teach her senior class, he often reads drafts of theses and papers.

“We all love Dietrich,” said Peay. “Almost to a point of idolatry. But we just really appreciate that he has been so genuinely supportive and genuinely excited about everyone’s thesis as well as offering his support and feedback and advice as we’ve been writing.”