Meghan Markle's critics need to back off

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Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)After she is married, Meghan Markle will have no shortage of royal courtiers offering her help and advice.

But this week, the bride-to-be has been deluged with something rather less welcome: a stream of criticism from commentators on social media and in the press about her wedding plans.
These armchair courtiers have weighed in over her father, Thomas Markle, and the uncertainty over whether he was going to give her away; about her lack of a maid of honor to help marshal her 10 young bridesmaids and page boys; and, in the latest bout of pre-wedding interference, her decision that Prince Charles will accompany her down the aisle, rather than her mother, Doria Ragland.
Kensington Palace announced Friday that the heir to the throne will step in to accompany Markle in St. George's Chapel in Windsor after it was confirmed earlier this week that her father is too ill to attend.
    The announcement came at the end of a turbulent week for Markle and her fiancé, Prince Harry, as they were forced to respond to reports about her father's reluctance to be at the service.
    It must be deeply upsetting for a woman not to have her father at her side on her wedding day. But her torment is surely made all the worse by the fact that her father has been undergoing treatment for a heart condition.
    Considering that the soon-to-be duchess has already moved to another continent in the past year, away from both her father, who lives in Mexico, and her mother, she deserves sympathy, not criticism.
    Yet Markle's turmoil does not seem to be in the thoughts of those armchair courtiers, who stepped up their criticism Friday at the news that she asked Prince Charles to walk with her down the aisle.
    By choosing her future father-in-law and first in line to the throne, some claimed, she was passing up the chance to make an important statement about feminism and stand up to the patriarchy of the monarchy.
    What does it say for Markle's commitment to diversity and equality if the future king is giving her away on her big day? Why couldn't she have chosen her mother to be at her side, or better still walk alone to meet the groom at the altar?
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    In fact, as CNN has reported, Markle is determined to make her wedding a feminist moment. She will walk unescorted for the first half of the journey from the chapel door to the altar, meeting Charles at the Quire for the final part, replacing the role her father was going to play. It is the first time a royal bride has walked without a chaperone at her wedding ceremony -- and it was a deliberate decision by Markle to make such a strong statement. Palace sources insist Charles is not "giving her away" because the prince will stand back as she meets Harry.
    It is certainly true that the image of Meghan's mother, as a woman of color, walking down the aisle with her daughter on the verge of becoming a member of the British royal family would have been a powerful one. Yet why must Markle be subject to so much criticism about her wedding plans, which have already been fraught with last-minute difficulties?
    Shouldn't her wishes -- and those of her fiancé -- be respected as she makes this historic step from American actress to British royal? We do not know the private discussions between Markle and those closest to her. Maybe her mother did not want to stand in for her ex-husband.
    Amid all the commentary of the past week, one of the more pervasive themes has been the view that Markle, as a feminist, should not be marrying into such a patriarchal institution as the British monarchy (although in recent years, it has become less patriarchal, by overhauling the rules on male primogeniture and giving older sisters the right to succeed to the throne ahead of their younger brothers).
    Would it be better, in that case, if Prince Harry were to marry someone who wasn't a proud feminist, who had had no independent career beforehand? And these same people criticize her for joining the royal family yet also demand she use her wedding to make a feminist statement. This is twisted logic.
    As a biracial American with a strong record of defending women's rights and a champion of diversity, Markle is already changing the guard at the palace.
    And yet, for some, this is not enough. They want her to be more feminist, more independent, more strident than she already is. Has any royal bride been subjected to so much loaded expectation on the eve of her wedding? We should all give her a break and let her enjoy marrying the man she loves.