New Statesman: I’m disappointed about Brexit – but the snobbery of some pro-EU protesters is hard to take

Of all the brilliantly scathing lyrics on Pulp’s 1995 classic Different Class, my favourite has to be this line from I Spy: “Take your Year in Provence and shove it up your ass.” Even if you’ve not read your Peter Mayle, you know exactly who the target is: a self-satisfied middle class who’ve mistaken educational privilege for intellectual and moral exceptionality, and are to be found using cultural tokens – the cottage in France, the wine from Tuscany, the opera tickets for Bayreuth – to state and restate their presumed superiority over the common masses.

I couldn’t get this lyric out of my head when looking at images of last Saturday’s anti-Brexit March for Europe in London. I didn’t want to think of it. I’m an out-and-out pro-Remain Europhile. I studied languages at university, completed a PhD in German literature and have worked in modern language publishing for the past 12 years. My relationship with European culture is not a casual one – it is committed and passionate. Yet there’s something about that march, and about pro-Remain discourse in general, that is making me uneasy.

For instance , this is how Spiked’s Tom Slater wrote up what he called the “march against the masses”:

For all the Remain camp fearmongering about post-Brexit xenophobia, its own fear and loathing of the Leave-voting masses was on full show.[…] Anyone who believes in democracy, whether Remainer or Leaver, should be appalled by the bald, elitist sentiments now being expressed.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: To ignore someone’s educational background isn’t “fair play” – it perpetuates inequality

Privilege is a very complicated thing, as privately educated white men know only too well. No one gets to choose who their parents are, not even people whose parents happen to be extremely rich. Hence it would be terribly unfair to judge a child on the basis of which school they attended. We should all aspire to be class-blind, even those whose inferior education has made them less likely to hold opinions that matter anyhow.

Thus it is with horror that many have received Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock’s suggestion that companies should ask job applicants whether or not they went to a private school in order to “develop a national measure for social mobility”.

Quite how such a measure will counteract the UK’s horrifying gap between rich and poor is unclear, but it is enough to strike fear into the heart of every defender of those great British values: meritocracy and fair play.

According to the Telegraph’s Charles Moore, Hancock “is trying to impose . . . systematic bias in employment”:

“Instead of employers working out who is the best candidate for the job, he is trying to conscript them into his babyish attempt at class war.”

Meanwhile, Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister, now Provost of Eton, has threatened to resign from the party over the proposal, describing it as, “quite wrong to punish children for decisions taken by their parents, and to run the risk of choosing crucial public service jobs not on the basis of merit but of social engineering”.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Does Eddie Izzard like bananas? The Wibbly Pig guide to gender

My children have a book called Wibbly Pig Likes Bananas. In it, a little pig called Wibbly reveals his likes and dislikes and invites children to think about theirs, too. Do you, like Wibbly, like bananas, or do you prefer apples? Would you, like Wibbly, play with the ball, or would you rather cuddle the bear?

The message, as you might have guessed, is that we’re all different and that’s perfectly fine. I like this message. It’s a message with which I can get on board. However, I’ve started to wonder about the identity politics of it. If Wibbly likes bananas and hats and balls, is he even a pig at all? Continue reading

New Statesman: Paid surrogacy makes disadvantaged women into walking wombs

Last week, a national newspaper ran a piece on the shortage of people in the UK willing or able to sell a kidney.

“It’s terrible,” said one interviewee, a stockbroker forced to buy his kidney from an organ farm in Mumbai. “UK regulations need to change so we can have this service closer to home.”

Another customer agreed.

“It’s very distressing to know that if someone over here sells you their kidney, they can change their mind. The ownership documents aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as your kidney’s still busy filtering waste products in the body that grew it.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

In defence of the Highgate Mum

Posh mummies: aren’t they just awful? Hogging the pavement with their designer prams, clamouring to get their precious offspring into the most prestigious schools, hyperventilating the moment their little cherub comes into contact with a non-organic edamame bean. Thank God they have some comedy value, otherwise there’d be no point to them at all.

This, at least, is the view of the twitter account @Highgatemums, described by the Poke as “comedy gold.” @Highgatemums tweets the idiotic (and not so idiotic) musings overheard from the “posh mums of North London.” And some of it is very funny, if stretching the bounds of plausibility (“He gets annoyed that no one realises ‘Jack’ is short for ‘Jacobean’”). It’s hard to read the timeline and not to think how much you’d hate to be one of those mummies (apart from the being rich thing, obviously). They’re so superficial! So dumb! So why would I want to defend them? Continue reading

Instead of telling women to have children younger, we should make it easier for them to do so

Twenty years ago, if I’d pictured myself with children, I’d have seen them as school-aged, possibily teenage. I would not have expected to be pregnant at 40, but here I am. The past few days have seen a spate of fertility panic articles, prompted by gyeacologist Professor Geeta Nargund’s letter to Nicky Morgan, asking that asking that young people be “warned” of the risks of leaving it too late (that is, until you are in your 30s) before trying for a baby. While I wouldn’t argue that my own late pregnancy means that Nargund is highlighting a made-up problem – fertility is unpredictable, and it does drop off with age – the nature and focus of the panic alarms me. Is the problem really female ignorance, or the fact that women are being asked to conform to a series of impossible, contradictory ideals? And if it is the latter, how would additional pressure – as opposed to support – ever help?

It’s easy to say “have children young” but any woman who does so is likely to be going against a huge number of powerful cultural directives. Many young women are not yet in fixed relationships and may not wish to be, yet we live in a country in which the nuclear, two-parent family is still fetishised; even if politicians and religious leaders have become slightly more tolerant of same-sex and unmarried couples, single parenthood is rarely presented as a positive choice. The “hardworking family” –  one in which two parents are in paid employment, or one earns enough for another to stay at home to care for children full-time – is held up as an ideal, as though the practical obstacles in the way of such “hard work” (low pay, zero hours contracts, workfare, prohibitively expensive childcare) simply do not exist.

Government recognition of unpaid care work extends no further than proposals to offer tax breaks for married couples, marginally increasing the take-home pay of (usually) husbands who have stay-at-home wives rather than helping carers as a whole. Individualism and ambition are celebrated in the workplace while selflessness is expected in the home. Technological progress has meant that in practical terms, domestic labour ought to be less arduous, but increasing demands regarding what constitutes “good mothering” have taken the place of physical work. The only person who has the time and space be a “good mother” is someone with a wealthy partner and/or vast independent means, but even she will end up being dismissed as someone who “doesn’t work.” Meanwhile, wealth has become increasingly concentrated amongst the older generation, people who are long past childbearing age. Young people are being asked to behave like their parents and grandparents without the same access to property and stable work. Continue reading

Finding privilege: class, gender and social justice tourism

Laurie Penny has a colouring book:

It’s called Finding Gender, and it was sent to me by an activist who knows how much I love social justice and felt-tip pens. In the book, a small child and a robot go on marvellous adventures, and children and nostalgic adults get to scribble on their clothes and costumes, their hair and toys. It’s an ordinary colouring book in every respect, apart from the fact that the child isn’t identifiably male or female. Neither is the robot. The person with the crayons gets to decide what they’re wearing, whether they’re boys or girls, or both or neither.

It sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? I wonder if there are other books in the series. Finding Class, for instance, where the child isn’t identifiably rich or poor and the person with the crayons gets to decide whether he or she has a pony and a yacht or a half-eaten bag of chips. It’s such a wheeze when an oppressive, abusive hierarchy can be reduced to a few self-indulgent, superfluous stereotypes. You could almost – almost – convince a child that they get to define their own place in a classist, misogynist social structure. As for adults … well, you’d hope most would have a sense that this isn’t quite how things work.. Continue reading

So gender isn’t a binary. And?

In response to yesterday’s post I have received a lot of well-meaning messages informing me that “gender is not a binary”. This is, I assume, to disabuse me of the foolish notion that there’s only boring old male and female. I am reliably informed (as if I didn’t know it already) that there is plenty more in-between. Hence we don’t need to panic about gender itself oppressing people. There’s enough to go round! Don’t fear it, queer it! Everything is awesome! etc.

I am not convinced by this argument, not because I have any doubts about the number of gender identities currently on offer. There are loads. It’s like being in an Eastern Bloc country just after the Fall of Communism – look at the choice! No more shall we join a uniform stream of Men and Women trudging miserably out of the People Factory. We’re free at last! (Or at least we would be if it wasn’t for those pesky TERFs still clinging on to their Stalinist views on gender equality.) Gender is not a binary – it’s not! That Facebook drop-down provides all the empirical evidence we need. The trouble is, it might not be a binary, but it sure as hell is a hierarchy. Continue reading

Elan Gale’s in-flight tweets: Yet more misogyny “for the good of all”

By now plenty of people will have heard about the quite-possibly-imaginary Elan Gale vs Diane “plane note row”. Depending on where you stand, it’s either hilarious or really fucking frightening. Me, I’m veering towards the latter. Elan Gale, I hope I’m never on the number 12 bus, let alone on a plane with you.

The plane note row (if it actually took place and wasn’t just some misogynist’s wildest fantasy) was live tweeted by Gale last Thursday. It (allegedly) reached its height with Gale sending a note which included the line “eat my dick” to female passenger, having smugly tweeted out said note to all his followers. To put this in context, the woman – “Diane” – had been rude to flight attendants (a crime for which, as far as I am aware, the recommended punishment is not sexual harassment within a confined space). During the exchange that ensued, Gale pressured flight attendants to become complicit in his abuse by transferring the notes between him and “Diane” – who, he happened to tweet, was “in her late 40s or early 50s” and was wearing “mom jeans” (hence not only rude but not even shaggable!).

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When liberal elites become baying mobs

Poor Tam Cowan. The comedian – and, by all appearances, total knob – is the latest to fall victim to “the liberal elite” aka “the baying mob” aka “the media firing squad” aka [insert your own not-at-all hysterical synonym for ‘people who don’t agree with total knobs’]. Other victims include the Daily Mail, Page Three, smacking and private schools, those great British institutions which are constantly under attack from smug, privileged, obscenely powerful people who just don’t know the common man (at least, not in the way Boris Johnson or Paul Dacre do).

Cowan is in trouble – or, to use the words of Kevin McKenna, accused of “crimes against humanity” — because he wrote a pathetic, sexist little rant about women’s football. Because of this he is facing “a lynch mob” or, to use a slightly less tasteless expression from McKenna’s defence, facing one of the liberal elite’s regular “executions”. That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? I mean, yes, he’s written a steaming pile of crap but surely he doesn’t deserve to die for it? Come on, metropolitan chattering classes, have a heart! Continue reading

Rich parents: Just richer, not better

It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. Continue reading

Why Mumsnet feminism matters

This week the Telegraph ran a piece that purported to ask the question “has motherhood ever been so political?” Beneath the obligatory “pregnant woman in boring, inexplicably tidy office” photo, Judith Woods outlined the hard choices faced by mothers in today’s deeply unequal society.

Few people realise, for instance, that when mothers choose to stay at home “it’s not about luxury”. Nor is it about not having a job, or only having one that’s too poorly paid to cover childcare expenses. According to Woods, for these mothers “it’s about replicating the secure, traditional upbringing they had”:

In the process, they forgo holidays abroad, avoid glossy magazines full of the latest fashions they can’t afford and drive battered cars worthy of Only Fools and Horses.

I know, I know, it’s heartbreaking. But don’t use up all the tissues — there’s worse to come: Continue reading

In defence of all young feminists (like *cough* me)

If only I’d been born three years earlier! Then I’d stand a chance of being a decent feminist. Alas, ‘tis not to be. Since I fall (just) in the 20 to 40 age bracket, I fear I may be one of those women who, according to the Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai Brown, “have squandered  the hard-won achievements of the original feminism”. And she’s not happy about it:

I squarely blame the young, who, through foolish apathy, criminal self-indulgence and sometimes uninformed loathing of the women’s movement, have ensured that our social, political and economic environment is less fulfilling, much less safe, less equal and less nurturing than it was even in the 70s and 80s when we old Fems were burning bras and raising hell.

Oh dear. That’s a telling off and a half. But Yasmin, seriously, do you mean the likes of me? I suspect you probably do. Continue reading

The royal pregnancy: A not very big adventure

This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.

Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse? Continue reading

Yet more ways to tell women to shut up: John Pilger, Louise Mensch, feminism and class

So, fellow feminists, here’s a quick quiz. Are we:

  1. Too obsessed with class?
  2. Insufficiently obsessed with class?
  3. In the Goldilocks zone as far as class is concerned?

Because frankly, I’m confused. One week Louise Mensch is telling us that feminism’s far too full of “debates about middle-class privilege” to get anything done, the next John Pilger’s complaining that “class is a forbidden word” amongst the feminist elite. “Whose side are you on?” asks John. Well, not the side of those who think the feminist agenda has to be restricted to their own privileged experience of reality. Equality is not achieved by treating the whole world like an op-ed, waiting to be populated with one’s own broad-brush caricatures and overbearing sense of righteousness.

So a woman who enjoys class privilege thinks feminism should focus more on gender, and a man who enjoys male privilege thinks it should focus more on class. Amazing! Perhaps, feminists, we should all give up now. Let’s all go home and cook tea, assuming cooking tea is something feminists do. I’m not sure whether we’re too busy “high heeling [our] way up the corporate ladder” or ”sitting around frenziedly checking [our] privilege”. Certainly, we don’t do mundane things such as read the news, which is why people like John Pilger have to read it for us, before explaining it, boorishly, in terms we can just about understand. Continue reading

Rather than more “successful” women, can’t we just have fewer “successful” people?

Maria Miller is proposing that parents of girls receive “info packs” to help broaden their daughters’ career aspirations. In the face of falling numbers of women in executive positions, what could be more beneficial for both equality and economic growth?

According to Miller, “making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy”:

A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications. Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions

Way-hey! Get influencing, mums and dads! Because that’s a major thing that’s holding this country back, quite possibly the whole reason why we’re in this sorry mess today – women and their stupid, girlie choices. Continue reading

On being an alpha female

This morning I was pissed off because my house is a tip, I’m behind at work and the kitchen ceiling is leaking because the sealant round the bath has gone. None of these constitute massive worries in the grand scheme of things, but they’re enough to make me think “I’m a bit rubbish at this whole ‘being an adult’ business”. In the grand hierarchy of privileged people, I’m not exactly what you’d call one of the alphas. Or so I thought …

This evening I discovered that I am in fact an Alpha XX female. Who’d have thought it? Go me! Watch that glass ceiling smash! Continue reading

Why the non-rich throw away food: Some tips for Richard Benyon

Why do the non-rich throw away food? Because we’re stupid and we’re losers. That goes without saying, otherwise we’d be rich, wouldn’t we? As Tory minister Richard Benyon tactfully notes, we’re so stupid we wouldn’t even think to wrap up a piece of cheese after we’ve opened it (assuming we’re in the 13% of the population who don’t practise cheese-wrapping). Then again, even if we weren’t so ignorant of cling-film, we wouldn’t do it anyhow. That’s because we’re lazy and entitled. We’d be all shall we save that cheese? Nah, why bother? If we run out the welfare state will provide!

I am not rich and I waste food. Can’t stop myself, me. My waste-food bin floweth over. Even so I would like to point out that there are reasons other than the ones given above for throwing away food when you’re not rich. I feel it necessary to do so for no other reason than I strongly suspect that Richard Benyon, whose own fridge is to be found somewhere here, has very little experience of budgeting for food on a daily basis. So especially for you, Richard, some reasons why the food of the non-rich might head binwards:

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Thatcher’s death and righteous sexism

Sexism: it’s wrong, right? But what if it’s in the name of a greater good? I find myself pondering this, as I knew I would, following the death of Margaret Thatcher, knowing that each time her legacy is analysed some small part of me will be on the alert, waiting for all those little reminders that she was just a woman after all. I know it will make me angry but also that I’ll hate myself for feeling this way; after all, they’re just words. Sexism kills, sure, but so did Thatcherism, so isn’t this one scenario in which we’re allowed to call it quits?

Like many people of my generation I have a resentment of Thatcher that is at least in part manufactured. I didn’t feel it when it mattered. I was too young and besides, the north of England I grew up in was rural. We didn’t learn anger until BSE and foot and mouth crept up on us later. During the 1980s, I was blissfully unaware of politics, or rather I thought it was a kind of sitcom, genuinely believing that Thatcher and Michael Foot were married and hammily acting out their strife before a delighted audience. I can’t even remember when I stopped thinking this; disturbingly late, for sure. Once I did work out Thatcher was Prime Minister, I couldn’t help feeling it was at least a good thing that she was a woman, not because it made her a better person but because it ought to make everyone else less bothered about sex and gender. I thought a lot of stupid things when I was younger. Continue reading

Extreme privilege makes children of our leaders

Remember being a child and finding it incredibly annoying that adults, who clearly had more money than you, chose to spend it on crap like bills and bus fares? What was that all about? Why didn’t they spend it on cool stuff like toys or, better still, just give it to you? You’d have put it to good use. None of that moping around over a brown envelope demanding payment for something entirely intangible and definitely not as good as Optimus Prime. Well, anyhow, remember that feeling, because I reckon that’s what it’s like to be IDS, George Osborne or David Cameron all the time. Yes, they might be the ones with the money these days, but man, they deserve it. The rest of us? We’d only fritter it on rubbish like the electricity bill and shoes for our kids. Continue reading