Thursday 8 November 2018

#Class, #Education and #Patriarchy

I often can’t stand the hypocrisy of champagne socialists. Many of my friends with whom I have clashed politically with have lived very privileged lives in in some of the most expensive areas of London. I didn’t see many of them accessing council housing or not sending their kids to private schools having tutored them within an inch of their young lives to pay for them to get into the last remaining grammar schools or top private schools while the ‘lower class’ children went to whatever schools were left – even the decent comprehensives were in the wealthy areas of London where we lived. There were two or three exceptional boys in my son’s class at a state primary school. One of the boys I know was a gifted child. His mother lived in social housing. Untutored, boy didn’t have a chance when, relying on his inherent giftedness and talent, his single mother put him through for the exams at the last minute as he couldn’t get into a single state school in the area. The child is still gifted and doing very well albeit in his own way. In fact he was offered interviews at both Goldsmiths and UCL, but he was the exception, not the rule. By all means blame the patriarchy where they are to blame. But when the class system (albeit hastened there by the patriarchy in its root system) is to blame, look for ways to create genuine equal opportunity – and put your money where your mouth is.

I’m not sure this new and widespread use of the word patriarchy is the most helpful word for us in the UK. I don’t believe in fighting division with division. Reverse racism doesn’t end racism. Turning against men will not end the patriarchy, though by all means end and deal with any male abuses. Coming from the family that I do, I would be far more terrified by a matriarchy. The women in my family were the power behind the throne that enabled the male abusers. Growing up, the bullying I received at school was from the girls and all the negative competition, nastiness and backstabbing was from the girls. It was a piranha pool through my twenties. I have always been deeply grateful for the light relief of my male friends. All my men friends are feminists in the sense I understand, but the overarching net of the word negates progress. Perhaps we need a new collective noun? – Not such a suggestive, divisive one? Before voter emancipation, the working classes - men and women who did not own property - were denied the vote as well as women, but that did not stop Virginia Woolf being one of the foremost voices of her generation. Why? #Class and the #education inherited by the patriarchy – not her fault, and I know she was as aware of patriarchy in the home as Mary Wollstonecraft was in her day, but her privilege nevertheless gave her her platform.

When I won the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring award for my first book, I was thrust into a world of privilege. Most of the writers I met were Oxbridge educated. Only one other writer came from a background where she was the first in her family to go to university – Cambridge. Ditto the publishers, journalists and agents. I felt entirely out of my depth. I used to have to knock back the champagne to cope at the events that my agent invited me too. I did not have the confidence that an Oxbridge education offered. If I had not been approached by (3!) agents following a reading at the London Book Review Café, I’d have never approached the agents that we were meant to chat to before I was signed up. I felt like an imposter in this world. It terrified me. Had I been conditioned into it it might have been another story in so many ways. Without shopping, I took the agent who was most keen. She may or may not have been the best agent to take at the time, I will never know, but I certainly didn’t have the confidence (or the advisors, given my background) to shop around. This was not a case of patriarchy, but rather of privilege – good old British nepotism, derived from privilege and class.