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Guest blog: Natasha Walter says we should acknowledge Margaret Thatcher's achievement in breaking the male domination of politics

(73 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 08-Apr-13 15:01:53

As you may already know, it's been announced that Margaret Thatcher died this morning, following a stroke.

MN Blogger Natasha Walter (author of 'The New Feminism' and 'Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism') argues that, whatever we may think of Thatcher's political legacy, we must acknowledge her astonishing achievement in becoming this country's first female prime minister.

"I agree with those who say that, even now, at the moment of her passing, we should not sanitise the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. But nor should we deny her achievements. As the outsider who pushed her way inside, as the woman in a man's world, she was a towering rebuke to those who believe women are unsuited to the pursuit and enjoyment of power.

Thirteen years ago, I wrote a book in which I said:

"Let's start with Margaret Thatcher. No British woman this century can come close to her achievements in grasping power. Someone of the wrong sex and the wrong class broke through what looked like invincible barriers to reach into the heart of the establishment. Women who complain that Margaret Thatcher was not a feminist because she didn't help other women or openly acknowledge her debt to feminism have a point, but they are also missing something vital. She normalised female success. She showed that although female power and masculine power may have different languages, different metaphors, different gestures, different traditions, different ways of being glamorous or nasty, they are equally strong, equally valid ? No one can ever question whether women are capable of single-minded vigour, of efficient leadership, after Margeret Thatcher. She is the great unsung heroine of British feminism."

Nothing I have ever written before or since has brought so much fury on my head. Obviously, Thatcher was no feminist: she had no interest in social equality, she knew nothing of female solidarity. I was always aware of that. I come from a radical Left-wing family; she was the target against which we raged. I was there on those Embrace the Base and Stop the City marches where we chanted so passionately against her: Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out Out Out!

This anger against her still feels fresh and real, and rightly so - because her legacy still lives on in the policies of the current government, their contempt for the public sector, their stigmatising of the poor. But I hope that her achievement in breaking through the male domination of politics can nevertheless continue to be recognised. And it really was her achievement; she was not a consensus politician or a coalition-builder. As Hugo Young said about her, "She did not want to be liked." That is unusual in women, but it was vital for her success.

Although I find it impossible to identify with Thatcher or sympathise with her, her extraordinary ability to walk that lonely path of power cannot be brushed aside. I think that those of us who grew up when she was running the country began to take it almost for granted that women could wield power - more, that women could relish power and mourn the passing of power.

That's a lesson I fear my daughter is growing up without ever learning. When she thinks of a powerful personage, she thinks naturally of a man in a grey suit; when we thought of a powerful personage, we thought also of a woman with a throaty voice and a string of pearls. I wonder when we will achieve the lasting change which will mean that the next powerful female leader in the UK is not a one-off... and I fear that change might still be a long time coming.

Natasha Walter is the author of 'The New Feminism' and 'Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism'

Alibabaandthe40nappies Mon 08-Apr-13 15:24:41

I'm not sure that she did break the male domination of politics. There hasn't been a female leader of a mainstream party since.

bellaellaella Mon 08-Apr-13 15:29:16

But she did nothing to help other women! As you acknowledge, she was no feminist. She achieved power for herself, not for womankind. Did she pave the way for further woman leaders? No. Let's not celebrate a woman who caused as much damage as this one, just because she held a position of power.

Donki Mon 08-Apr-13 15:35:46

Exactly Bella

SuffolkNWhat Mon 08-Apr-13 15:38:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

yousankmybattleship Mon 08-Apr-13 16:00:12

What Bella said. If she is a heroine of british feminism God help us all!

CrikeeThree Mon 08-Apr-13 17:52:15

What Bella and Suffolk said.

meditrina Mon 08-Apr-13 18:14:54

She did it. Which showed that it's possible for a woman to it, and from a state school background. That others haven't since isn't because of gender as an absolute obstacle.

SuffolkNWhat Mon 08-Apr-13 18:29:14

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LineRunner Mon 08-Apr-13 18:47:39

Sorry but Natasha Walter's analysis is facile on class.

timidviper Mon 08-Apr-13 18:50:26

Margaret Thatcher once said there is no such thing as society or something similar. Her approach was every man for himself and she did exactly that in her career.

Yes she broke into a male dominated world but that was achieved with the benefit of her husband's money and she did nothing to help or encourage any other women onto that path. If anything she made it harder so, no, I'm afraid I don't see much to celebrate.

Xenia Mon 08-Apr-13 18:57:40

She was wonderful and transformed the nation. Loads of feminist admire her, just not on mumsnet which seems to be populated by Guardian reading low earners.

The suggestion that certain values are male or female is very very sexist indeed.

She transformed the fortunes of this nation and allowed a generation of women to get ahead.

yousankmybattleship Mon 08-Apr-13 19:03:20

Xenia. I'm a low earner. Not because I lack education or a work ethic but because I choose to work in the voluntary sector providing a direct service to the most vulnerable in our society. Not something to be sneered at.
I'll agree with you that Thatcher transformed the fortunes of this nation though. She undermined public service and destroyed whole communities of hard working, decent people.

LineRunner Mon 08-Apr-13 19:22:09

Bored with Thatcher now.

Loooking forward to the truth, though, about what she oversaw. Criminal behaviour. Immoral behaviour. Nepotism.

aftermay Mon 08-Apr-13 19:26:11

'Guardian reading low earners' Just what are you doing on here, Xenia? You can't seem to be able to keep away. You sound bitter and unhappy and that's generally, not just today.

Januarymadness Mon 08-Apr-13 19:42:44

She did something for me as a child of her time. I never ever saw my gender as being a barrier between me and anything. I was born into a country that had a female monarch and a female pm. It never occured to me that I was the wrong sex or the wrong class. I only found my gender and working class background to be a problem when I was well into my 20s trying to establish a career in the middle of an old boys club.

creighton Mon 08-Apr-13 21:57:59

what is natasha walter on about?

mt was an outsider who pulled the ladder up after she climbed it using her husband's money.

she was abetted in her 'lonely walk of power' by her mates keith joseph, alan walter and an assortment of lads who wanted to do the working classes down.

all i get from the piece above is that natasha walter is a rich girl playing at being left wing. why doesn't she go and get a real job and see what it is still like for women, old women, young women, minority women in this society? if natasha walter is so concerned about her daughter not having throaty voiced feminist leaders to guide her, why didn't ms walter take up the gauntlet of lonely path walking and set an example? oh no, she preferred the rich left wing stance of making a living by writing tripe and not contributing anything other than hot air to society.

everything mt did was for herself and her rich mates. she is nothing to be admired.

also, can someone tell me why xenia is obsessed with low earning women?

creighton Mon 08-Apr-13 22:00:35

did mt inspire her own daughter to do great things, as a great feminist leader?

Lessthanaballpark Mon 08-Apr-13 22:11:43

"just not on mumsnet which seems to be populated by Guardian reading low earners."

Aw, it's comforting to know that even though Maggie's gone, her spirit will always live on in Xenia's posts...

Not quite a full house...

yousankmybattleship Tue 09-Apr-13 08:22:23

SolidGold grin

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 08:27:08

Certainly she had huge support in this country from all classes and was noted in and served longest of any prime minster of the last century. It is right what is said above - those of us who grew up at a time of a female monarch and female prime minister. Plenty of women did so very much better with that inspiration. She had and has much support.

MissAnnersley Tue 09-Apr-13 09:36:56

That is a great link SolidGold.

sieglinde Tue 09-Apr-13 11:19:23

She didn't appoint any women to the great offices of state...

solidgold, wonderful link.

Xenia, she earned peanuts; she MARRIED MONEY. Xenia, are you listening? She was everything you inveigh against. She was dependent on her HUSBAND.

MmeLindor Tue 09-Apr-13 11:58:09

I don't think that Thatcher did anything for women, or for feminism but as a symbol of what women could become, she was inspiring to many girls.

And perhaps she shaped our political futures, by giving us an 'anti-heroine'. A living ghost of Xmas past, and future if we did not have compassion and respect for our fellow women.

Be driven, be passionate, believe in yourself, but not at the expense of others.

fossil971 Tue 09-Apr-13 13:10:22

As a girl growing up in Lincolnshire in the 1980s, also from a working class and state school background, I could not help but notice that somebody from a similar background to me had not only got into Oxford but pushed past the men in grey suits and got to the top of government. I have a successful career now in a profession that was once exclusively male, and I can't deny in some simplistic way she was a role model. As I grew older I came to fiercely disagree with her politics and what she stood for, but where are the role models for girls now? A woman has as much right to do a bad job of being prime minister as a man.

LeBFG Tue 09-Apr-13 13:14:12

Thatcher could have been a whole lot richer if she had pursued a career in the private sector - she was a barrister for a while. It made sense (Xenia-style thinking) that she give up her career as OH was earning more. She really was surprising given her background. Hardly anyone from the working classes were doing PhDs in that era...she undeniably worked herself out of the working classes.

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 13:26:35

Her father owned a shop so may be she was nearer middle class than some. It was hated shop owners whom the London youth saw as "rich" who were the targets of the London riots.

sieglinde Tue 09-Apr-13 14:16:33

Thanks Xenia - I was finding it weird that shop-owners are suddenly 'the working class'. I seriously doubt Alderman Roberts saw himself that way.

LEBFG, what she COULD have earned isn't the point. She chose to leave it to Dennis and inherited wealth.

Was she doing a D Phil? Really? I thought she just had a bog-standard BSc.

LeBFG Tue 09-Apr-13 14:42:11

Ah, so it seems on further wiki investigation - she studied Chemistry at Oxford and worked as a research scientist to develop mr whippy ice cream (I thought this was her doctorate). Still, pretty impressive for someone of her class. Whether this is working class or lower mc we can all agree that she wasn't born into the inherited wealth of the upper classes where she was to do battle in her professional life years later smile.

LeBFG Tue 09-Apr-13 14:46:48

Plus sieglinde it really is the point. One or the other had to sacrifice their career if one of them was pursue politics full time. It made sense for the higher earner (and I assume less politically talented) to remain in job for the other to pursue the power. It was a choice that Thatcher made and a choice very much open to her (i.e. to choose between making lots of dosh for herself or career in politics).

sillyoldfool Tue 09-Apr-13 14:54:25

she might not have been born into money, but she married into it.

FrillyMilly Tue 09-Apr-13 18:43:52

Yes she shows women that anythings possible as long as you have money and we can acknowledge that she broke in to a male dominated world but only by doing it the same way they do, this is not an option open to many women.

She was not working class, her father owned two shops and was the mayor of their town

FrillyMilly Tue 09-Apr-13 18:47:08

Can I just ask why a female monarch is a sign that gender is not a barrier? That's a position that's a womans by luck of birth and if she had a brother would not have been hers. It's not exactly something we can all works towards becoming.

Januarymadness Tue 09-Apr-13 19:14:36

Being Queen may be an accident of birth but the fact remains that the monarchy do have power and infuence. The Queen is a strong woman with visible independence. Queens throughout British history are something we can be proud of they oversaw the eras of most significant developments in history. As a child I was not aware of the ins and outs of monarchy or politics but I was aware that in my eyes women ruled the "world" (I know it wasn't the world but in a childs eyes you get what I mean)

Xenia Tue 09-Apr-13 21:17:37

Queen is important. To have a female monarch and a female PM was uniquely wonder and coming not so long after the Equal Pay Act 1970 was a wonderful culmination of women's improvement in their position which thankfully by and large has continued indeed even now when 60% of graduates are female, women earn more than men up to age 30 and we are moving to a situation where more and more women earn more than their husbands.

Whether people are of the left or the rights I would not most mumsnetters would want many more women moving to positions of power in the UK and encourage their own political parties and trade unions to promote more women. It is an issue over which left and right can come together and find common ground - that they object both to the villification of Lady Thatcher and Harriet Harman for example both of whom were subject to particular opprobrium simply because they were/are female.

AGiddyKipperInOneHand Tue 09-Apr-13 21:33:18

She may have gone to a state school, but it was a grammar school, and her out of school interests were playing the piano, swimming, field hockey. My Mum went to grammar school in the industrial North and they could barely afford a second hand uniform for her, she has never played a piano, and never been further than Sheffield before she was married.

Yes, there are more women in politics, law, medicine and other traditional professions, and we have teachers to thank for that. Thatcher had very little affect, in fact if anything while she was in power, other women were being held back. The conservative party were notably slow to even out opportunities for women compared to other parties after her as well. As she set such a domineering and divisive example, she was a contentious role model at best, as no one else had the privilege and backing she took for granted (mistakenly) as something she had earned and worked for.

K8Middleton Tue 09-Apr-13 21:43:03

I actually guffawed at the suggestion Mrs T dragged herself up from the lower classes. She was born middle class and married money. She also benefited from an age of social mobility that is now long gone.

I also agree with Bella and whoever made the comment about pulling the ladder up after herself.

Barbara Castle and lots of other women politicians of the time are far, far more inspirational than Maggie. I always thought she felt she had to over compensate for being a woman and went too far.

reallyyummymummy Tue 09-Apr-13 22:17:13

She may have relied on her husband's money to get her into politics but he did not make her prime minister - she did that by herself.

She definitely was not a feminist icon and didn't care to be. As a woman I think there is a lot to respect in her - her single mindedness and courage would be characteristics that I would appreciate in my children.

K8Middleton Tue 09-Apr-13 22:42:18

I'd prefer my dc to have a bit of humility myself but each to their own smile

swallowthree Tue 09-Apr-13 22:57:11

The Nationwide encounter with Diana Gould about the sinking of the Belgrano is a good example of two strong women debating. I know which one of these women is the better role model for my children. The one who was calmly telling the truth not the one blustering, bulldozing and as history has shown, lying. Single mindedness is not always admirable. And yes agree about Barbara Castle - architect of the equal pay act.

LeBFG Wed 10-Apr-13 08:26:39

Kate - social mobility now gone? I find that hard to believe - plenty of people from the lower classes go to university and get good jobs. Plenty of people marry money. In what way is the UK less socially mobile than in 40s and 50s Britain when MT went to uni, married and started her political career?

K8Middleton Wed 10-Apr-13 10:44:08

I didn't say it had gone. I said the age MT is a product of is long gone. Reports from OECD, Sutton Trust and the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating social mobility are all reporting that social mobility in the UK has stagnated somewhat.

sieglinde Wed 10-Apr-13 11:07:13

yummy, she was made PM by some silly old men who tried to use her as a stalking horse candidate for Willie Whitelaw. They discounted her because she was a woman. Very silly of them.

K8, agree; the grammars did promote social mobility on an enormous scale and in that respect have not been replaced.

swallowthree Wed 10-Apr-13 11:11:35

Even Edwina Curry commented that she pulled the ladder up behind her for other women. Just nonsense that she did anything for women.

LeBFG Wed 10-Apr-13 12:03:27

I feel it's a terribly sad thing the grammars have been (largely) removed and they did enable some to move socially. For everyone else who didn't pass the 11+ however, they were trapped. But let's just compare social mobility in the 40/50s with today. Even if mobility has stagnated, many more people have access to higher education and the upper earning echelons - we do, more or less, live in a meritocracy. MT was trying to make her career in the time before Mad Men fgs - inherited wealth and private education were the breeding grounds of the future earners and powerful. Correct me if I'm wrong.

mayajan Wed 10-Apr-13 12:10:23

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

Gherkinsmummy Wed 10-Apr-13 17:19:33

LeBFG, are you joking? Even the Torygraph reports that the UK is less socially mobile. The gap between rich and poor is widening, with the poor condemned to go to failing schools and to take on huge debt if they hope to go to university. Many sectors now expect you to do work experience and internships, easy to find if you are well connected and can afford not to earn any money. And housing - most young people can't begin to think about getting on the housing ladder or saving for a deposit.

Xenia Wed 10-Apr-13 18:49:53

The reality is that university costs the poor less so if they cannot do internet searches to check that perhaps they do not deserve university places. In some business areas like law internships are paid vacation schemes - if you are bright enough it is much easier now than it was 50 years ago.

However it is certainly currently a recession caused in some part by Labour's spend spend spend.

aftermay Wed 10-Apr-13 19:02:34

Xenia - will you never tire of hating the poor and pontificating about the past, the present and the future? Gah.

LineRunner Wed 10-Apr-13 19:05:25

Two hours in Parliament for the first woman even to be called to speak (Thatcher tributes).

Look for Glenda Jackson on Thatcher - 'sharp elbows, sharp knees'.

sieglinde Thu 11-Apr-13 08:24:08

"The reality is that university costs the poor less". In gross cash, yes. As a proportion of income, absolutely not.

Many poor families simply can't accept the idea of the huge debts incurred.

Xenia Thu 11-Apr-13 09:53:23

In student fees it is a fascinating issue. If you are rich but your parents don't support you at university nor let you live at home in university holidays then you have less than a child of a taxi driver or an unemployed family at university.

If the brightest children of the working classes cannot get out a calculator and look at whether a degree is worth having then they do not desrve to be at university. There is even a non refundable grant payment if your home is poor which those whose parents do not pay them a penny but the parents earn more do not receive and you do not pay a penny of student fees until you earn over the threshold.

sieglinde Thu 11-Apr-13 12:32:00

The brightest children of anywhere aren't guaranteed the hike in income anymore, though. The figures are based on an era when fewer people went to university.

Dare i say that the better-off are more comfortable with debt because they are used to having big mortgages?

LeBFG Thu 11-Apr-13 12:38:13

Read my posts Gherkinsmummy. I said that the UK is more socailly mobile today than in the 40/50s.

Gherkinsmummy Thu 11-Apr-13 16:01:48

LeBFG In the post war era there were so many jobs that we had to import people from the colonies to do them. Working class kids left school and got jobs straight away. Compare that to now when university graduates are working as cleaners and tell me, honestly, that the UK is more socially mobile now than it was in the 1950s.

Xenia Thu 11-Apr-13 19:00:10

World War II caused social mobility. The NHS, the welfare state were all set up or expanded. Women had worked during WWII and the state had provided nurseries. Many young people did well IF they got to state grammar schools. My father could take his second degree - medicine because suddenly in the 40s there were some student grants. However in periods of recession things are always tougher. I remember the 70s. I remember the 90s crash and interest rates at 12% on mortgages and no jobs to be had. i was telling those people I was addressing today about the 115 job applications I had to make at university - there was a whole generation graduating then in the early 80s many of whom never were able to get good jobs as the country was in such a mess, just emerging into the light because of the good Thatcher did thankfully.

Ultimately if social mobility works at its very best the very bright all rise to the top and left behind will be those with an IQ of say 90 who we would not want in top jobs as brain surgeons. So in a sense if you have had really good social mobility a sign of its success is a reduction in future social mobility. I am not saying we are at the saturation point yet but it is one explanation of when it might reduce and why it may not be a bad thing it has reduced.

LeBFG Thu 11-Apr-13 19:37:25

My father was born in 47 and was a teen in the 60s - he went to a primary school that decided before any student entered the school that no one was of 'grammar school material'. He was taught the 3 Rs, left on his 15th birthday and was employed as a labourer. He's never been out of work. But was never and could never be part of the intellectual or social elite. He is, however, a gifted engineer with a brain for electronics and maths (wish I'd inherited that!) that in any other social class would have secured him a degree and a well paid job at the very least. He would certainly give a hollow laugh (as would his peers) if I told him there was greater social mobility in the post war period than today even though grammar schools and uni grants existed.

However, as interesting as this may be, you'll not convince me of your POV and I'm sure this is off topic.

sieglinde Thu 11-Apr-13 20:34:18

Wow, your father sounds amazingly like mine, but mine got a scholarship to a Catholic boarding school - hell on earth - and left to work as a sandblaster from 18.

His mother had by then paid off all the debts his father had left by working as a hairdresser - they were farmers, but dirt-poor, and had bought the land in 1929 with a huge loan. So Dad got a place to do engineering and put himself through by driving a taxi at night to pay his room and board, and she worked to pay the fees, which were huge. So he ended up pretty prosperous solid management. But this was in Australia. He was and is an absolutely brilliant mechanic too - at 87! - and always loved cars. But he's never seen himself as part of an elite.

Xenia Fri 12-Apr-13 08:22:19

So looking that these three fathers above (and indeed my mother who was very bright, Mensa level etc, and passed the 11+state grammar and became a teacher (which given her background etc was a very successful outcome, children at private schools, biggish house etc)....

So of the four my two parents who got to state grammars then did well, professional jobs etc. The rest who did not did not. So the question is does segregating a few poor but very clever children at 11 into a middle class education mean more of the poor do better or have comprehensives enabled more of the less well off to move into those well paid professional classes. As with sieg my mother says she worked for 10 years to help put my father through his medical studies - first woman in the city to claim the married man's tax allowance etc although my father had some kind of state grant too which enabled it all.

So why did say my parents do pretty well and get into the grammar schools? I am sure some of it would be their own parents. My father's father had to leave school at 12 as he was ill but he then spent his life reading and learning and studying himself and worked hard and had his own business, JP, councillor, pillar of the community so I suppose there he was in the 1920s wanting his children not to leave school at 12, to get a state grammar education and love learning and books. My mother's mother - widowed - took herself off to India to work as a nanny in the 20s before she was married - so domestic service but fairly adventurous domestic service.

sieglinde Fri 12-Apr-13 11:02:19

Xenia is right, but so are the naysayers.

Grammars did/do hugely benefit some, but also disadvantage everyone else.

So we can decide - do we want a world where the very clever and diligent will OFTEN though not ALWAYS manage to get to the near-top, leaving everyone else NOWHERE, with no chance, including those unlucky enough to miss the first step,

Or do we want a world where it is VERY MUCH HARDER for anyone clever and diligent to get to the top, but somewhat easier for everyone to get there?

So a world where - say, 20% - of people have a 50% chance, and 80% no chance, versus a world where - say 80% of the people have a 10% chance?

I think fewer people would now do what my grandmother and my father did, because they would see a 10% chance as the same as no chance.

LeBFG Fri 12-Apr-13 11:16:00

Hmm, interesting. Although I always think that non-academic routes are still sniffed at unneccessarily. Non-grammar-level pupils can still earn good money. Plumbers from my home town earn as much as teachers and the plumber course is heavily oversubscribed each year. The locals think plumbing is terribly respectable, as they should. I think possibly the older system was better but would require tinkering so the 80% were actually doing something worthwhile.

LeBFG Fri 12-Apr-13 11:16:59

[best of both worlds]

sieglinde Fri 12-Apr-13 11:29:22

leBFG, the reason is that tech schools were NEVER properly funded here as they were in Germany, Austria and Australia. Agree about the tinkering, but that means actual FUNDING for those skilled manual jobs. perish the thought - instead let's have ludicrous degrees in which people are encouraged to dream on, like media studies and tourism studies... confused.

Actually, what if we shut down all block grants and govt support for all these degrees and put the money directly into technical ed? It would be a start.

LeBFG Fri 12-Apr-13 11:55:44

Yup, agree 100%.

Xenia Fri 12-Apr-13 12:04:03

I think the Beckwith study on university entrance to Russell Group universities did not find a big difference between comprehensives and grammar areas despite what a lot of people might have thought. 50% at Oxbridge from state schools does include a lot of grammars but I am not sure if you stripped them out that those areas of the country with no state grammars are worse proportionately.

What we have stopped doing by comprehensives in poor areas anyway is given an escape route to a different life and moving children from a working class to middle class environment. If you go to school where I was brought up they abolished grammars in about 1971 and direct grant schools and you cannot in a sense become posher through state provided schooling and I just do not mean accent and dress but moving into a different type of life and classmates from your background. If you work very hard it is possible to make those changes if you want but the more obvious route disappeared.

i think a good few very clever people do do well. If I look at successful people I have advised plenty of them left school at 15 and worked very hard and because of their brains they ended up owning a load of companies but they are the exception from those backgrounds.

On a national basis most of us probably UK plc to be allowing its best potential workers fufil their potential so we can compete with the best from abroad. if you only recruit from one group whatever that group is - males or Indians or aristocrats or dust bin men you are not going to exclude a lot of good people. On the other hand if 1000 people are good and you have 2 vacancies and you know that 100% of those you have ever recruited who got AAA at A level and worked very hard to get into a top university do the job well and 1 in 100 of those with a poor CV do then you would be silly waste your time doing 1000 interviews when you should really apply a filter.

sieglinde Fri 12-Apr-13 12:15:37

Xenia, I kinda agree about the middling thing. That of course is why Crosland got rid of grammars - they were seen as alienating people from their roots. The idea was that in comprehensives they would remain working class but still be leaders.... confused

"if 1000 people are good and you have 2 vacancies and you know that 100% of those you have ever recruited who got AAA at A level and worked very hard to get into a top university do the job well and 1 in 100 of those with a poor CV do then you would be silly waste your time doing 1000 interviews when you should really apply a filter."

Yes, of course, but this tells us nothing about schools. Nor does your comment that despite the obstacles some people can still overcome them - doh, but why should it be so much harder for clever Wayne and Tracey than it is for thoroughly ordinary Troilus and Cressida?

Xenia Fri 12-Apr-13 12:30:57

Indeed. The some of the children in grammar schools were taken from their own background and moved to a more middle class life. They came to love poetry, classical music and books and in a sense were alienated from their families and had to lead a double life in some cases.

May be comprehensives ensure no state school child gets the chance to change and become posh. If we just take classical music (one of my interests as 3 sons got music scholarships) it is much much easier as a boy treble to sing at school in choirs until you are 12 if you are in a single sex prep school than in a mixed state primary. So did we cut off the route to changing class for those who cannot to pay and does class matter in terms of career advancement? There are are heaps of Essex boys (and girls) with gold chains in the City still making money. However despite that in many other cases it does matter if you have nothing in common with those with whom you will work. Did my daughter get her first job because (a) her exam results and university are pretty good and she worked incredibly hard at school (b) because she's blonde and doesn't look too bad (c) because of her social skills which may or may not include accent or (d) because she ended up talking to someone at the assessment day lunch about a hobby they had in common which happened to be riding? I expect it was a mixture of those things - you do not even get to the interview stage unless you are just about all As, 2/1 from somewhere decent etc. but after that and indeed during the job you need to find connections with people and that does not have to be that you both ski in the same resorts.

It could just as easily be children - most of us who get on okay with people for whom we work learn to find common connections to make other people feel comfortable.

May be it is a non issue. I bet there has hardly ever been a time in British history when half the students at Oxbridge went to state schools. May be social mobility is not so bad after all.

Then there are what you pass down the generations issues - do we confiscate all wealth at death? Do we allow inheritance? Do we allow parents to pass on education, read to children or should to be faire we put all children in state organisations so no child benefits from a brighter parent reading it stories? I suppose that is one reason the children of the least well off do so much better than at home if they are in nurseries to age 3 than with a parent who is having problems at home and has a small vocabulary.

sieglinde Fri 12-Apr-13 14:06:44

I think though that ANY kind of class trap is sad. Why should everyone read the same things or listen to the same things as their parents? There should also be downward movement - what's wrong with middle class plumbers? - to suit tastes, skills and inclinations. I know some very posh gardeners, for example.

I don't think the kibbutz system worked out very well.... and some working people used to be wonderful singers, storytellers, and musicians - pithead brass bands, anyone? Welsh mining choirs? My own grandfather - not the indebted one, the other side of the family - was a bandmaster. (Like some more famous people's fathers, he owned a corner shop. He loved classical music so much that he and his friends sat and listened to Wagner on 78 rpm records... it was his only chance to hear it.) All that went because of TV.

Working class intellectual aspiration was also once very common. Read Jonathan Rose, The Intellectuals and the Working Class. But it was fuelled by hope. A lot of that hope has gone.

Xenia Fri 12-Apr-13 15:19:27

Yes, and it seems to be lost which is a shame. It was the cultural and intellectual capital of my parents (and probably my father's father although he died before I was born) which was the bigger legacy, much more than the education they bought or the fact we got central heating put into the house in due course when I was a child.

So why did it go because of TV? Why did I spend my teens at the piano and singing and composing and reading? There were televisions when I was a child. Surely the hope is not for money. The hope is of betterment to know that if you can sing or read or whatever the "cultural" activity might be that you will have that skill and pleasure for life - or so I hope for my children, not necessarily that they are rich although I do not want them to have a hard time if I can help it, but that they learn at home and school cultural pursuits and the like that will stay with them for life (not X factor etc). So nothing to stop a working class family not having a television or banning video games as a good few middle class families do or ration it. That seems to be what has got lost - some not all of the working classes no longer wanting or seeing as desirable literature and arts - I think there used to be more of a desire for "betterment" and may be those people now think well what is it better - why is my child singing complex choral music in latin any better than their singing along to Sexy Lady. There could still be hope for betterment and long walks to the library even if it were thought that there would never be a decent job.

Class traps? People can change their accent or clothes to fit the situation they are in. Most of us if we sell something as plenty of people do try to find common ground with others. When I was nearly 23 with a baby and working full time I found that gave me lots if common with customers who were 10 or 20 years older so I could use that as a thing about which to talk.

ParsleyTheLioness Fri 12-Apr-13 16:56:42
sieglinde Fri 12-Apr-13 17:57:53

Yes, Xenia, I too puzzle over where all that aspiration went. But I do think culture is much more available now than it was in my childhood - the internet is a godsend - so it's odd that people don't avail themselves of it more. Though for all I know, they do - you'd need quite a sophisticated study to find out.

Xenia Fri 12-Apr-13 22:21:05

Yes, I used to save up my meagre pocket money to score the second hand music shop in a market to buy old scores. I had about two cassettes only in my music collection as no money to buy them. Now you can go on youtube if you can afford a computer or a phone with the internet and listen to just about any classical music you want and read and read about just about anything and yes plenty of children and teenagers do learn a lot through that route, but perhaps not as many as might.

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