Let’s talk class at Cambridge
If the height of persecution for public school boys is a satirical article in The Tab, then that might be part of the problem
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about lad culture at Cambridge and lots of people got quite angry about it.
The article focused pretty much exclusively on posh boy antics, which didn’t go down that well universally. Being the hideous attention seeker I am, I lapped up the controversy like a kitten to milk.
Milk finished, ego massaged and insatiable appetite for attention very nearly full, I started to think properly about why class-specific criticism touches such a nerve here.
The attack on the “straight white upper-class male” isn’t exactly revolutionary. Tumblr girls have been shitting on you since 2k12 when they read their first feminist blog post.
I’m not out to criticize anyone for having privilege, just asking that you recognize it. As a straight, slightly povo but nonetheless middle-class white girl, said criticism would be all too hypocritical.
That said, I don’t think I’m flogging a dead horse. I don’t think you can have a meaningful conversation about lad culture at Cambridge without talking explicitly in terms of upper-class cultural practices. Us less-than-rich kids might get just as rowdy at swaps or drinking socs, but these practices weren’t born in shitty suburbs or council estates. It’s a kind of cultural assimilation. Lad culture and all its misogynistic trimmings existed at home, but they weren’t instituted in the same way.
There’s a lot of fear about presenting Cambridge as elitist because it might put off applicants from poorer backgrounds. Unfortunately, Cambridge is elitist. According to the 2014 statistics, 7% of British children overall attend fee-paying schools (and 15% at sixth form), but they make up 39% of Cambridge undergraduates. Many of those non-fee paying schools are highly selective grammars.
There’s a reason most of you already had loads of mutual friends during freshers.
What I think is more off-putting for students from less privileged backgrounds is the pretence that all this is normal. Stop pretending it’s normal to be allowed into a restaurant to throw food around and stand on tables and run around naked whilst chanting about your mate’s last shag, knowing Micheal at Sesame will clean it all up afterward. Stop pretending it’s normal that 40 other people from your school go here.
I might show off about my full bursary status because here it feels cool and exotic, but there’s actually nothing abnormal about a household income under 25,000.
Normalizing elitism makes it much more intimidating. You can’t hope to deconstruct the image of Cambridge as elitist unless you first put your hands up and recognize it as so.
You can’t ignore how privilege impacts power dynamics. Privilege and a culture of entitlement do play a significant role in sexist lad culture and how it is scrutinized.
Sexism is shitty wherever it’s found, but the cultural grain already focuses a lot on working class sexism. Whilst I’ve been accused of immunizing working class men from critique, what is more worrying, I think, is that generally it’s privilege that immunizes you from this criticism.
“How would you like it if someone said that about poor people?” They do. A lot. Reverse snobbery will never be as prevalent or as damaging as the demonization of the poor.
Sexists are often contained in the image of white van men and catcalling builders, not nice posh boys at Cambridge.
A woman who is a student here wrote two accounts on Facebook which were both disturbing and relatable.
“1. I leaned out of my window and politely asked a drinking society who’d spent 20 minutes chanting in Latin at 3am outside my accommodation to move a little further down the street (something we routinely do in our busy inner city area at home, usually met with maybe a little exasperation but the end result of people moving on – so I expected this to go the same way) where I was responded to with various yelled variations on “do you fucking know who we are? don’t fucking talk back at us you bitch! we don’t care who you are or what you think!” and they then spent a while chanting sexually violent / misogynistic stuff into my room as “punishment” for daring to challenge them I guess.”
“2. A guy in black tie smacking into me so hard in Fez that he spilled his whole drink on me and smashed my head into a wall, I said (again politely) ‘ouch, please watch what you’re doing!’ and he proceeded to push me again, call me a cunt, a bitch, and again tell me ‘not to fucking talk to him.’”
Fuck not talking about how class affects lad culture. Fears of reinforcing ideas about ‘us and them’ are redundant when that narrative already exists. We have to recognize that narrative if we are to talk honestly about why we are one of the worst places for lad culture in the country.
If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of a thousand tiny violins playing in the background.
(A public apology goes out to all those who innocently enjoy Nandos and a VK. The damaging aspects of lad culture don’t necessarily come served with a quarter chicken and a side of creamy mash.)