Cambridge has a huge class problem
You don’t need to be embarrassed if you grew up in a house with a dining room.
This isn’t about you. I mean, not at all, absolutely not – you’re from the north, right? Or, like, London. But not the posh bit. And you don’t like lad culture, and you’re aware of your privilege and you’re just, oh my god, so middle class.
So. Middle. Class. The amount of times I’ve heard that phrase since coming to Cambridge. It’s used jokingly about childhood ballet classes, mockingly about “holidaying” in France, and with a certain embarrassed guiltiness about one’s parents’ professions. It’s used to disparage the girl behind the nose piercing and the boy with the flamboyantly wild hair. It’s used almost every day, and about almost everything because we are all just so middle class.
If I hear it one more time I’m going to lose it. You don’t need to be embarrassed if you grew up in a house with a dining room. You don’t need to constantly ram the fact that you vote Labour down my throat. I don’t really care about how much you love Owen Jones. It’s fine. It’s ok that, financially speaking, you had a comfortable upbringing.
I object to the assumption that we all did – the assumption that we can all marinate in middle-class angst together because, after all, this is Cambridge. Statistically speaking, it’s fair enough to think – applications from non-selective state school students aren’t at the rate most would like them to be – but, practically speaking, it’s infuriating.
It’s infuriating when someone asks me whether I think “we” should let “poor kids” into Cambridge with worse grades. It’s infuriating how impressed people are when I tell them what my Dad does. (He refuels buses – does that really make me so edgy?) It’s massively and incredibly frustrating when, as in the Tab article a few days ago, a book club is described as “elitist” and “privileged”.
The thing is, that was a very sweet article. It was a very nice and well-meant article. And it was written in much the same tone as the rueful “so middle class” phrase is spoken. But by conflating the ability to buy a book (ignoring the existence of public libraries) with the ability to understand and contribute to a feminist discussion, the author is being far more patronising and elitist than Emma Watson ever has been.
The assumption that the only people who are able to engage with an “academic” discussion, not that a book club discussion is necessarily academic, are those actually engaged in academia is not only dangerous, it just . . . baffles me. I understand when middle-class people mock themselves about their possessions or their accents, but do you genuinely think that debate is another purely middle-class activity? If you think a book club is pretentious, what do you think the hardy unpretentious working classes are actually doing? Not discussing things, apparently. Not, god forbid, reading.
And that just begs the question, who do you think the working classes are? Because if the fact that both my parents attended University makes me not working class, but, as one person suggested, “a middle-class girl in reduced circumstances”, it doesn’t change the fact that I grew up with, and went to school with, people who would consider themselves purely working class.
Some of them are in University education. Some of them are poets, and some of them are training to become accountants. Some of them work in shops, some of them are parents. We’re doing a lot of different things, and we might all now be defined differently, but we all went through (compulsory) secondary school together. We all discussed Shakespeare in (compulsory) English lessons. We can all read.
A forum for discussing books isn’t exclusionary to people without money or people outside formal education. To imply that a broke teenager who is now a mother mightn’t feel “able” to engage in feminist dialogue is rubbish. It’s condescending and hugely problematic.
At what supposed point does a ‘working-class’ individual stop being able to engage in that type of discussion? They were certainly able to at secondary school. . . so when? When they stopped coming into school? When they didn’t go straight to University? When they fell pregnant?
Maybe I’ve misunderstood. Maybe the author was worried that the book club would exclude the less than 1% of Britons who are illiterate. The author finishes the article by equating interest in and ability to engage with feminism not just with formal education, but with Instagram and peppermint tea. Based on this, my level of self-knowledge is as far down the coal mine as my economic class.
Clearly, I’ve misunderstood. My dedication to Facebook as the one true form of social media procrastination, which I thought was a personal preference, is obviously down to my father’s income. My lack of patience with the phrases ‘problematic’ or ‘exclusionary’, which I thought was a mere predilection for plain speech, is blatantly a fear of academic language based purely on my mother’s address. And as for my love of coffee – clearly, that’s a substance abuse issue, almost inevitable given my lack of private school education.
I mean, I got a scholarship – my reading comprehension is probably shit.