Aristocracy, Feminism, and Class: Does Primogeniture Still Matter?

I never would have bothered to read The Downton Bill is for all our daughters by Liza Campbell in the Guardian had I not come across Karen Ingala Smith’s critique in her twitter timeline. I’m a republican and for the complete abolishment  of the aristocracy and the return of all estates, art, books to the government (but not until we’ve got rid of the dingbats currently in power. The last thing we need is Osborne given complete control over disposing of the Queen’s personal collection of Da Vinci despite the fact that it would more than cover our welfare bill). I’m all for no member of the aristocracy inheriting anything that is only “theirs” through accidents of birth and corruption throughout history.

As a feminist, I believe the practise of primogeniture is misogynistic and needs to be legally abolished. I’m just not comfortable with a campaign on primogeniture which only targets aristocratic women without looking at the bigger picture for all women.  As feminists, we can’t just assume that a campaign aimed at a relatively small group of women will be beneficial to all women. We have seen time and time again how marginalised women are left out when we don’t contextualise our campaigns properly. Do we believe that increased political power for a statistically insignificant number of women within the UK will have a positive effect on the lives of the majority of women?

The following are just some brief thoughts on the problems arising from failing to contextualise the campaign against primogeniture within a larger context

As a rule of thumb, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to leave their ‘estate’, whether that be £10 or the Duchy of Devonshire, to whomever they choose. I do not believe anyone has the ‘right’ to inherit their parent’s estates on their death. I believe that the obsession with home ownership in the UK in order to bequeath their house to offspring as an inheritance has come at the expense of sensible retirement planning and sensible spending habits now. Far too many people are still trying to buy houses that are out with their finances. I’d be a much happier bunny if we got rid of this obsession with our children inheriting ‘estates’ from their parents and if more people starting bequeathing their estates to bird sanctuaries, Rape Crisis, or whatever they like. Yet, like primogeniture, this policy also negatively effects more women than men.

I know far too many women who have grown up knowing they will inherit nothing from their father  because their brother gets everything; these women are all white, church of England members so please don’t come here blithering on about practises of ‘other’ people somewhere else. It happens here because white, British culture privileges sons over daughters. These women will never inherit anything from their fathers because these men don’t believe daughters are important enough and, legally, these women aren’t in a position to challenge the wills.

If primogeniture were outlawed within the aristocracy, would this allow other women the ability to challenge their parents wills based on misogyny? And, don’t start with the ‘there are already legal policies in place which allow people to challenge wills. It requires money to do so and guess who has less disposable wealth than men?  Would we legally recognise misogyny as a valid reason to challenge the will of a parent? This is the basis of the campaign against primogeniture so are we willing to extend it to all women? (and reinstate full legal aid to allow women to challenge their father’s wills).

I say this, but I believe that capitalism is an inherently misogynistic economic theory that is predicated on the abuse of the labour of most of the population of the planet for the benefit of a few and that women are disproportionately punished within capitalist practises. I don’t see how transferring some money and political power to a few women will improve the world for the rest of us. Trickle-down economics has never improved the lives of the poor; it’s just allowed the rich to consolidate their wealth and power.

As a radical feminist, I believe that eradicating primogeniture in order to ensure that women are also legally allowed to inherit aristocratic titles and estates simply reinforces our heteronormative, patriarchal practise of marriage which privileges a blood relationship over real family bonds. After all, if Prince William were married to another man and adopted a child, that child would not be allowed to inherit the Crown. Primogeniture is based on a blood relationship between parent and child. Will the law be changed to take into consideration adopted or fostered children?

Will there be any acknowledgement that the institution of marriage is inherently harmful to women? That marriage itself depends on ownership of women’s reproductive capabilities? Will it recognise, despite changes to legislation to legally recognise homosexual relationships, that the survival of our capitalist-patriarchy is in no large part due to the control of women’s reproduction? That these depend on white supremacist constructions of who is an acceptable “breeder”? Eradicating the practise of primogeniture without questioning the function of marriage itself does not help women.

But, I’m also a huge supporter of things which annoy misogynistic rich white men. Ending primogeniture is clearly going to fuck some of them off and, despite my reservations, I rather hope this campaign succeeds. Just to piss off those whiny men.

At least, until we get to the point where we can dismantle capitalism and the patriarchy.

Dude, I have the Internet

Dude, I have the Internet is now my new favourite phrase.

It is from the article Kids Won’t Listen: Why I’m sick of think pieces about teenage girls written by grown-up men at RookieMag:

When you applaud or critique a young girl’s taste based on how well or badly it aligns with yours, you are suggesting that your taste = THE RIGHT TASTE, because you are the one IN THE KNOW. I sometimes rate movies on the websiteMubi, and I can’t count the number of times an older male cinephile has urged me to rewatch a film I’ve given a low score to, because obviously I “didn’t understand it” the first time around. “How do you even know about this?” I often get asked. “You weren’t even born when this movie came out.” Dude: I have the internet.

Men should just be banned from writing about women at all. It is almost inevitably patronising twaddle and assumes that every single one of our opinions are formed whilst we are vacating in Care-a-Lot and, as such, lack validity.

Dude, I have the Internet: totally the way forward.

Welcome to rape culture where we gender toys but not sexual violence

These two tweets were posted in response to Radio 4s coverage of the “If only someone had listened”: Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups report which was published in November 2013. I screen capped these tweets because, well, they are brilliant demonstration of the hypocrisy of gendering children.
I’m going to share them every single time some dingbat tells me girls like pink because of berries and boys can’t have toy kitchens or they’ll lose their penis or something equally stupid.
If we’re going to live in a culture where globes are made pink for girls so their poor ickle brains don’t implode with all the blue on a normal globe, then we can damn well start naming the sex of perpetrators of sexual violence.



Architecture, History, Ani DiFranco, and White Privilege

The first time I heard about the protests surrounding Ani DeFranco’s decision to host a ‘Righteous Retreat” for artists at a former plantation in New Orleans was an article in Salon by Brittney Cooper. I read the article and immediately jumped to “what was DiFranco thinking holding a retreat in a former plantation and that apology. Honestly”.  I made all the appropriate noises suggesting that I would never be so callous as to engage in replicating the white supremacy in such an egregious manner.

It turns out I was engaged in some deeply hypocritical self-delusions.

I have to be brutally honest: I have never thought about plantations other than architecturally beautiful buildings. In DiFranco’s position, it would never have occurred to me that it was a problem. I have that ‘romantic’ view of plantations as beautiful; much in the same way that I view estates like Chatsworth in England or the city of Liverpool which was basically built from the profits of the Slave trade even after slavery was declared illegal in the UK.

I’m a historian by training. I know the history of slavery. I know that plantations were built on the profits of the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of African peoples. I know that the beautiful buildings I love to see in Liverpool, and a large number of other cities, were built on the profits of the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of African peoples. I know this and yet I remove the buildings, which I admire, from their historical context.  As much as I would like to pretend I would have been more aware than DiFranco, it is only a delusion based on the theory that I can’t possibly be personally responsible for replicating the White Supremacy.

I attended a conference on Holocaust Studies in Krakow many, many moons ago. Part of the conference was a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau given by women survivors. Auschwitz is the general name given to a large complex which includes 3 large concentration camps: Auschwitz 1 for men, Auschwitz II (Birkenau) which functioned as the women’s concentration camp and a death camp, and Auschwitz III (Monowitz) which was the slave labour camp. Auschwitz was surrounded by over a hundred smaller satellite slave labour camps in which conditions differed. As part of the tour, we were allowed access to areas of Birkenau which are generally closed to the public, including the brothel. To say the tour was harrowing would be a gross understatement. Whilst I was there, a school group of Polish children around 12-13 were also touring the facility. Their tour ended with a group photo in front of the Polish Martyrs wall, where Polish fighters were executed. The children were pushing and shoving and laughing. The photo itself involved the children sticking out their tongues, doing bunny ears and attempting to pose like rappers. It was completely inappropriate and made Birkenau feel like an amusement park rather than the mass grave of more than one million people.

So, why do I feel that plantations are different? Hundreds of thousands of slaves were tortured, torn from their families, subject to inhumane physical and sexual abuse and were murdered in them (and because of them). Yet, because I class the buildings as architecturally significant and beautiful, somehow they are exempt of representing the mass graves of slaves.

Obviously, this comes down to my unexamined white privilege but it’s made me think of all the historical sites I love visiting whose histories are rooted in violence, racism and xenophobia that I don’t even think about. Although, I did once have a spectacular tantrum in the Tower of London who have managed to neglect to mention the whole issue of opium in the “Chinese Wars of the 1850s” in which Britain fought China to open it up to international trade for tea without mentioning pesky issues like colonialisation, racism or morphine addiction. By the time we got to the “Hammer of the Scots” being referred to as an excellent general with no mention of mass murder, I was set for spontaneous combustion. This memory is vivid only because it’s the first time I’ve ever questioned the value of visiting sites of extreme violence.

In Ani DiFranco’s place, I doubt it would have occurred to me that a former plantation was an inappropriate place for a retreat. I would hope that my apology for being called on this would have been less, shall we say, whiny but would it?

I’m left with some incredibly uncomfortable feelings about how I view history and historical sites.

My Christmas Books for #ReadingOnlyBooksWrittenByWomen

I’ve moved my monthly archive of the books I have read as part of #ReadingOnlyBooksWrittenbyWomen to my other blog I just couldn’t resist blogging the books I received for my birthday and for Christmas. As ever, I’m always looking for more recommendations for inspiring books written by women especially fiction and women’s history!

Maggie O’Farrell’s the distance between us

Maggie O’Farrell’s After you’d gone

Maggie O’Farrell’s my lover’s lover

Joumana Haddad’s Superman is an Arab

Kamila Shamsie’s Broken Verses

Marina Warner’s The Leto Bundle

Carol Birch’s the Naming of Eliza Quinn

Sophie Hannah’s little face

Tendai Huchu’s The Hairdresser of Harare

Linda Porter’s Katherine the Queen

Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead

Jenny Uglow’s The Pinecone

Joanne Harris’ The Evil Seed

Maya Angelou’s A Letter to my Daughter

Judith Jesch’s Women in the Viking Age

Essie Fox’s Elijah’s Mermaid

Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Sexual Politics

You can order the books online from News from Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop