Liza Campbell is campaigning to end male primogeniture – the practice of inheritance of estate and title by the eldest male child. She explains why she believes it is a feminist issue here. I’ve already written about becoming class conscious before sex-class conscious and self-identifying as a feminist here. It didn’t take me long to work out how to reconcile class and sex oppression but I will never forget that feeling of alienation, difference and being “less than”, when I first experienced ‘posh girls’ en masse (and yes, that’s exactly how I saw them and also exactly what I called them) at ‘A’ level college in Yorkshire in the mid-1980s. So Campbell’s sentence: “ “Why the hell should we care about posh girls?” I hear you say.” gave me a good dose of ear steam.
Of course male primogeniture is wrong. Of course. Of course anything that privileges men over women is wrong. But that doesn’t mean that ending the sex inequality is more important than ending the inequality. Campbell ends her piece by saying that if we wish to sneer, then we must also sneer at Brahmin women and Senate Masupha too. She’s right and I will. I’d also ask her whether she is using cultural liberalism and the fear of appearing racist to bolster her argument in favour of maintaining inherited class privilege. Indeed, she uses the practice of female genital mutilation, a form of abuse that for years many white liberals squirmed to condemn because of the fear of condemning a harmful practice in a culture subjugated in the UK, to illustrate the problem of female doorkeepers of patriarchy and the difficulty of dissent for a culture’s daughters. Please don’t compare a girl’s right to survive with her genitals intact to another’s to be called Lady Blah-di-blah and inherit the family mansion.
Campbell describes the dilemma of being someone who “by accident of birth, finds herself the daughter of an earl.” She says that she doesn’t use her title and is deracinated from that life. She says that refusal to help her struck her as the worst sort of inverted snobbery. I might just probably be too busy to help her ‘cos I am too busy googling ‘deracinated’ because my life chances haven’t brought that word in to my vocabulary just yet. Though seriously, I am not going to help her because the answer to one form of inequality of accidental birth (male primogeniture and indeed maleness per se) is not to overlook and ignore other forms of inherited privilege.
I do agree with Campbell that everything is connected. Though where she argues that “every struggle for women’s rights should be supported; every infringement resisted” I cannot agree. No-one should inherit titles. No-one should inherit wealth, privilege and status over others. No-one should inherit a free-pass to a privileged education that will set that person up for privilege for life. No-one should inherit poverty under the benefits-cap, insecure housing, being born in a war zone. Food, shelter, safety, education – and world equality in our right to access these – are surely our goals. I wish I believed that I’ll see a world in which inequality between people has been erased before I die, but I don’t. However this will not stop me trying to contribute to creating that world. In my vision of an equal world, women will be liberated from patriarchal oppression, male primogeniture will not exist, but I am not interested in ending it for the benefit of privileged women.