Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

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.

9 thoughts on “Sorry, I can’t join your campaign to end male primogeniture, I’m washing my hair

  1. This answer is late to the table but here it is . Male primogeniture is now no longer a thing . The bill passed , which is why many commentators were speculating what would happen should Catharine Middleton birth a girl first .
    AFAIC , this bill was all about its main sponsor being able to inherit a title , namely the writer of Downton Abbey . Hence the name of the whole shebang .
    And like Karen says , so bloody what , surely it’s better to create a world where patriarchy and all its vectors – such as social class – are eliminated? Who bloody cares that Bruschetta MacOrcadale can’t inherit a duchy when so many girls skip school for want of tampax ?

  2. The Downton Bill is absolutely *not* about the inheritence of wealth (All women have been able to own property in their own right since the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882- marking our emergence as legal persons for the purpose of propety, and aristos are as capable of drawing up a non-sexist will as anyone else). The Downton Bill is literally only about the inheritence of *titles*.

    The problem that ‘sex egalitarian’ aristos face is that *if* they wish to bequeath their physical estate (and any income-generating assets needed to maintain it) to their eldest child regardless of sex, the parents of an eldest daughter must divorce the land from the title (which by law goes to the eldest male heir), thus rendering the ‘title’ purely symbolic and worthless in property terms. The reason why the title system is not already completely obsolete is that aristos have not been willing to divorce property inheritence from title in large numbers – as a class they have valued the preservation of the link between property and title over sex equality. The Downton Bill would remove that contradition, therefore it is about promoting inter-class sex equality in order to reinforce the property-title link.

    It’s quite different from the suffrage issue (for example) in which women fought for the vote on the principle of enfranchisement *on the same basis as men* – since this does not definitionally exclude universal suffrage (even if not all suffrage campaigners wanted universal suffrage). It is also quite different from establishing (under the married women’s property act) a married women’s legal personhood as being separate from her husband- which was a benefit to all married women regardless of property. The inheritence of titles is, however, definitionally inegalitarian (you can’t imagine a campaign for universal entitlement – unlike universal suffrage) and it’s hard to see any benefit for women beyond the eldest female children of title holders. Even at the symbolic level, it serves to link sex equality with the active reinforcement of class (and birth order) inequality – that’s bad for feminism.

  3. @Hecuda,

    What’s frightening is you actually believe what you have written. I’d guess there must be quite a few of you i.e. within the feminist movement who have a similar outlook. I’ve read similarly demented, twisted assertions before which remind me of this type of rant. I do wonder where this stuff emanates from e.g. you say all women are defined through their relationship with men. Really? Who died and made you pontiff of all things female? I don’t know ANY women in my circle who would agree with this?

    What jumps out at me in reading your comment, and the Guardian article (including the comments BTL) is the desperation and clamouring for riches/status.

    It appears that, to you, it’s important that a tiny number of women get the same (un-earned) privileges as their privileged male counterparts. No mention of having to work for it yourselves (as the vast majority of us women & men have to). The (Feminist Egalitarian) masks slips…You would be happy to be equal in riches/power/status to a privileged man while the other 99.9% of the population remains disadvantaged and can NEVER enjoy those privileges/riches/power/status due to not being born into an elite club.

    Alex above has it right. The sooner this aristocratic parasitic class is done away with the better. I find it fascinating that many people would want to keep this extremely privileged class in power. Because, make no mistake, they certainly are in/have power, but unlike celebrities, are smart and know how to fly below the radar.

    Fortunately there appear to be enough women (including some Feminists!?!) who would not be happy to see the rest of their female compatriots thrown under a bus in order that the likes of you can get your snouts in the trough.

  4. Karen you seem to forget that primogeniture is all about mens’ claim that males are the default human beings which means property rights and finances can only be inherited by males.

    Primogeniture is more than just about supposedly ‘posh women inheriting titles etc. rather it is about maintenance of male power.

    Do not forget all women irrespective of their class share a common denominator and that is they are all biological females and hence their class will not protect them from male domination and male control. One excellent example of how male domination over women operates is the recent Charles Saatchi case wherein violent male Saatchi rightly believed he could with impunity subject his female sexual property Nigella Lawson to degrading physical violence. Nigella Lawson’s class and wealth did not protect her from violent male Saatchi.

    So yes primogeniture is important because it is about recognising that women – yes women are not mens’ disposable objects who can be passed over because their brother or brothers are declared by men to have right of inheritance of property and/or titles. Primogeniture is all about men maintaining male control over property and finances which is why men created primogeniture to ensure daughters were not accorded any real socio-economic power.

    Karen you forget one important societal issue which is all women are defined through their relationship with men. This means when a woman marries her husband’s social/economic standing defines her social status. Same applies to any female born in a heterosexual household, the daughter is defined by her father’s social/economic status. You are enacting the same male supremacist bias as men by declaring only certain women qualify for ‘feminist attention!’

    • I am forgetting nothing. I simply do not believe extending the inequality of inherited titles and wealth is the answer to any feminism that I want to put my name to.
      Class inequality may be a secondary issue for you. It is not for me.

  5. Your last paragraph is brilliant. I agree with you completely! I just commented on another blog about this, here: but it’s worth saying again: the sooner the UK moves to a real democracy, the better. No more royals, no more hangers on, no more inherited privilege. Inheriting wealth, whether it is 10 pounds or 10 million or whatever, I believe is all part of the capitalist system. The first step is abolishing the monarchy. The wealth issue might take a little longer and a little more work!

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