I was led to a YouTube clip today taken from a This Morning tv episode where Katie Hopkins, a woman who had appeared on The Apprentice some years ago, waxed lyrical about the class system that is so firmly rooted in generations of anxiety, resentment and snobbery. Her argument woke me up to the different ways people see society, class and each other. She claimed that the names we give our children denote social standing and what’s more, if you don’t have the right name, you don’t have the right to play with her children (Maxi million, India and Poppy). Personally I’m saddened that she held this view, as I’d prefer a world where background is no precursor to friendships. I was concerned enough to explore this further.
What is class and why do we feel the need to categorise ourselves and constrain our thinking? After all if I had been called Chardonnay or Kylie, would this have prevented me from being successful? One of the presenters was keen to point out the exceptions to the rule: Dr Tyler’s and Dr Charmaine’s graduating from medical school, clearly working class with social mobility. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I am proposing that we remove those rules, that we are just in one category – “humans” – and that is all we need; everything else is for negotiation and exploration. As a thought experiment, just think of the richness and vast experiences that she and her children would miss out on if they ‘never’ allowed themselves to mix with people she believes to be of a lower social standing than her.
There have been some moves to seek clarity around the British Class system. There is a new survey that seeks to be more relevant to modern society and looks to remove three-tiered class system that has organised our society for the last century. The class system, I have often thought, is outdated and doesn’t really fit modern life. The iconic Two Ronnies sketch “I know my place“, featuring John Cleese, typified the populist view in its time, but the three tier class system just simply doesn’t feel right to me in 2013. In fact does it feel right at all? My thinking has evolved over recent months from trying to aspire to middle class, to wishing not to be classified in any way. After all, don’t we all have something to bring to the table? Can’t we all be considered as valuable members of society regardless of background? In 2013 aren’t we looking to equality in every aspect of our lives but class? Isn’t the class system supporting inequality in all its forms or does it just seek to categorise what we actually are?
“England is the most class-ridden country under the sun,” wrote George Orwell in 1941, an observation that rings true seven decades later.
Before beginning this blog I would often enter into a heated debate with my husband about which category I was able to place us in. My view was that I was a middle class occupant. Looking back I am horrified that I subscribed to this view? After all I always felt that I would place everyone as equal if I was true to my own values and beliefs. My husband’s thoughts were more pragmatic, but equally floored. His view was that we are working class because we have to work for a living - clearly, I begged to differ. We had both fallen into the class and categorisation trap that constrains our thinking.
The class system is always going to be an emotive issue for most people so I was keen to see the levels in this new class structure to see if it accommodated and captured today’s society more accurately.
BBC Lab UK and researchers from Manchester University and the London School of Economics surveyed more than 161,000 people for the Great British Class Survey, in the largest review of social class ever conducted in Britain, according to the BBC. They have even devised a short online questionnaire that categorises you based, not only on your income but on your cultural interests and friendship base, if you socialise at home etc. There are now seven discernible categories including the elite (previously the upper class) and four new categories including the emergent service workers which are educated, recent graduates who have little money but are socially adept and culturally interested and the delicately named “precarious proletariat”. Only 39 percent of the questionnaire’s respondents fit traditional definitions of middle class, so I was interested to see where I fitted in the new overall structure. I completed the questionnaire and my results revealed that I am part of the established middle class so I am one of the 39%. My husband still did not agree.
His reaction got me thinking, why is he so set on this idea that I am not middle class and why is he so keen to categorise me differently, what does it all mean in real terms?
I am a busy working Mum with two children, 4 and 8. Life can only be described, quite simply as hectic. I am in the middle of house renovations and am juggling a job working in Human resources for a Healthcare company with childcare, household chores, helping to run a Brownie pack and undertaking a very neglected final year at the Open University studying psychology. I have so many things to think about all at once that sometimes I find it difficult to see through the fog of it all, the only way through is white wine (A good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, is the tipple of choice) and climbing into bed full of exhaustion at the end of the day. Weekends never seem to be for relaxing, just for ferrying children from one activity to the next so they too can become part of the established middle classes. I don’t have a cleaner like some of my friends (no one can do it like I can) and have taken to shopping like my mother used to in the 70’s where I don’t shop in one place but a number of places to get the best deals. Bread and potatoes cakes and fresh juices from Aldi, fresh fruit and veg from the local market (after all you have to support the local community) cleaning products and toiletries from the local discount store and the rest from Sainsbury’s and once I have used it all, I ensure I recycle it all so there is a planet left for future generations! Remind me again, blue for paper, black for all those wine bottles I get through right?
Are you exhausted yet? So I thought, does this define the established middle class? It doesn’t feel like it to me, maybe my other half has a point, am I truly middle class or, as he suspects, part of a different class altogether? I am not spending my weekends wandering around museums before going home and whipping up a storm in the kitchen for twelve of my closest friends. But this is how class is simply defined according the BBC and leading sociologists and academics in Britain’s top Universities who rate cultural interests, large groups of friends, ability to socialise and financial position in the new classification system as significant. Jill Kirby, the former director of Centre for Policy studies in a BBC interview about the new classification system says class in the modern society is irrelevant and I am inclined to agree. Perhaps this class system helps marketers to target their advertising more effectively, or maybe I am just being cynical.
I am a woman trying to get through life in the best way possible. I don’t want to fit into a category that labels me, in trying to define me doesn’t really take into account all the aspects and complexity of my life. I just want to manage the best way I can and in doing that I write lists, I prioritise and I give myself the space to say, not what I can’t do, but what I can. By being in a group that labels me, I feel it constrains me. I get through the day using the tips and techniques to give me the space to move through life with the least possible pain and disruption. If I shop at Aldi one day and Selfridges the next then I am surely just one of a number of people trying to make their way through life without the confines and shackles of class system. I believe we should open our minds to the possibilities, understand our own limitations and try to change our thinking to incorporate everyone. If we do this what a rich picture of life we will have and my best friends Chardonnay and Tyler firmly agree.
To view the “This Morning” interview go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edZjdgU0asM
To see the sketch by the Two Ronnies and John Cleese, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mURhNIjc-Kw
For more information about the Great British Class Survey go to www.bbc.co.uk/labuk/articles/class.