The Feminist Glass Escalator

Privately Educated (mostly), Oxbridge, English Literature feminists in the media

I am often struck by the lack of cognitive diversity among commentators on gender issues at outlets such as the BBC, Guardian and the Independent. They are almost invariably female, privately educated, from a social sciences and humanities background (usually English Literature) and disproportionately Oxbridge educated. They appear to believe that they speak from a privileged vantage point from which they can take an objective view of gender relationships. Call it the epistemic privilege of upper class feminists if you like.

About 7% of the population are privately educated and it is reasonable to assume about half of those are female, which is 3.5%. It is hard to know what fraction of that 3.5% goes on to read English Literature at Oxbridge. About 58 % of all school leavers go to an institution of higher learning and of those 1% go to Oxbridge. The latest statistics I can find show that 5.8 % of all students at Oxford are reading English Lit. So, in an egalitarian world, we might expect 0.002% of media commentators on gender issues to be of that background. There are of course some very crude assumptions operating here, perhaps more than 50% of private school leavers go to university for example. However, even if the figure is out by an order of magnitude it is still pretty troubling.  Even if we take out the private school dimension  (many commentators are somewhat coy about their own privilege and it isn’t stated on their Wikipedia entries) it doesn’t make a huge difference.

Why are Oxbridge English literature graduates so over-represented? The first and most obvious reason is what else can they do? They can’t do many socially useful tasks; deliver a baby, drive a taxi, design a bridge or fix a car to give  a handful of examples. If you combine this lack of useful training with a high sense of self-worth and entitlement it is hardly surprising that so many end up seeking status through seeing their names in print. While this may explain over-representation in the media in general it doesn’t explain why they gravitate towards toxic feminism and writing feminist clickbait. Here, you have to look at the nature of their education…

This subject has been handled better than I ever could in an opinion piece in Quillette by Neema Parveni  ‘The Stifling Uniformity of Literary Theory’. Students of English Literature are required to analyse literature according to predefined ‘theories’ (since they do not contain falsifiable propositions they are not theories in the true sense of the word). To put it another way, literature is analysed according to a set of a-priori beliefs and mined for examples that support those conclusions. This is not scholarship by any stretch of the imagination. The author divides these literary theories into….

Feminist MenWomenPatriarchy
Post colonial theoryColoniserColonisedPower
Race TheoryWhite peoplePeople of colourWhite supremacy
Queer theoryStraight peopleGay peopleHeteronormativity
Types of Literary Theory

At first sight, this may seem like a diverse range of tools with which you can ‘interrogate’ the text, but what they have in common is a lack of open-ended enquiry. For example if you analyse literature according to the a-priori theory that men are oppressors and women are oppressed, that is all you will find and you have a hermetically sealed system of thought from which useful information is unlikely to escape.

If you want to see what happens when this closed-ended system of thought comes into contact with a more open-ended scientific approach to gender studies just watch the Cathy Newman/ Jordan Peterson debate on Channel 4. Cathy was unable to understand or at times even listen to his arguments and resorted to reframing crude caricatures of what he actually said. And the infamous ‘so what you are saying is’ meme was born.

An incomplete list of English Literature feminists in the media

Katherine Viner. Editor of the Guardian. Educated at Ripon School. Read English Literature at Pembroke College Oxford.

Marina Hyde. Guardian Journalist. A grade-A posho who went to Downe House School and read English at Christ Church Oxford.

Gabby Hinsliff. Guardian Columnist. Schooling Unknown. Read English Literature at Queens College Cambridge.

Emma Brockes. Freelance journalist. Sometime contributor to the Guardian who once had to have an article about Noam Chomsky withdrawn for misrepresenting his views. Schooling not known. Read English at St Edmund Hall Oxford University.

Hadley Clare Freeman. Guardian Columnist. Educated at the Independent Cambridge Centre for Sixth form studies. Read English at St Annes College Oxford. I actually like Hadley’s writing and find it to be more nuanced than the majority of media feminists. I suspect life has not always been easy for her and perhaps that results in a less judgmental style of writing.

Laura Bates. Runs the Everyday Sexism project that collects unverified testimony author of the frankly toxic, Men who Hate Women. Schooling unknown. Read English Literature at St Johns College, Cambridge.

Ceri Radcliffe. Reviews books for the Independent and takes a strong feminist line. School is not known Read Medieval Languages at Downing College Cambridge.

Cathy Newman. C4 journalist who, though her incompetence as an interviewer,  did more than anybody to create the monster that Jordan Peterson was to become. Educated at private girls school in Guildford followed by Charterhouse. Read English Literature at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford.

Samira Ahmed. Broadcaster at the BBC. Educated at the independent Wimbledon High  School the read English at St Edmund Hall Oxford.

Alison Flood. Journalist at the Guardian. Read English literature at Cambridge.

Non-Oxbridge English Literature graduates. Sometimes media outlets ‘slum it a bit’ and look further afield for their biased points of view – but not often.

Jane Garvey. Presenter BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Educated at the Independent Merchant Taylor’s Girls School Crosby. Read English at Birmingham. Got into trouble for breaching the BBC impartiality guidelines when discussing the Brett Kavanaugh case.

This all matters because these people form an opinion cartel. For example, when Laura Bates’ book “Men who Hate Women’ was reviewed in The Independent by another Oxbridge English Literature graduate Ceri Radford who fails to do any fact checking or explore in greater depth any of the ideas contained in the book.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.


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