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Is ‘Chav’ a Feminist Issue?

2011 August 30

Chav, n. British slang (derogatory).  In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.

Oxford English Dictionary

Chav and other C-words

If ‘cunt’ is reportedly losing its power to shock or offend, don’t worry, other c-words are available. ‘Class’, for instance, appears to have become unsuitable for use in polite society these days, while ‘Chav’ has become commonplace in the respectable parlance of those who would never dream of using any other c-word so blithely. Owen Jones’s book Chavs, a welcome and necessary analysis of the latter phenomenon, identifies it as a culture “created and then mercilessly lampooned by the middle-class, rightwing media and its more combative columnists”. Chavs examines the word’s place in current political and cultural discourse in the context of a simultaneous narrowing of socio-economic opportunity and an erasure of traditional working-class identity.

cover image for "Chavs" by Owen Jones. White background with "CHAVS" in block capitals black sans-serif font. A checked burberry-style baseball cap is hanging from the letter V. The word is subtitled with the text 'the demonisation of the working class'.Before we begin, it’s worth heading off a few preconceptions at the pass. ‘Chav’ is a multivalent and unstable signifier, and the word’s origin and evolution shows it meaning different things to different people. It’s been around a relatively long time: a 2005 study described ‘chav’ as a strange subculture which, unlike its predecessors, lacked any association with a particular musical movement or political ideals. 2004 saw the rise of ‘chavertising’, a marketing strategy targeting ’chavs’ as a subculture with spending power, whose members ‘wore their wealth’ and prioritised consumption. At the tail-end of 2004, I attended a gig in Chatham by the former Libertine Carl Barat, whose dubious supergroup, in deference to the town’s history with the term, and with who knows what degree of irony or self-awareness, styled themselves ‘The Chavs’ for the evening. And the (working class and Welsh) novelty rap crew Goldie Lookin Chain were satirizing various aspects of ‘chav’ culture as far back as 2001.

Jones’s book, however, focuses on a particular and relatively recent variation in the word‘s meaning, one which is concentrated in political and media discourse and which is overwhelmingly used about the working class rather than by them. This hasn’t always been, and isn’t always the case – Lynsey Hanley’s review of the book locates the idea of ‘chavs’ within the complexities of working-class communities, where the word can be used to differentiate between ‘those who aim for “respectability” and those who disdain it’. Back in my 1990s comprehensive-schooled childhood, the latter group were certainly distinguishable, known with varying degrees of contempt, amusement or nervousness as ‘neds’ or ‘townies’. But these terms were localised, used within a community to delineate internal hierarchies, rather than to section off an entire community by those at one socio-economic remove from it.

Regardless of the tortuous relationship between the term and the demographic it describes, the use of the word in 21st century political discourse has developed a peculiar, specific and politically-loaded edge. Jones outlines how the word has been stripped of its previous meaning and reapplied in government and media rhetoric, almost invariably being conflated with ‘lower socio-economic group’ by those of a higher one, without reference to or cognisance of the lower socio-economic individuals being tarred with the same brush.

An equal-opportunity stereotype?

At first glance, ‘chav’ is a term tied to class rather than gender. Chav stereotypes are remarkably even-handed: for every lager-swilling lout there’s a single mother, for every Wayne Rooney a Waynetta Slob. The sports gear and leisurewear prominent in ‘chav’ uniform is a type of dress which makes it possible to efface one’s femininity with shapeless tracksuits and scraped-back hair. The baseball cap which graces the cover of Jones’ book is a gender-neutral accessory. Is the female ‘chav’ a recognisable figure? A google image search for ‘chavette’ brings up images of relative deprivation and degradation rather than the upwardly-mobile targets of ‘chavertising’ – the ubiquitous Croydon facelift, tracksuits, pregnant stomachs and yards of bare skin. Many of these are self-conscious or pastiche portrayals by those not identifying as a permanent part of the subculture – a kind of chav drag. There’s also a Newcastle fancy-dress company selling a ‘Super Chavette’ costume, as well as several ‘chav babe’ sites – the straight, and no less curious, counterpart of the numerous gay male chav-porn sites discussed here by Jack Cullen. And the ‘chav’ icon extraordinaire is of course female too – Little Britain‘s Vicky Pollard, one of the oddest fictional stereotypes to be fixed as a moral standard since George Bush Senior instructed America to be ‘more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons’.

Still from Little Britain. Vicky Pollard, played by actor Matt Lucas, is represented as a sour-faced overweight blonde woman in a lurid pink tracksuit. She is pushing a row of six toddlers in conjoined prams. Image copyright BBC, used under fair use guidelines.The types of women stereotyped as ‘chavs’ make an interesting point about the particularly virulent strain of misogyny which chav-hatred can contain. Anti-chav commentators reveal a disquieting obsession with the presumed sexual precociousness and promiscuity of young working-class women, as well as their aggressive lack of deference and their status outside traditional family and community hierarchies. The behaviour for which ‘chavs’ are criticised includes being too loud, too flash, too drunk, too vulgar and too disrespectful towards their ‘betters‘. Is this particularly problematic behaviour when observed in women?

The tendency for anti-chav rhetoric to thinly veil both misogyny and class hatred reached an eyebrow-raising pitch with James Delingpole’s spittle-flecked rant that Vicky Pollard embodies:

… several of the great scourges of contemporary Britain: aggressive female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye…

Here an anti-chav stance allows a thoroughly unpleasant perpetuation of damaging stereotypes of the working class female (sexual promiscuity, sexual precociousness, a thoughtless or scheming lack of protection resulting in pregnancy) as well as a proscribing of non-traditional behaviour (women existing outside traditional family roles, deriving financial support from the state rather than a husband). All this with barely a glance at context or circumstance. Imogen Tyler’s 2008 study ‘Chav Mum, Chav Scum’ found not only that the word ‘has become a ubiquitous term of abuse for the white poor’, but also that “the figure of the female chav, and the vilification of young white working-class mothers, embodies historically familiar and contemporary anxieties about female sexuality, reproduction, fertility, and ‘racial mixing.'”

This gendered and class-based disgust has become particularly prevalent in UK comedy, as identified in Barbara Ellen’s wrecking-ball swing at Little Britain:

Rewarding middle-class, educated, comedy workaholics for lampooning people without any of their advantages, struggling on the margins of society – was this where we’d come to, a boorish festival of exploitation and contempt? … Vicky Pollard alone gave certain sections of the media a label for the disgust they love to express towards young girls spiralling downwards, due to poverty, illiteracy and teen pregnancy…

While the comedies in question do not exclusively portray working class and female characters, the unedifying sight of Oxbridge-educated male comedians sticking it to underclass female grotesques does form part of a disconcerting trend in contemporary comedy towards punching downwards. Pace Kathy Burke as the proto-chav Waynetta Slob, the only recent mainstream female comedian to draw on this stereotype has been Catherine Tate as Lauren Cooper, a character who compared to Pollard is relatively nuanced and sympathetic. (One of Cooper’s appearances has as its pay-off her unsuspected and incongruous knowledge of Shakespeare, rather than a further display of the depths of her blissful ignorance.)

Are we bovvered, though?

Catherine Tate as Lauren Cooper, a white teenage character with scraped back auburn hair, gold hoop earrings and an expression of disgust on her faceApart from the latent misogyny informing some chav-hatred, then, why is ‘chav’ a feminist issue? The ‘chav’ stereotypes which have gained media prominence and cultural currency are those which are politically useful, being amenable to adoption for narratives which draw on the idea of a semi-criminal, scrounging, feckless underclass to justify political attacks on all of us lower down the socio-economic scale. Many of these stereotypes are female, just as many of the targets of these attacks will be. The current government’s rhetoric repeatedly plays on the stereotype of the idle and recklessly promiscuous single mother, whose ‘irresponsibility’ must be punished, to validate the wider reduction or removal of state support from benefits claimants – even though over half of single parents are in paid employment, a figure rising to 71% for those with a child over the age of twelve. The Daily Mail, happily conflating fact and fiction, used a picture of Waynetta Slob to illustrate an article on the increased number of women claiming sickness benefit, accompanied by the headline ‘Rising toll of ‘Waynettas’. As the smoke cleared after last month’s riots over much of the UK, the single mother was again in the firing line, along with the moral decline, sexual depravity, and social disintegration she is held to represent.

There is still a frustrating lack of attention to class paid by mainstream feminism, whose academic and theoretical focus is often divorced from practical considerations of material inequality, with the result that feminist analysis can seem off-puttingly remote and attuned only to middle-class concerns. Far from having vanished as a vector of political identity, class remains a stubborn and strengthening line of social division. The concept of the stereotypical ‘chav’, and its expansion into a term covering an entire externally-defined and already disadvantaged group, can make socio-economic differences appear insurmountable barriers, erasing the potential for solidarity over the common problems we face. Acknowledging that the discourse around ‘chavs’ can be disingenuous, and can provide a cover for denigrating the social agency and sexual autonomy of working-class women, as well as for wider political attacks on the unemployed and working poor, would be a significant step forward.

*

Rhian Jones also blogs at Velvet Coalmine.

45 Responses leave one →
  1. Polly permalink
    August 30, 2011

    Brilliant article. Thank you.

  2. Lizzie B permalink
    August 30, 2011

    Fantastic post. Loads of insight and points well made. I want to read that book now!

  3. August 30, 2011

    Rhian,

    Are you Owen’s mum?

    • August 30, 2011

      Wayne,

      Aw, I was going to make that joke myself.

      • August 30, 2011

        Sorry – couldn’t help it.

        But seriously, good piece. Very clear (with Tory agenda) how much the ‘chav’ phantom is used to castigate and oppress w-class women – especially regarding reproduction and financial independence (most cuts seem to directly targetted at them). Apart maybe regarding crime, the most vicious media demonising is nearly always directed at girls and women.

        That Vicky Pollard pic (and Waynetta) are key examples of racist overtones too. I’m sure David Starkey frets over mixed-raced babies as a kind of national ‘contamination’.

        • Laura M permalink
          August 30, 2011

          I hadn’t really thought about the “racial mixing” aspect of chav-hatred before seeing that Little Britain picture and reading Imogen Tyler’s (excellent, as is this!) article.

          I suppose it’s a perfect storm in terms of stereotypical shorthand – several babies of visibly different ethnic backgrounds make the idea of That Benefits-Scrounging Slut with half a dozen kids by different fathers more obvious, combined with the stereotypes of irresponsible (usually?) black men impregnating and moving on (in addition to that already being a working-class/’chav’ stereotype regardless of race).

        • August 30, 2011

          Thank you.

          I’m kind of surprised (I’m sure I shouldn’t be) at how little the ‘chav’ phenomenon has been analysed with attention to gender as well as class, even given how often the two categories are held to be mutually exclusive.

          And yes, there are equally clear and unpleasant anxieties around race underlying the policing of how working-class women conduct their sex and family lives, which I guess Starkey was just making explicit…

          • August 30, 2011

            I think it’s because the mythical girl who gets pregnant to get a flat (gets pregnant FIVE TIMES!!! to get MULTIPLE FLATS???) is such a favourite target of abuse – this is an obvious point, of course, but not only is the young-working-class-single-mother-of-several an unquestioned target to attack, but she’s also almost completely unheard within the feminist movement that might be expected to support her.

            The thing is, though, whereas class privilege is something some middle-class feminists (of both genders) are willing to acknowledge and/or oppose, there’s still a lingering distaste for the working-class culture with which these young mothers are implicated.

            Sometimes, from a social justice POV, objections to, okay, aspects of stereotypical fashion & media purchased/consumed by young working-class women, are acceptable within a feminist theoretical framework. I can totally see the theoretical objections to e.g. tramp stamps, red-top newspapers, soap operas, textspeak, the X Factor, revealing sportswear-as-outerwear, whatever. But it just manifests as massive snobbery. So there’s theoretical solidarity with their working-class sisters, but OBVIOUSLY not to the extent of, you know, being LIKE THEM.

            Thus the kind of attention much feminism offers to young working-class women (with or without baby or babies) ends up being remote, London-centric, produced in a tertiary-education register, derogatory towards the values and experiences offered by their family & upbringing, and just incredibly irrelevant and snobby (not that local options aren’t equally shit, sometimes– one local SureStart I heard of (local to Midlands) tried to get teenage mothers on benefits to come together & spend their copious free time making their own allotments, in order to grow vegetables in order to puree them in order to feed their babies. Jesus Christ. I don’t want to do that, why should they? It’s called a jar).

  4. Brave Sir Robin permalink
    August 30, 2011

    I think this is a great article, and a really interesting read. I just wanted to add some thoughts from a different perspective. I have a very strong dislike of ‘chavs’ and I am hoping I can convince you it is for a valid reason, free of gender and class bias (*gulp* – can I live up to my lofty ideals?). I’d also be interested to hear what people thought of the racial aspect of ‘chav’. It is a term that is predominantly applied to white people rather than other ethnic groups.

    I worked for a year as a teacher in Bermondsey, everyone was in school uniform so it was rarely possible to assess people on the basis of dress. As far as I could tell from other clues such as accent, expectations and parental situations probably 90% of the intake or more were working class backgrounds. However there was definitely a subsection of the student population that I would identify as chav, based almost exculsively on their attitude towards myself and other members of staff.

    This is the thing that I most dislike about the chav stereotype and makes the two comedy characters mentioned basically unwatchable to me. They have an absolutely kneejerk reaction to authority figures of any kind – one of vocal disrespect. The mere idea of someone telling them what to do provokes rage and defiance, regardless of whether it might be a good idea. Frequently aggressive and insulting, this reaction made it extraordinarily difficult to teach, both these students themselves and those around them.

    I left the school after a single year, for many reasons, but the attitude of this subset of the students was certainly a big contributing factor. To me the label ‘chav’ will always describe this type of person, and therefore a strong feeling of dislike. These students were both male and female, probably a slightly higher proportion of the former, though they were always working class (in further to my previous point about race the majority of this group were also white, but there were plenty of members from all ethnic groups). I worry that I am about to create a deserving/undeserving poor dichotomy, which is a philosophy I find absolutley detestable, but I cannot deny, that to my eyes there was a big difference between the two predominant subsets of the student body. Those who wanted to learn and those that didn’t. (I also don’t want to give the impression I am arguing for blind obedience to authority in all or in fact any context, but the instinctive and total lack of respect was very difficult to deal with.)

    I would also raise the issue of identification. I have never met someone who would describe themselves as a chav. Even amongst this group of students that I have been talking about chav was flung around as an insult within the group, whilst I imagine there are people who would happily describe themselves as a chav, I am not sure it is quite as simple as the middle class applying it to the working class.

    Have I been prejudiced? Am I unknowingly perpetuating some form of discrimination? I would really like to know if I am – any comments would be appreciated.

    • clare permalink
      August 30, 2011

      Great post and debate. Sir Robin, I’m no expert but it seems that what you are describing (Sir Robin) has a lot to do with power and the structure of the place you are teaching. Children, and when it comes to the poor sometimes adults as well, are not given the chance to articulate that they don’t want to learn whatever it is that we want to teach them. Our education system has not thought of a way to handle those that “don’t want to learn”, nor has society really valued education for everybody, not just the ‘gifted and talented’ or whatever we call them now. The effect, over generations, is that groups end up not liking each other. Day-to-day we can mostly avoid direct conflicts and politely ignore each other, pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s there.

      So the point (since you asked) where I would suggest you could may be getting into discrimination territory is the phrase “instinctive lack of respect”. That sounds like it’s innate, when in fact it’s probably learned and most of your students could probably point to some experience, personally or through people they know, that justifies their suspicion of those in power.

      None of this makes it any easier for teachers and I’m not putting forward any practical solutions here, but I think this comes back to Rhian’s final point that our attitudes need addressing on a society-wide level, that tolerance, solidarity and (genuine) respect need reviving. It’s an example of something we’ve left to politicians to fix, and perhaps neglected to think of as a common responsibility.

      • Brave Sir Robin permalink
        August 31, 2011

        Thanks for your thoughts, I think I see what you mean, and you’re right – partly it is a reaction to the education system (which I believe is fundamentally broken anyway, but this is not the forum for me to begin that debate) but it’s also often a reaction to societal context as well, some of which sadly is formed by characters such as vicky pollard and lauren cooper, but also clearly it is partly formed by what I guess they would perceive as the collective sneer that most of society offers them.

  5. Pet Jeffery permalink
    August 30, 2011

    I noted James Delingpole’s use of the phrase “gym-slip mums”. British schoolgirls had ceased to wear gymslips before my 1950s childhood. I wonder what the agenda is in envisaging school-age mothers as dressed like their great grandmothers (or, perhaps, members of a more remote generation).

    • August 30, 2011

      Yes, that struck me as oddly anachronistic too – I suppose it might tie into the general nostalgiac world-view of a Telegraph reader, but that piece was for the Times…

    • August 30, 2011

      Au contraire. Gym slips were still common when I left compulsory education a decade ago.

      • August 30, 2011

        (Though admittedly only among the younger girls.)

        • Pet Jeffery permalink
          August 30, 2011

          Those younger girls, I assume, were too young to be “gymslip mums”. While younger girls sometimes wore pinafore dresses while I was young, I can’t recall seeing anyone wearing an actual gymslip other than as fancy dress or a fantasy costume. Perhaps (very probably) the gymslip survived much longer in some parts of the country than in others. In the nature of things, as a child, I was pretty well confined to my home town (Southend-on-Sea) during term time, and unable to see what children wore to school in other parts of the country.

          • Jem permalink
            August 31, 2011

            I think you put your finger on it when you mention “fancy dress” and “costume”. Delingpole’s rhetoric seems incapable of engaging with the people he’s discussing except through stereotypes, or in this case the revealing intersection between two. Though he’s trying to suggest the incongruity of a girl at school also being a parent, he instinctively frames her as the Blyton/ Skool Disco “schoolgirl”, which comes close to derailing his point.

            Reminds me rather of Ju Gosling’s work on school stories, where she suggests that the idea of a “schoolgirl” often involves not only a potential leer, but also an undercurrent that educating young women at all is somehow incongruous or funny. Even as he sets up “gymslip” as normative, and “mum” as deviant, his language involves a snigger at the idea that the girl in question could be taken seriously, even without pregnancy.

          • Pet Jeffery permalink
            August 31, 2011

            I think you’re exactly right, Jem. There seems some implication that educating girls is an unworthy or even ludicrous enterprise. It occurs to me to link this with the occasional media panics that girls are doing better than boys at school. I wonder whether anyone (in the mass media) would have remarked on it had boys been doing better than girls.

  6. Janette permalink
    August 30, 2011

    I love this. <3

  7. August 30, 2011

    Excellent post. I’m interested in the contrast you draw between Vicky Pollard & Lauren, in particular – it’s something I’d not thought about sufficiently!

    • August 30, 2011

      See, I almost immediately found myself liking (for a given value of ‘liking’, etc) Lauren more than Vicky, and not merely due to a chip-on-shoulder evaluation of the differences between Tate and Lucas. Possibly I find Lauren an occasionally sympathetic caricature, whereas Vicky Pollard is a grotesque, rendered with what seems like utter disgust for all she embodies and represents.

      • August 30, 2011

        I think there’s inferences to be drawn from the Tate/Lucas comparison which can be icky even without a chip-on-shoulder; seeing Lucas “do” a repulsive femininity which is meant to be all the more repulsive because Pollard is fat & also considers herself sexually attractive is… problematic. Especially considering that ALL of Little Britain uses really problematic attitudes to weight (not that most mainstream TV does) – all right, Margery is much less sympathetic than her “Fat Fighters”, but it’s her making the jokes and not them. Rob Brydon’s character in the Desiree/Bubbles sketches is clearly presented as perverted; Desiree and Bubbles are horrible people. One of the ways in which Tingtong’s inadequacy to both her brochure-form and her rival Ivanka is signalled is by making them thin & her fat. It’s Lucas’s body to use, of course (although Walliams both blacks & pads up for Desiree) – but the League of Gentlemen used to manage to play female characters as vicious and repulsive WITHOUT using fatness as a kind of shorthand semiotic signal that Now’s The Time To Be Revolted, folks (the nastiest women were invariably played by the small and slight Reece Shearsmith).

        OTOH, I don’t know if it helps Lauren be taken seriously/sympathetically that she’s relatively thin. I also think it helps that Lauren & Catherine Tate are tied into each other’s public personae and look very similar (obviously!) – Tate has played the voluble, witty, often working-class-sounding woman to great acclaim across all sorts of registers now, including Shakespeare!

        Also, that Shakespeare sketch with Lauren, jesus christ, CTATE I LOVE YOU. /collapse of serious discussion.

        • Laura M permalink
          August 30, 2011

          The Shakespeare sketch was the Lauren Cooper segment that always looms largest in my memory, which is possibly why I give Catherine Tate a fair amount of faith/credit in ALL THINGS. Also, she’s just a great performer, her and Tennant, their repartee, etc etc [fill in blanks of my actor-duo-fangirling]

          the League of Gentlemen used to manage to play female characters as vicious and repulsive WITHOUT using fatness as a kind of shorthand semiotic signal that Now’s The Time To Be Revolted, folks (the nastiest women were invariably played by the small and slight Reece Shearsmith).
          That’s a good point. I haven’t revisited LoG in a loooong time, but yes, for a trio of men I don’t *remember* them particularly pissing me off with any of their female portrayals. Well…except Barbara. Was that her name? I hestitate to even call her a portrayal.

          • Russell permalink
            August 30, 2011

            I think there’s an extent to which with the League all of the characters at least feel a little more observational-based rather than stereotype-based, even when they are taken to horrible grotesquery (Tubs). Also, for better or worse, the League’s characters ARE characters with their own motivations and stories; Vicky Pollard is just a caricature.

          • August 30, 2011

            Tubbs was also not ACTUALLY more grotesque than Edward (except for breastfeeding a pig); and, yes, motivations and characterisations! I think a big testament to how they played women was the Christmas episode in which Shearsmith’s evil-wife-character (cannot remember name, but Julie’s mother, had an affair with Tony) was given a female friend played by Liza Tarbuck. Unlike Pollard & her gang where the joke was partly the ludicrousness of these “real” girls vs the pantomime dame, there WAS no difference between Shearsmith and Tarbuck. You forgot one was a man, they were just actors playing characters.

          • August 30, 2011

            Barbara = dreadful & lord knows unnecessary & even though in personality she was one of the nicest characters (& relatively well-accepted by the others), it’s the bit that really makes me wince. And you’re right, that has to qualify any assessment (and, er, reinforce what a fucking crap ripoff of LoG Little Britain truly was – cf Florence and Emily. Barbara was a way better character) of LoG’s treatment of women.

            Otherwise, though, I definitely stand by the point.

        • August 30, 2011

          Awesome comments, both here and above, thank you.

      • Laura M permalink
        August 30, 2011

        Moving away from class representations for a moment, that comparison reminded me of this post I read a while ago http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-484 , specifically the bit half way down comparing The Guild with The Office, which I did find a useful distinction between stereotypes and archetypes. A lot of (good and bad) comedy uses, or at least references, stereotypes or caricatures, but I think most of the good stuff is “presenting us with the sort of characters who we very readily recognise, and yet allowing them to develop beyond that into people in their own right”.

        I haven’t seen enough of Lauren Cooper to know if she does that – but yeah, I’m pretty sure Vicky Pollard doesn’t. And yes, from the bits of the CTS I saw, Lauren didn’t seem to be written with the same complete contempt.

        • Pet Jeffery permalink
          August 30, 2011

          It may seem an obvious a point, but I think that a substantial part of the difference between Vicky Pollard and Lauren Cooper is that the former was created by a man, and the latter by a woman. I wouldn’t wish to claim that men can’t create sympathetic and multi-faceted female characters (which would obviously be untrue). But I suspect (correct me, if anyone knows to the contrary) that Matt Lucas is a gay man who doesn’t much like women in any readily-identifiable sense of the word ‘like’.

          • Russell permalink
            August 30, 2011

            Perhaps, but since we also brought up the League of Gentlemen, they were capable of creating similar characters that were funny in a painful way without being completely offensive – as many of Walliams’ and Lucas’ characters are, not just Vicky Pollard.

        • August 30, 2011

          I think class representations are definitely bound up in it, though – to the attitude of creator to creation. Tate and Lauren’s accents are not identical but they’re broadly similar; Tate herself was also working-class and state-educated. Lucas was a public schoolboy. It goes beyond gender, there.

          • Pet Jeffery permalink
            August 31, 2011

            Yes, as far as we can judge from his work, Matt Lucas seems to harbour snobbery, as well as misogyny.

  8. Brave Sir Robin permalink
    August 30, 2011

    Having heard all the positive comments about catherine tate and the lauren cooper sketch i tried watching it again. It’s horrible. It’s not even parody. I taught 5 or 6 students who acted just like that. The shakespeare ending is nice, but sadly the only unrealistic portion of the thing. Sigh. Being a teacher can be so depressing.

    • August 30, 2011

      Thanks for your comments.

      I’d never suggest Lauren Cooper as a *positive* portrayal – merely one which, particular when contrasted with Vicky Pollard, contains some nuance. In the Shakespeare sketch the audience is at least temporarily invited to laugh *with* Lauren as she displays an unexpected and triumphant level of cultural knowledge. With Vicky Pollard the audience only ever seems invited to laugh *at*.

      • Brave Sir Robin permalink
        August 31, 2011

        Yeah, I am sure no one would argue the character is to be taken in that way. And I agree about the ending of that particular sketch. I just meant that the character in general is really hard to watch as a teacher. Personally I find it hard to appreciate the humour in the things that make my job harder and more depressing – even when I know they are there – which is all I meant by my comment.

  9. Kerry permalink
    August 30, 2011

    It’s remarkable that feminism has rarely been interested in class – gender apparently being far more relevant. I recall coming under attack at a feminist group in the seventies for suggesting that class might matter more – and that any genuine change would be unlikely to emerge from a focus on one gender – and a pretty middle class gender at that. Oh the grief I got! So what’s changed? Only that now ‘working class’ apparently means ‘unemployed’ or ‘impoverished’ rather than what it once meant – which most of us were proud of.

    By the way – on the feminist front – the strongest and toughest women I ever knew came from the working class.

    • August 30, 2011

      My mother, raised working-class, taught me everything important about feminism.

      I think the biggest problem is that middle-class contemporary feminism speaks in a university-educated register, and is disdainful of female working-class culture. Theoretically seeking solidarity with working-class women, but wanting to make clear that they’re much too enlightened to participate in the kinds of mass media typically popular with a working-class audience.

      • Pet Jeffery permalink
        August 31, 2011

        Class, as well as gender, obviously makes a big difference to people’s life chances. And, with social inequality increasing (and having, to their shame, increased under a Labour government) class clearly makes an increasingly large difference.

        I think a large measure of blame for the working classes being held is such low esteem belongs with Mrs Thatcher. She seemed to have a deliberate policy of wrecking British manufacturing and mining industries. In their place, she promoted so-called “service industries”. What place the working class in her vision of Britain? (A vision that hasn’t, since her time, been seriously challenged by mainstream politicians.)

  10. Nancy permalink
    August 30, 2011

    I wonder if you’ve seen this book –

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Up-Girl-Psycho-social-Explorations/dp/033364784X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314738213&sr=8-1

    – as it is v germane to this post.

    Def on my radar as of late.

  11. kirsty permalink
    August 31, 2011

    Great article. Have been pleased to see this book making some waves: it’s disturbing that class-hatred does seem to be considered the ‘acceptable prejudice’. I was in Clapham Junction the other day, and on one of the hoardings much-reproduced by the Metro et al (‘thanks, riot cleanup! you rock!’) was a scrawl reading ‘chavs will burn in hell’. Yet Clapham Junction is being held up as somehow representing ‘real London’.

    Oh well, maybe it does.

    On another note, have you seen Fish Tank? Seems to be widely considered ‘a celebration of Essex and its womanfolk’. I thought it was hideously depressing! Might be an interesting one to consider though, as it is a kind of female ensemble drama, set in an Essex Council estate…

    • Pet Jeffery permalink
      September 1, 2011

      As someone from Essex, I prefer to avoid mass media treatment/stereotyping of the population of my native county. It’s a bit like not wishing to look at a car crash. But it’s not just the mass media.

      In the early 1990s, I was working in an office in Southend-on-Sea. Whilst there, a young woman handed me an A4 sheet of Essex girl jokes. She wasn’t singling me out, she gave a copy to everyone. Most of the jokes have long since passed beyond recollection. One sticks in my mind, though… or perhaps it sticks in my throat (though the others were in a similar vein):

      Why does an Essex girl wear knickers? To keep her ankles warm.

      The jokes were filled with misogyny, and a geographical stereotyping/prejudice we would regard as racism if the people of Essex qualified as a race. (If it had been, say, “Why do Jamaican girls wear knickers?” it would certainly be racist.) There were also, I think, class issues. The word “chav” had yet to gain wide currency, but the implication seems to have been that Essex girls were chavs.

      I said to the young woman distributing the A4 sheets: “But you’re an Essex girl.”

      “Yes,” she replied, sounding slightly (but only slightly) troubled, “I am.”

      This seems to me to raise a lot of issues to do with stereotyping, and self-oppression — as well as having something to say about the prehistory of stigmatising people as “chavs”.

  12. lindsey permalink
    September 20, 2011

    I think that a lot of the reaction against chav clothing was to do with many of these clothes giving the wearer more freedom, Sports wear can be seen as unisex, when its not all pink and this clothing removed the oppressivness of restrictive clothing. In the late 90’s womens clothes became less restrictive, then they changed the fashion. In victorian times middle class women wore clothes that were more restrictive to keep them in place, but like now the women in those times in a sense did it to themselves by choosing these clothes to prove there were high class and not look like a (chav) pesant. Even in past times working class women were not as sexually oppressed as richer women, but working class people were always made to feel like they had to prove there decency, this kept them in place. Last decade most womens clothes outside chav wear were quite complicated, expensive when compared to mens and restrictive. This decade does set to change things somewhat, as i think that having a tory government will switch this snobbish set of middleclass people off trying to be better then working class people and onto socialism. It may be some have took there anger at the sucess of feminism out on the working class. Feminism will rise again too this decade, when all the middleclass women realise there freedoms have been won long ago and they no longer need to spend there lives living a moral code to prove there not a chav.

    No one can stop the begginning of the age where all are free from class restraints, and false judo-christian moral code. Chavs are angry, and appear angry to the middle class, as a reaction to the way they are demonised, i know how they feel as im active so wear trainers that are gym trainers aswell as converse. When im wearing my nike gym trainers there is a big difference in how im treat by both sexes. There are a lot of middle class people around where i live, many of them libreral and as much for gender equality as i am. But when they see me coming towards them down a quite street in nike trainers they do give off a reaction of fear. Thats because the working class people who wear them have been made into angry monsters in the media, so when they see these clothes people fear violence. If you are in a position where these clothes are all you have got, then you will have to deal with people reacting to you like that every day, which is just not fair. It is gonna make you angry towards middle class people, because you might not understand why they are reacting like that and pass them off as snobs. Like i did once.

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