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‘I was called a skank because my high school did not have stables’

The intersection of classism and misogyny at Edinburgh University[1]

Writing by Grace Gallagher. Illustration by Dani Rothmann.

Despite class being an elephant in the room, class-based discrimination permeates through the language, networks, and spaces in the student experience at Edinburgh Uni, making it both a symbolic entity, but also a lived experience. Although this is not down to individuals alone and can also be funny (as we have seen with ‘Pollock TV’ and memes about out of touch posh students navigating the real world) when we consider the realities of class, moreover the impact that a culture of class superiority has on less affluent students, it is an issue that should be taken seriously.

I thought it would be interesting to conduct a survey on my Instagram to see what a broader student audience had to say, and what was initially supposed to be a more generalized scoop on classism, resulted in incredibly gendered responses, thus I thought it would be a good idea to investigate the intersections of misogyny and classism here at Edinburgh. In recent years, there has been a surplus of critical activism by the student body to tackle cultures of misogyny and gendered violence, yet there is a gap concerning the intersection of class and sexism, especially directed at working-class female students.

The survey yielded some very insightful details, women spoke about how they felt ‘shamed’ and ‘patronised’ in tutorials, articulating how boys especially had mocked their regional accents (many felt they had to alter them to be more ‘well spoken’) but also felt that especially in STEM subjects their opinions were disregarded, under the assumption that they were unintelligent for being from a less affluent city or family background. Another account spoke of how a boy had made her feel embarrassed at a flat party for not knowing about Karl Marx or Michel Foucault, which is deliciously ironic. However, there were more aggressive accounts directed at women such as one response recounting how she was called a ‘dirty povo’ at a Pollock party, and there seemed to be a semantic field of arguably classist and misogynistic language such as women being called ‘sluts’, ‘slags’, and ‘chavs’ for dressing in certain ways, or for their high school not having stables (which is clearly so vital for one’s education).

All jokes aside, this kind of language is not only classist and misogynistic in its tone, but by positioning the disdain felt for working-class women at university within the context of sexually belligerent language, it creates not only a demonization of less affluent women but a culture of shame and violence associated with working-class femininity. When positionality is concerned (where one sits on the social hierarchy) the implications of classist remarks against women, allows for the affirmation and superiority of masculine upper-class power, and the subordination of working-class women in academic spheres.

As historically, working-class women have been limited in their academic potential (especially in higher education), moving forward we need to be having open conversations about the intersections of classism and misogyny to make the student experience more inclusive and aspirational, but also remove the stereotype that working-class women are unintelligent and unworthy in academic spaces because after all, we all go to the same uni…

[1] Inspired by another article from the Rattlecap by Daniel Green, Lauren Galligan, and Eve Simpson which is an interesting and insightful piece about classism and the Scottish identity, I strongly suggest reading their work first!

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