Culture clash: Flo Perry encountered a wholly different subset of GWM at Durham University. Photo: A D Teasdale/Flickr
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Flo Perry: Could this be the age of the Great White Female?

When I was a fresher in 2010, feminist societies weren’t commonplace in universities. Now every campus in the country has one.

The Noughties were a bad time for rebellion. The third wave of feminism was old-fashioned – it wasn’t cool any more. People shrugged at lads’ mags and laughed along with date-rape jokes on national telly. But then something switched. Cosmo started asking all its interviewees whether they were feminists. Feminism became cool again and my generation picked up the baton. The fourth wave is rolling, but can we be the ones to overthrow my dad’s special subject: the Great White Male?

When I was a fresher in 2010, feminist societies weren’t commonplace in universities; if there was one, it was probably a bunch of postgrads discussing the minor works of Greer. Now every campus in the country has one. I didn’t know it, but when I started Durham University I needed that feminism society. I’d been brought up with the children of champagne socialists in comfy north London. I had a bowl cut and liked ugly T-shirts from the Eighties. Suddenly, I was mingling with boys who’d grow up to be the fourth generation of accountants for PwC. They’d never met a lesbian before and I’d never met a Tory: we couldn’t be more different and both be white, middle-class people from the south-east of England.Who’d have thought that being thrown from one middle-class breeding ground to another would be such a shock to the system? It was enough to shake the political apathy out of me.

In my second year I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, started browsing Jezebel and The Vagenda, and followed Laurie Penny on Twitter. Other girls were obviously feeling the change and Durham University had an active feminism society once more. Across the country, we weren’t the only people criticising rugby clubs’ drinking games and pooh-poohing outdated welfare policies. But are we making a difference?

The people with the power to stop the dictatorship of Great White Males are the Great White Males themselves. They are the ones who can choose to hire someone different. Once they have acknowledged they like to hire little clones of themselves and once they actively try to push out of their comfort zone, things will change. Hire someone from a state school you’ve never heard of and maybe that person will be the boss in 20 years.

We young fourth-wavers can point out the obvious; we can complain and campaign; we could tell the system to eff off, make feminist zines and live on organic vegan farms. But non-GWMs want to be corporate, too; we want the chance to rise in the ranks of PwC. Some of us want to be part of the system, not destroy it. It’s hard to tell someone they’re racist and sexist, that their company looks like the end of the Eton production line, and still ask them for a job.

Besides, feminism has grown up. We know anarchy isn’t the most effective agent for change. We want to work alongside the GWMs as equals – make shitloads of money, become bankers, even politicians. We just need the GWMs to let us in.

I currently work in one of the most modern and liberal environments there is, the offices of BuzzFeed. There are no ties; there’s a beanbag and gifs are an acceptable form of communication. Yet my supervisor, and boss, and his boss in America are all straight white males. In fact, pretty much everyone I know is employed by one.

Now I’m slipping into my semi-corporate world. It was quite easy for me, partly because everyone at work is all “Yeah, feminism!” and my boss is all up for diversifying. But it’s also because I’m not so different from the Great White Male. There’s only one characteristic I fall down on. So maybe the time of the Great White Female is soon. But I think the time of the Great Black Transgendered Lesbian who speaks with a working-class accent is quite far away. So even though I’m asking for a job, I’m still going to complain and campaign against the Great White Male. 

Flo Perry is a journalist at BuzzFeed

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Grayson Perry guest edit

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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