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 Across the country, we weren’t the only people criticising rugby clubs’ drinking games and pooh-poohing outdated welfare policies.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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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.