Prescott’s Oxford Class War (from the Lords)

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My old sparring partner on Twitter, @JohnPrescott, is up in arms because @StephenNolan told him about a pupil from NI who was rejected by the University with seven Grade A* A-levels. The kid has now gone on to Stanford, many congratulations.

Prescott put this down to class war on the part of Oxford. Let’s get rid of this tired old myth once and for all. I said the kid probably wasn’t good enough for Oxford, and he probably wasn’t. Which is not to deny his evident high intelligence but to say he may not have had the specific type of intelligence required for Oxford.

I want to have breakfast outside so this is a bit rushed into bullet points, but

1. Seven Grade A* A levels is not the slam dunk it would have been in 1988, say. Labour’s grade inflation was epic. Very, very many pupils apply to Oxford with large numbers of A* A-levels.

2. Oxford admissions directors go out of their way to try to recruit undergraduates from working class backgrounds. It’s always an advantage and never a disadvantage.

3. However the university refuses, thank God, to drop its academic standards. They will not admit those who are not up to Oxford’s particular teaching style no matter where they come from.

4. This is not class-ist – the interview at Oxford matters more than the grades – grades just get you through the door to the interview. Kids with amazing A level records get turned down all the time FROM ALL BACKGROUNDS. My little sister, applying in 1991, had eleven grade A GCSEs, 3 grade A A levels, and two grade 1 S-levels (Scholarship levels – one grade above A levels back then. This was pre the worst grade inflation, of course, and there were no A*). She did not get in. She was turned down by Magdalen, Oxford and went to Trinity,  St. John’s,* Cambridge (and went on to be highly successful in two careers). My sister was privileged, but had never received a B in any subject in any stage of her school career. Turned down for Oxford. Not a class thing.

5. At Oxford (as opposed to Harvard and Stanford who both wanted the kid) you have a different TYPE of learning than in America. The Ivy League has you “Major” in one subject and “Minor” in another and you must take compulsory classes in various subjects.** At Oxford, you specialise in just one, at most two, and usually one, discipline. Thus his Seven As were irrelvant. They show terrific all round intelligence, suitable for any Ivy League college. They don’t, by themselves, prove or disprove mastery in his chosen subject.  And that’s what Oxford interviewers are looking for.

6. I went to Oxford with a worse record than my sister (10 O levels – 6As two Bs two Cs, 3 grade A A-levels). But I took a risk; I elected to take the then available Oxford Colleges Entrance Examination. If you passed, and passed your interview, you could matriculate with just two grade D A levels (I got three As anyway). The OCE was tougher than A levels. I took it in English. I wanted to differentiate myself from the flood, then as now, of highly qualified applicants jostling for places. I knew I wanted to specialise in Early English and related languages and therefore I taught myself Early Middle English through an old, Victorian Morris & Skeat primer in the school library, gathering dust, and sat the entrance exam writing a paper on “The use of cinematic imagery in “The Owl and the Nightingale”, adding in some references to “King Horn” as I recall.” As this was not on any school curriculum, and is the kind of thing they set at university, I was confident they would be surprised enough to invite me for interview. It worked.

I may have got those C’s in maths and biology O level  – I am rubbish at maths and science, I have an arts/humanities brain – but for Oxford, I could prove myself to have a level of mastery in my SPECIALISED subject of early English. That’s what they were looking for and they took me. Another note – OCE papers were identified by number only. Until they selected me for interview the college did not know my school, my class background, my race or even my sex. It was absolutely meritocratic.

If Prescott wants to get worked up about class and education he needs to get foursquare behind Michael Gove’s revolutionary programme of Free Schools, academic improvement and school independence from LEA’s. Not start chucking around class-ist accusations from his ermine robed seat in the Lords, an institution he professed to despise until they offered him a title. (I see you “Sir” Bob Russell MP. When the speaker first called Russell that a Labour wit heckled “satire is dead!”. We all laughed).

The kid from NI will do tremendous stuff at Stanford and be very well suited there. Or it could be he’s Oxford material but had a bad day at i/v. Unfortunately, 13 years of Labour grade inflation means Oxbridge have more qualified applicants than they know what to do with. It’s not classist.

Oxford has never been so. Indeed I only exist because Oxford admitted my mother, the working class daughter of a Union foreman from the East End (he worked the printing presses on the Daily Mirror), and at St. Hilda’s, she met my father (ChCh), from an old Derbyshire family of landed gentry. That was social mobility, 1968. Thank you Oxford for not being class-biased. I’ve enjoyed my life, and this porridge tastes delicious. Dominus Illuminatio Mea.

photo by Sisiphus007

* I get confused by the Fenland Poly colleges. So grey, the lot of them

** this is why I made it into Oxford but would almost certainly have been turned down by Stanford, unlike the NI pupil. I don’t have all-round intelligence, I am a specialist. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.

Tune in tonight on Sky Arts at 8pm to see me presenting Rock Icon!

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Brian Johnson, Jimmy Page, Lars Ulrich – all flew in for Peter’s surprise 60th birthday party. 

Hope you will watch Rock Icon tonight – exploring why \m/ metal has been so sneered at by the critics! I had stupid amounts of fun filming it.

Newslinks today – my post on secret Tory Metalheads for ConHome:

http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thecolumnists/2013/06/louise-mensch-im-a-conservative-who-loves-heavy-metal-heres-why.html

I’m told you can add Francis Maude to that list….

and my interview for the Sun with the great Brian Johnson about tonight’s show!

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4950681/louise-mensch-meets-acdc-brian-johnson.html?OTC-RSS&ATTR=News&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=twitterfeed

My Top Ten Rock Memories: (Rock Icon Saturday June 1, Sky Arts, 8pm)

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So tomorrow night on Sky Arts, 8pm, I’m coming out of the closet as a fully-fledged metal head.

This shot is of me getting into a race car with Brian – one he’d reassuringly told me was called “The Widowmaker” right before I got inside. I’m trying not to hyperventilate.

You haven’t lived til you’ve been fighting the G-forces on a Florida racetrack with your life in the hands of Newcastle’s biggest megastar.

So to celebrate, my top ten memories in rock (that I’m prepared to print, anyway)….. click post to read!

Continue reading “My Top Ten Rock Memories: (Rock Icon Saturday June 1, Sky Arts, 8pm)”

Reality based feminism?

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This blog was inspired by two of my favourite feminist opponents on Twitter, @pennyred (the journalist Laurie Penny of the New Statesman and the Guardian) and @jonanamary, the activist, who was so delighted by my comment about her that she “raises intersectional bollocks to an art form” that she put it in her Twitter bio.

There has been lots of debate about Conservative feminism but I want to talk about the way that most of the modern feminist movement, at least on line, appears to be wasting most of its time in frenzied internal debate about absolutely nothing, and in the process, solving absolutely nothing. It has come to be alien to the vast majority of women, who do not self-identify as feminists, and yet who, if asked, would support feminist goals.

“Intersectional bollocks”, in other words. “Check your privilege.” “Cis”. “Are white middle class stories the only ones worth telling?” and so on and so forth. Notable from their absence from these debates about terminology and frame of reference are male feminists; at some point even the most left-wing and right-on guy just tunes out. We have the unfruitful spectacle of some of the most left-wing commentators in Britain wondering if they are being left-wing enough, or if their background even gives them the right to make an argument. “Check your privilege”, for example, is a profoundly stupid trope that states that only those with personal experience of something should comment, or that if a person is making an argument, they should immediately give way if their view is contradicted by somebody with a different life story. It is hard to imagine a more dishonest intellectual position than “check your privilege”, yet daily I see intelligent women who should know better embracing it.

Laurie Penny is an absolutely prime example; she does it all the time. The other day on Twitter she told people not to rise to what she felt was a race-baiting article by Rod Liddle in the Spectator. She was quite right. Everybody with a blog knows what “don’t feed the trolls” means. However, she was angrily contradicted by the black comedian @AvaVidal who told her that people of colour were striking back and they should rise to it. Instead of defending her position, Penny caved, recanted, and commented mournfully that “having your privilege checked” was painful. Not for a minute did she consider that another person of colour might have agreed that you shouldn’t feed the trolls. Or that she was just as entitled to her opinion as her interlocutor. No, the woman debating with her was a woman of colour and therefore, despite being clearly and obviously correct, Penny had to back down.

@jonanamary (to give an example I’m just pulling directly out of her twitter stream) approvingly RTed an article by one Shelly Asquith, objecting to mockery of the racist EDL (English Defence League) thusly:

What #EDL really represent:
Beer bellies
Bad tattoos
Thuggery
Tacky ‘designer’ clothing”
We mustn’t do this, she says, because it is a class-based insult. Now we must watch how we insult racists. Never mind that a) the insult is a bang-on accurate description of EDL members and b) she is effectively saying that all of the above epithets are somehow working class, which seems more classist to me than the purported original insult.
 Jonanamary took issue with an early unfashionista blog over on Jux in which I said in passing that “vertical stripes don’t make you look thinner, jogging on the treadmill for half an hour five times a week makes you look thinner.” Why would I want to look thinner? This was fattist. Why should anybody want to have a healthy body weight? How dare I say that fashion models aren’t “normal women”. What about those women who are just naturally the size of spaghetti sticks? Anyway, what are normal curves? This is cis-ist to transsexual women who don’t have wombs…
At this point, I had drifted off into Monty Python’s Life of Brian, where Stan and Judith are debating whether they should stick up for Stan’s “right to have babies” even though he can’t have babies.
And that is what the modern feminist movement has become. Full of intersectionality, debates about middle-class privilege, hand-wringing over a good education (this is again “privilege” and not well deserved success), and otherwise intelligent women backing out of debates and sitting around frenziedly checking their privilege.
It does nothing. It accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing.
American feminism gets organised. It sees where power lies, and it mobilises to achieve it. It gets its candidates elected. Feminism here is about running for office, founding a company, becoming COO of Facebook or Yahoo. It is power feminism that realises that actual empowerment for women means getting more money, since money and liberty often equate, and being able to legislate or influence. Hillary Clinton shifted from First Lady to Senator. Before that she was a powerful lawyer. Before that she went to Yale. Today’s keyboard valkyries would be sneering at the graduates of Yale and asking them to take a long hard look at their privilege before offering an opinion to somebody not as high-achieving as they are.
Ultra-feminism’s mournful obsession with words and categories is making the movement a joke. In my piece below about What Men Want: Identity  I pointed out that Penny’s recent article on how masculinity oppresses men (yes really) had come up with the eye-popping “myth of the male breadwinner”, when men have been the primary breadwinners in all cultures at all times in history. Today, we must apparently check not only our privilege, but also reality, at the door. Men are not providers and are oppressed by the idea of providing, we would like to thank Big Brother for the increase in the chocolate ration and we have always been at war with Eurasia.
And by the way, reality-based feminism – where you achieve, try to earn lots of money, run for office, campaign for measurable goals like defeating Sen. Todd Akin – is not a province of Conservative feminism alone. When I think of a true feminist of the left that I admire I think of Stella Creasy MP and her campaign against payday loans. She’s doing something. She ran for office. She got involved in the Labour party. She matters immensely. She will change things.
This is not to say I don’t admire the two women I’ve singled out – I do, because they both write very well. But for now, they and all those like them leave the impression of a feminist version of Monty Python’s splinter groups – the Judean People’s Front screeching “Splitters!” at the People’s Front of Judea.
The picture at the top is of me at school aged 14. Big glasses, nerdy, feminist, ambitious, idolising Thatcher, and determined to be famous, to be an author, and to be rich. I was at private school my parents couldn’t really afford because I bust my ass and won a 100% academic scholarship. I always believed in myself and I had and have no intention of checking my privilege for anyone. I earned it. I hope the next generation of young women feel the same.

“Feminism, plastic surgery” – Rock Icon and the Times “exclusive” (Sky Arts, 8pm, this Sat)

last week I gave an interview to the Times set up by Sky Arts to talk about Rock Icon, our show with Brian Johnson of AC/DC out this Saturday at 8pm. I remember telling the PR that I wasn’t sure it was a great choice. The show explores heavy metal, our passion for it, why critics sneer at it and fans love it. Are heavy metal heads great readers of the Times? It’s not that known for a love of the dark stuff. More popular papers like the Sun, Mail, Express etc might be better. Plus, they’re behind a paywall.

But she was adamant and she’d agreed to an exclusive, saying they would concentrate on the show and touch on other stuff. So I went along with it.

We talked about the show – not as much as I would have wished – and moved on to questions about me. When this got a bit much I tried to steer it back to heavy metal and got something of an eye-roll. He asked about the plastic surgery row and I answered.

Today, the Times 2 tweeted this:

“Louise Mensch on feminism, plastic surgery and why she really moved to New York. Exclusive interview in tomorrow’s T2.”

You will note the glaring absence of the words “heavy” and “metal” there. Or of Brian Johnson, or of AC/DC.

The British press loves to accuse me of being publicity-seeking. This a prime example of the hypocrisy; I agree to an interview about a topic (metal) and another person (Brian Johnson) and the wonderful documentary we shot and it is printed as another navel-gazing pile of bollocks concentrating on my beauty treatments. Not by my wish.

There’s a basic trust that interview terms will be agreed to, especially if somebody (not me) has arranged and agreed an exclusive. They clearly ripped that up. So, social media allows me to at the very least print every single thing I told that journalist that could be of interest and to do it this afternoon/tonight.

And in case anyone thinks I’m being harsh, I had him on the phone just now “fact-checking” something and he confirmed the breaking of the interview terms – “I was told to profile you. We mention the documentary.”

Janice Turner of the Times (who has had many well-publicised run-ins with me) tweeted that I was being “spiteful” in writing this blog post. Really?

Well, I’ll tell you one thing; it makes a pleasant change for me to hear the press crying that they’ve been treated unfairly.

Continue reading ““Feminism, plastic surgery” – Rock Icon and the Times “exclusive” (Sky Arts, 8pm, this Sat)”

Access All Areas

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Peter and me this summer at Coachella, headlined by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom he co-manages. It was a pretty awesome backstage, with visitors including legendary producer Rick Rubin and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, whose son Patrick is a fan.

As you will note, I am wearing a white body from TopShop with a picture of a black tiger on it. I also wore a pair of shorts and FitFlops.

There’s something about rock and roll, and heat, and rock and roll combined with heat, that makes you think you can get away with anything. I kept that TopShop body in my drawer for years after buying it going “What are you thinking? You are 39. You cannot wear a body with a tiger on it.”

But I did wear it and I looked great in it.

Elsewhere I’ve blogged that exercise is the fountain of youth. Well, I want to add rock to that. It keeps you young, and fit, and connected with the purest part of yourself, the animal pleasure in both music and belonging to a rebel tribe. So we wear black leather and studs and tiger bodies.

On stage, Flea and Anthony Kiedis were bouncing around with quite extraordinary athletic ability in front of the sea of worshipping fans that stretched out as far as the eye could see. Peter lifts. Brian Johnson from AC/DC, and his wife Brenda, who looks 25 years younger than she is, work out fanatically too. They showed me their gym. He works, he drives, he races cars faster than speeding bloody bullets, he pumps iron and he can still sing his guts out in any gig or world tour. AC/DC’s Black Ice tour grossed almost a half a BILLION dollars. $441 million dollars. US, that is, not Australian. 

The fitter you are the harder you can rock. Hey, listen, Axl Rose used to be sexy. Not so much any more. And his stagecraft is as bloated as his chin. Come to think of it, all the musicians I know work out like the devil. You ever seen Rob Trujillo from Metallica, who I toured with as a 22 year old back when he was in Suicidal Tendencies? The dude is cut. 

I think fitness and rock go together these days because both bespeak a huge zest for life. Knocking you out with those American thighs…

Rock Icon: AC/DC’s Brian Johnson – Sky Arts, Saturday, 8pm.

from AC/DC to the Black Keys
from AC/DC to the Black Keys

At 26, my husband Peter scouted AC/DC for management. His first record with the band was “Highway to Hell.” He identified Bon Scott’s body in the morgue when he was found dead in his car, and he was there when Brian Johnson joined the band and took them to a wholly new level with “Back in Black.”

Sadly they fired him right after that. But as AC/DC went on to global superstardom, Peter and his partner Cliff thrived as managers. His firm Q Prime now manages, amongst others, the Black Keys.

It meant a lot to me to wear this t-shirt as we filmed this documentary. As a huge rock fan I’m incredibly proud of my husband. “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll” – except if you’re Peter Mensch, in which case it’s a bloody short way to the top and he’s never come down off the heights.

Before this documentary, Peter and Brian hadn’t spoken in over twenty years. Nervous? You bet I was.

Tune in to find out what happened on Sky Arts, this Saturday, 8pm.