Tag Archives: privilege

Equality and Equestrianism: some thoughts on my day at the Olympics

I was lucky enough to go to the Olympics this week. My family only applied for one event, which was really the only one we cared about enough to brave queues and public transport for – the cross-country section of the Equestrian eventing. We’re a horse-loving family (with the exception of my dad, who enjoys watching equestrianism but not on the same level as my sister, mum and me) so it was a no-brainer to apply for those tickets. It was a pretty great day out – despite Greenwich Park being far too overcrowded, and having to queue for forty minutes or so to get in, and then another half hour to fill up our water bottles.

However what really made the day special was the realisation, courtesy of the commentator, that the eventing is the only sport in the Olympic Games where men and women compete in the exact same event, under the same conditions, on an equal level. This made me incredibly happy, not just as a feminist, but as someone who has always loved riding (albeit I haven’t been on a horse in several years). Throughout my childhood and adolescence, when my sister and I were constantly riding at our local stables, in competitions and at Pony Club (yes, I know, I’m more upper class than a lobster bisque at a formal dinner), gender was never an issue. It was never “a girl’s sport” or “a boy’s sport”. When I learned to play football at my all-girls’ school, it was a different matter. I had it easy, by virtue of the fact that it was an all-girls’ school and so the girls who played football weren’t judged by our peers. But I still had this knowledge that womens’ football wasn’t really considered a “proper” sport for girls – it’s still the case in many schools that boys play football or rugby and girls do dance. Not that there’s anything wrong with dance – but you get my point.

So it was pretty awesome to see the eventing on Monday – not least because the GB team consists of one man and four women, one of whom, Mary King, is basically my hero: she’s a terrific rider and sportswoman, always keeps her cool and exhibits near perfect horsemanship at every event I’ve seen her at. The Olympics was no exception: she and the rest of the time rode exceptionally well and they deserve the silver team medal which they ended up winning.

Another thing which I loved about the Eventing was that, at the medal ceremony, Germany – who won the gold – invited England and New Zealand, the respective silver and bronze medal winners, up onto the podium. I don’t mean that they did this how many other champions do, inviting them to move closer for a token photo – they actively beckoned and helped the other teams squish onto the gold platform. It was a sight of genuine community and pride, something which has always characterised the equestrian community for me. Most of the large events I’ve seen (Badminton, Olympia and so on) have the same feeling. Regardless of the nationality of the riders, audiences at all equestrian events are surprisingly non-partisan. At the Olympics, it wasn’t really surprising that the British riders got the loudest cheers – but the spectators were unsparing in their applause for the other competitors. Ultimately, the sheer joy of watching someone exist in perfect harmony with a horse trumps patriotic instincts. The German team deserved their gold because their performances were superb, and I genuinely didn’t sense any hard feelings from the home crowd.

I wanted to write this because, in a week when Jan Moir (an utterly vile woman and a poor excuse for a journalist) called the cyclist who beat GB’s Lizzie Armistead “some bitch from Holland”, and the U.S.A swim coach’s knee-jerk response to the Ye Shinwen’s storming victory was to accuse her of drug abuse, it’s nice to remember that sometimes the Olympics – and sport in general – can genuinely focus on the sheer talent and grit of the athletes. My only wish on the equestrian side of things is that it will start to be seen as a sport that more people can access, as opposed to a pastime for the upper classes. Much of my childhood was spent on horseback and in stables, through which I developed independence, responsibility, respect, compassion, and the capacity for hard work. I was, and still am, economically privileged – and whilst there are some stable yards that will go the extra mile to include less privileged kids, more needs to be done. Riding is such an excellent sport and one which, as I mentioned, isn’t predicated on the perceived capabilities or strengths of different genders. If the Olympics is truly to “Inspire a Generation”, where better to start?

Note: I was going to write about feminism and the Olympics, but as per usual, The F Word has done so far more succinctly and effectively than I could have done with this lovely round-up. There is also an excellent article on women inspiring girls to take up sport here.

A letter to my home MP, two days before the vote on higher tuition fees

Dear Philip Hammond,

I grew up in your constituency, I've lived in Weybridge since I was
born, if you look at my address you'll probably recognise it as a
pretty privileged area, and indeed I've been incredibly lucky in my
life - I attended private school from the age of two, including one of
the best (and most expensive) boarding schools in the country. I
finished my undergraduate degree in English & American literature last
year at Warwick University and am currently studying for a masters,
which my parents are funding.

It's funny, because when I talk about student debt, a lot of people
write me off, saying because I come from a privileged background I
shouldn't concern myself with such issues. Indeed, the amount of debt I
am in is equivalent to one year of my high school fees. Most people
imagine that I can pay off this debt in a blink of an eye, because my
parents earn a decent amount. 

That couldn't be further from the truth. I fully intend to pay off
every penny of my debt myself; and I intend to pay back my parents for
my tuition fees this year, which are £4700. I also work part-time in
order to support myself. But if I'm being honest, I'm terrified. I'm
paying these loans back myself out of pride and because I don't want to
take any more from my parents who have already been so supportive, even
though I know I could probably ask for leniency from them. And I don't
want to move back home after I graduate, back to the comfort of
upper-middle class suburbia. That's not why I went to university, I
want to get a job and be independent. But until I pay back these debts,
I will never be independent. 

The point I want to make is this: there are thousands of kids who
aren't as lucky as I am, who haven't had the best education money can
buy, because their parents can't afford it. When I was in school, I
volunteered with an outreach programme, working with young girls who
were seriously bright but disadvantaged. They all spoke with such hope
about how badly they wanted to go to university. One girl said that her
mum told her that the furthest she would ever get in life was working
as a cashier at Morrisons. This was five years ago, and we were able to
tell these girls that it was going to be ok, that they could go to
university because university was a place for people from all walks of
life, and it didn't matter if they were rich or posh, they just had to
be commmitted in passionate.

Those girls will be 15 and 16 now, and I'm so, so angry, because I feel
like everything we told them was a lie. Because £9000 isn't a remotely
fathomable number to these girls, whose families are on benefits and
living on a shoe string. It's enough to put them off, regardless of
what the government is saying about social mobility and oppurtunities
for all. If I had known that I was going to pay £9000 a year for my
education at university level, I probably still would have gone, but it
would still have been a difficult decision, despite my privilege. For
kids who have had fewer chances in life, higher education is no longer
an option. It will simply be too expensive.

I could go on, but the vote is on thursday and I really need to
convince you now to vote against the rise in fees. Two Conservative MPs
have already said that they will stand against the proposals and this
is admirable. Please, for the sake of your constituents who don't live
in the beautiful suburbs where I am lucky to have been raised, for the
kids who lived in flats and council housing and aspire to a life
outside of a supermarket, please please take a stand against the
proposal to raise tuition fees.

I would like to request a personal meeting with you on thursday in
Portcullis house and would appreciate your response on this matter as
soon as possible.