#womenwrites(November/16)

Aristocracy, Feminism, and Class: Does Primogeniture Still Matter?

I never would have bothered to read The Downton Bill is for all our daughters by Liza Campbell in the Guardian had I not come across Karen Ingala Smith’s critique in her twitter timeline. I’m a republican and for the complete abolishment  of the aristocracy and the return of all estates, art, books to the government (but not until we’ve got rid of the dingbats currently in power. The last thing we need is Osborne given complete control over disposing of the Queen’s personal collection of Da Vinci despite the fact that it would more than cover our welfare bill). I’m all for no member of the aristocracy inheriting anything that is only “theirs” through accidents of birth and corruption throughout history.

As a feminist, I believe the practise of primogeniture is misogynistic and needs to be legally abolished. I’m just not comfortable with a campaign on primogeniture which only targets aristocratic women without looking at the bigger picture for all women.  As feminists, we can’t just assume that a campaign aimed at a relatively small group of women will be beneficial to all women. We have seen time and time again how marginalised women are left out when we don’t contextualise our campaigns properly. Do we believe that increased political power for a statistically insignificant number of women within the UK will have a positive effect on the lives of the majority of women?

The following are just some brief thoughts on the problems arising from failing to contextualise the campaign against primogeniture within a larger context

As a rule of thumb, I firmly believe that everyone has the right to leave their ‘estate’, whether that be £10 or the Duchy of Devonshire, to whomever they choose. I do not believe anyone has the ‘right’ to inherit their parent’s estates on their death. I believe that the obsession with home ownership in the UK in order to bequeath their house to offspring as an inheritance has come at the expense of sensible retirement planning and sensible spending habits now. Far too many people are still trying to buy houses that are out with their finances. I’d be a much happier bunny if we got rid of this obsession with our children inheriting ‘estates’ from their parents and if more people starting bequeathing their estates to bird sanctuaries, Rape Crisis, or whatever they like. Yet, like primogeniture, this policy also negatively effects more women than men.

I know far too many women who have grown up knowing they will inherit nothing from their father  because their brother gets everything; these women are all white, church of England members so please don’t come here blithering on about practises of ‘other’ people somewhere else. It happens here because white, British culture privileges sons over daughters. These women will never inherit anything from their fathers because these men don’t believe daughters are important enough and, legally, these women aren’t in a position to challenge the wills.

If primogeniture were outlawed within the aristocracy, would this allow other women the ability to challenge their parents wills based on misogyny? And, don’t start with the ‘there are already legal policies in place which allow people to challenge wills. It requires money to do so and guess who has less disposable wealth than men?  Would we legally recognise misogyny as a valid reason to challenge the will of a parent? This is the basis of the campaign against primogeniture so are we willing to extend it to all women? (and reinstate full legal aid to allow women to challenge their father’s wills).

I say this, but I believe that capitalism is an inherently misogynistic economic theory that is predicated on the abuse of the labour of most of the population of the planet for the benefit of a few and that women are disproportionately punished within capitalist practises. I don’t see how transferring some money and political power to a few women will improve the world for the rest of us. Trickle-down economics has never improved the lives of the poor; it’s just allowed the rich to consolidate their wealth and power.

As a radical feminist, I believe that eradicating primogeniture in order to ensure that women are also legally allowed to inherit aristocratic titles and estates simply reinforces our heteronormative, patriarchal practise of marriage which privileges a blood relationship over real family bonds. After all, if Prince William were married to another man and adopted a child, that child would not be allowed to inherit the Crown. Primogeniture is based on a blood relationship between parent and child. Will the law be changed to take into consideration adopted or fostered children?

Will there be any acknowledgement that the institution of marriage is inherently harmful to women? That marriage itself depends on ownership of women’s reproductive capabilities? Will it recognise, despite changes to legislation to legally recognise homosexual relationships, that the survival of our capitalist-patriarchy is in no large part due to the control of women’s reproduction? That these depend on white supremacist constructions of who is an acceptable “breeder”? Eradicating the practise of primogeniture without questioning the function of marriage itself does not help women.

But, I’m also a huge supporter of things which annoy misogynistic rich white men. Ending primogeniture is clearly going to fuck some of them off and, despite my reservations, I rather hope this campaign succeeds. Just to piss off those whiny men.

At least, until we get to the point where we can dismantle capitalism and the patriarchy.