The Intimacy of Politics: How Do Politics Effect Someone's Life?
Guest Writer: Rochelle Asquith; United Kingdom
I grew up in Wakefield's biggest council estate, Wakefield being a relatively small city in West Yorkshire. Most council estates in Yorkshire have a factory or a closed coal mine at the fringes, the rest of the estate sprawling off it. The one I grew up in was no different; a plastic factory only a street away churning out black smoke on a daily basis, occasionally setting on fire every now and again. Like many people who grew up on a council estate, I lived in a deeply unequal household that I've only been able to comprehend the depth of in retrospect. My mum has always been more qualified than my dad, always working a higher paid job than him, yet she did all the housework. My dad outwardly pretended that his wife kept him shackled down and unable to enjoy himself, yet when he got home, he spent most of his time consumed by the TV or his phone, dismissing my mother, dismissing the world. I’ve only ever seen him cry once and I remember wanting to ask him why he didn’t cry more.
My mother's fury at the deep unfairness of the misogyny she experienced often passed over her and onto me and my two sisters and we blamed ourselves for it, for not being strong enough. I now understand that when you are in such a position, when you are oppressed not just by men but the system of governing too, you inhabit a violence which is not technically yours. It is a violence that passes over you, that belongs to the people who have legislated the lives of the vulnerable into oblivion. And through it all, we all blamed ourselves for not being strong enough. Despite my mum appearing on the outside like a strong matriarch, inside our four walls the expectation of masculinity was violent and palpable.
I remember as a child being convinced that the only way to get my father to pay attention to me was to be as masculine as him. I remember learning that as working-class people, it was our duty to define ourselves in opposition to the bourgeoisie; those who wore fancy clothes, ate small portions of fine food, who sat with their legs crossed and read books whilst they drank Earl Grey tea. To be working class you must become a sensationalised stereotype of masculinity. To be working class you must not be feminine, even if you are female.
A working-class woman's definition of power is deeply ingrained in masculinity and male frameworks of what power entails. And I and many others I grew up around consistently fell short of this ideal. It didn't matter how hard we tried, none of us were ever enough. I refused to believe I couldn't be tough enough because I was "just a woman," it must've been something wrong with me. It didn't even occur to me that the problem was masculinity itself; or rather the way it was consistently used against the working classes to keep them in toxic schemas and frameworks of governing their own lives.
Our estate was incredibly diverse, our collective heritage spanning most of the globe. Yet the one thing that stayed the same was the masculine ideal. Your strength as a woman was measured by how much pain you could silently put up with. You had to carry on, there were no two ways about it. Your husband could be beating you, you could have been a victim of a sex-crime - you were not allowed to say that you were in pain. You must be a survivor otherwise they win.
Politics was no different. You were not supposed to be interested in politics, because politics happens over champagne, over petty arguments over the semantics of a word none of us understood. Yet I now understand how deeply intimate politics can be. I don't remember the last Prime Minister we had that didn't hate working-class people, who didn't hate refugees and immigrants, the LGBT+ community. It baffles me how easy they find it to be so monstrous to others. How a man who had had everything laid out for him chose a career of lying to one group of people on behalf of another.
When I was a child I used to dream of what I'd do if we were rich. I always said I'd get dance lessons. It was okay for me to want dance lessons because I am female. I also said I wanted to try boxing. This got me more respect than wanting to be a dancer. I know boxing is a controlled sport that implies mutual consent, but something about a young girl saying she wanted to hit other people in the head was the most anti-bourgeois thing. I could be one of the boys if I were a boxer.
I think we hated the rich people so much because we wanted to be them, secretly. We wanted champagne, trips to Switzerland and Rome, a cottage in the south of France. I envied their femininity. I envied the way that they didn’t have to want to punch others in the face before the men would respect them.
We all envied how carelessly they spent their money, how when it came to elections they didn't care - not because they were pessimistic, but because they knew it wouldn't affect them. If a Prime Minister decided to take £5 a month out of housing benefits, it didn't affect them. It's funny then that it's the posh people who seem to be the ones that get into politics, far more than working class people do. No one on my estate will ever end up Prime Minister. If they become an MP, it's because they were incalculably lucky. But they would not be welcomed back.
Even after all this time, after all the people whose bodies have been destroyed by politics, after the raw intimacy of having your dignity stolen from you by people who don’t bother to understand you, politics is too bourgeois for the estate.
About Rochelle Asquith:
Rochelle is a 21-year-old writer and artist living in West Yorkshire. She has been published in Polyester zine, LAPP The Brand, Affinity magazine, and fgrls club.