A lovely thing happened last week. The political magazine The Spectator announced their new intern was a 48-year-old mother of three. And, no, this wasn’t a token return-ship scheme to make it look like they knew it was 2017 (which, when it comes to feminism, it doesn’t always seem that they do). Instead, The Spectator has a no-CVs policy when recruiting for internships. Candidates must complete a set of tasks, but name, age, sex and, most importantly, education are omitted.
Katherine Forster, the mother of three (the one occasion where this reference feels important, not sexist), has penned a piece for the magazine’s website on getting the role. Those nice people at The Spectator have now hidden it behind a paywall (presumably because it was so popular, and because of their devout commitment to the free market). In it, Forster describes that, since her English degree, she’d dedicated her life to her three sons, but now she wanted to focus on herself (a feminist victory that presumably slipped past the magazine’s editors). And, besides, she’s likely to work for another 30 years, so plenty of time to start something new. She talks about how some friends laughed, some were supportive. She describes the tasks set in the interview process: she gave a critique of Prime Minister’s Questions, wrote a 200-word article and fact-checked a piece in The Guardian by Polly Toynbee. (I would also take a wild guess that personal political persuasion didn’t get in the way of Forster’s ambition, either.)
A 48-year-old woman beat some of the brightest graduates to a life-changing job. That’s not to say that the graduates couldn’t do that job – but rather to say that a 48-year-old woman could also do that job
But, most tellingly, she briefly mentioned how, after being selected to interview with 11 others, she found herself sat next to a young, male Cambridge grad who’d studied politics. And in another world – or perhaps just the world up to this very moment – that’s who would have got this highly coveted job. This young man, who had the “right” education, who, after three years at Cambridge and, let’s be honest, probably the feeder school that got him there (an increasingly less likely scenario, but a common scenario nonetheless), probably knew how to walk the walk and talk the talk in a right-wing magazine that’s probably full of people who also studied politics at Cambridge and maybe even went to the same school. Because we stick with what we know, we hire people who look and sound like us, we invest in people who look and sound like us. We keep power where we can see it. And, yes, we might think it’s just something that posh white men do and, yes, they are guilty, but so are we to some extent. Our Twitter feeds have voices that sound like us, that tell us things we already know and believe. Our friends vote the same way and eat in the same restaurants. Take a look at the map on the day after an election and we’re even segregating ourselves by geography.
So, look what happens when you remove social and class signifiers, when you take away the nods and winks that tell powerful people that you speak their language. In this case, a 48-year-old woman beat some of the brightest graduates to a life-changing job when those nods and winks were irrelevant. That’s not to say that the graduates couldn’t do that job – but rather to say that a 48-year-old woman could also do that job.
And when institutions are prepared to allow power to change hands, to reject the status quo, to not be bound by a sense of classist entitlement that says, “This is just how the world is,” then incredible things can happen. I may not agree with what The Spectator always publishes, but they’ve just proven something that people without expensive education and connected parents, like me, have always known – it’s not just rich white men who are good at things. And more that that, the things that the establishment of this country is built on – the connections, wealth, schooling, gender – are essentially meaningless. Because when the editors reading those entries had nothing but the black and white words in front of them, those pillars that have propped up family dynasties and friends of friends meant nothing.
This is not a simple conversation. I don’t believe that race or gender or age should always be ignored. A prominent feminist recently told me that we still need gender because we’re still counting the bodies of dead women, killed by male violence. It’s a powerful way to make the point that inequality can’t just be wiped out with a few positive schemes. It’s embedded in our society and we have to constantly recognise and understand how those structures work and how we all contribute to them. In that way, being blind can be reckless. There are times we need to look each other square in the face. The constant raging over indignity politics serves to prove that sometimes we need to look at our differences, not turn away from them.
Clearly, we’ve all got a lot of work to do. But let’s take a minute to see what’s happened. The Spectator – the same people who declared feminism was dead and selfish and a bunch of other stupid things like that – has been brave enough, perhaps even vulnerable enough, to share their power with someone who perhaps doesn’t look and sound like them. And now there’s a 48-year-old woman and mother adding her perspective, her voice, to that space. Imagine if she gets a job after this. Imagine who she might hire, if she could.
And outside of The Spectator offices, Forster is inspiring us all. She tried something everyone thought was ridiculous and she got it. No, women like her don’t normally get it, but that’s because they don’t normally get the chance to even try. Katherine Forster won an internship for herself and maybe she’s about to begin the career she always wanted. But she also did something else: she proved that we are capable, we are clever, that we can.
This might be a new beginning for us all.