Why should a woman be shamed for having ambition?

Photo: Country Life 

 She shouldn’t, as Laura Craik explains 

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By Laura Craik on

I don’t read Country Life, but apparently its Girls in Pearls page is “one of the most famous pages in any publication”, at least according to its editor. For 120 years, the slot has featured a portrait of a woman whose only credentials for selection appear to be that she is pretty and posh. The Queen has appeared five times, as has a phalanx of young women with double and triple-barrelled names. This month’s pick, however, has caused some consternation. Has Country Life chosen a commoner? A lesbian? Someone who isn’t white? Oh, if only. In fact, the issue features Camilla Mackintosh, the 27 year-old heiress to the Quality Street fortune who grew up in Wiltshire (tick), boarded at Millfield (tick), had her own pony (tick) and was an original cast member of Made in Chelsea when it first aired in 2011.

So what, you may ask, is the problem? The problem is that Mille Mackintosh has a job. You know; dirties her hands making money, as opposed to just sitting on a hay bale in an Alice Temperley dress and a string of pearls that belonged to her great-great-grandmother. “While I wouldn’t want to return to the time when women were defined by the men in their lives, I miss those more innocent days when a girl was celebrated for her grace and poise, rather than because of the opportunities that exposure (sometimes literal) can offer,” sniffs Thomas Blaikie in  - don’t all faint at once - the Daily Mail, complaining that Mackintosh has used the exposure to promote her clothing range. Anyone quaintly imagining that being a sexist twonk is a full-time job may like to note that Blaikie is employed as etiquette and manners correspondent of The Lady magazine. Yes, this is a real job; and no, this is not the 1950s.

Where to begin in calling out this claptrap? Perhaps with Tuesday night’s launch of Party Girls Die in Pearls, since it is so similarly titled to County Life’s esteemed magazine feature, and since it was written by a woman who, for all I know, may well have graced the pages of Country Life herself. Like the vast majority of posh girls I’ve encountered, its author, Plum Sykes, works very hard: Oxford then Vogue then bestselling novelist (her first book, Bergdorf Blondes, was snapped up after a bidding war). Like Millie, Plum didn’t achieve all this by mucking out the stables. Like Millie, she’s a hustler, one limpid eye on the prize.    

I’ve worked with heaps of girls with country piles and royal connections and ancestry in Burke’s Peerage. Fashion is their finishing school: it’s glamorous, it’s fun, and the inheritance comes in handy during those tediously long months of interning when all your employer pays you is your tube fare. Without a shadow of a doubt, they use their connections to get that first foot in the door, and their money as a doorstop. Who wouldn’t? That’s what money does: buys things.

But while money might buy access, it takes other talents to succeed in life - ambition being one. Ambition is never a dirty word. That Millie Mackintosh should be criticised for daring to work for a living is no less pernicious just because her privilege has ensured she doesn’t need to. Would it be better if she lived off her inheritance? Or traded on her “grace and poise”?  Women are not racehorses, or ballerinas. They’re not decorative appendages to dangle off a man’s arm. 

For centuries, women were seen as passive. In too many cultures, they still are. They are oppressed, denied of the opportunity to work, beholden to their husbands. No woman should be shamed for her ambition. Not in this country. Not anywhere.



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Photo: Country Life 
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Laura Craik

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