In the tense lead-up to the state funeral, after football matches and the Proms had been cancelled, I asked shop-keepers whether they would be open that day. Around the corner are two shops I frequent, both Black-run or owned.At the first, after I had rolled my eyes, the manager said that supermarkets were to close for the day; so if they opened they’d be asked:”Don’t you respect your country?” It was heartening then to hear that Diverse, a Brixton gift store, was to open. The next day I went to Covent Garden, where I sensed workers’ resentment at having to wear a black top and take their day off on the mandatory day of mourning. Meanwhile, brighter attire appealed to the young girl I saw crowning herself.
On the Underground, on overhearing a young American ask his girlfriend if those travelling to Westminster Hall, for the Queen’s lying-in-state “would see her or just the casket?” I wondered whether he had in mind recent images of Russians filing past Gorbachev’s open coffin. Perhaps the young man who broke through the guard of honour thought that he would be able to see,and even kiss, the Queen’s face.
In the event, on the day of the state funeral I also donned black, by-passing our street’s gathering, convened by an older Jamaican neighbour, and dropping by instead at a protest at Windrush Square – where, the week before, King Charles’s accession to the throne had been proclaimed and the National Anthem played.
Later, on the Tube to Golders Green Crematorium, I found myself surrounded by black-clad fellow travellers. No doubt they thought that I was a sister mourner; but in tandem with the state funeral was that of a a good friend, Eileen Lanigan.
At her service, Eileen’s former tutor recounted how early in 1985, having instigated a campaign against the presence in her Philosophy class of Patrick Harrington, a high-ranking National Front member, she had risked imprisonment. After failing to observe the terms of an injunction forbidding interference with the teaching of Harrington, Eileen was at risk of being found guilty of contempt of court. When we worked together at a workers’ cooperative, Eileen had told me how eventually she was served with a summons. The night before the hearing, at the Royal Courts of Justice, Eileen packed her bag in anticipation of being ‘sent down’. Fortunately, the judge didn’t issue such an order. *
It’s become a cliché to note that Elizabeth R.’s visage was omnipresent in the U.K – and that for many of us, we had been her subjects our whole lives. Yet on seeing, in an place of “QC”, “KC” after an employment barrister’s name (in an FT piece on the implications for workers of soon to be uncertain EU-derived ‘retained’ rights** ) the penny dropped that on a subliminal level the sovereign’s sex would make a marked difference.
As a child I was aware of the monarchy , but only in so far as knowing that Britain, as well as its former colonies, had a female head of state, who, my father said, was a figurehead. By the time I was a seven-year old in Oxford, I had befriended a Brownie. Coveting the yellow badges on her tunic, and longing to learn handicrafts and camping skills, which she and her sister were acquiring, I begged my parents to let me join the Brownies. So, I was thrilled when, the week before my family left England, I was allowed to attend. On entering the church hall, I felt unease on spying the Queen’s portrait above the stage. Although I had no uniform, Brown Owl permitted me to join the girls’ circle. Being raised by anti-monarchist socialists, I was horrified when the girls sang the National Anthem and I was expected to join them. Although I realised the Brownies were not to my taste, I don’t recall reporting to my parents my discomfiting evening.
In a previous post (On being silenced) I referred to my time in Spain, where we arrived the following week, just before Christmas 1967. By January 1968, my father had enrolled me in a girls’ school in Andalusia. The curriculum was basic: simple arithmetic and dictados praising Franco, and the Church. For me, the highlight was watching the other girls, all much older, embroider bright threads on to white cotton stretched across embroidery hoops. Despite my coveting their sewing, I missed another opportunity to learn homely handicraft. My parents never knew that “the Spanish school” was in fact a seccion femenina – the Falangist women’s organ. During my time there, I had been subjected to indoctrination: to ascribe my future womanly role in a military dictatorship – with Franco, el Caudillo, as head of state.
Fifty-five years on, I find myself ago at the persistence of sex-stereotyping of girls, more pernicious than ever – with long hair and pink clothing being de rigeur. Not only in demeaning representations is the subjection of women reinforced and reproduced: the forces behind transism and Trussism are further diminishing hard-won women’s rights. Female premiers, notwithstanding, the effect of their free-marketeering has been to wrench apart the warp and weft of the social fabric, which was woven by the post-war consensus.***
Now more than ever, it’s imperative to challenge the power and privilege that remain entrenched in the U.K.’s patriarchal, and racialised, hierarchical structures. Only by engendering counter-hegemonic thought and practice to forge enduring alternatives can we unravel this isle’s ancient status quo.
*** In their response to the mini-budget, the Women’s Budget Group consider women to be far less likely to benefit from the planned tax cuts, e.g.:
“ 77% of workers who earn too little to pay income tax, .. [who] gain nothing from the nearly £5.3bn a year spent cutting the basic rate, are women.
Around 80% of those who benefit from the nearly £2.4bn a year cutting the 45% tax rate will be men.”