Written by Dotty Winters

In The News

Because we’re worth it

If Dotty Winters hears the word ‘meritocracy’ one more time she’s going to stick your unicorn where the sun don’t shine.


“A meritocracy? Do you think I’m living in a fairy tale or something?”

This week on my television I saw a straight, white, wealthy journalist explain that she isn’t a feminist and she has never encountered sexism, therefore it’s probably not a thing.

She went on to say that we live in a meritocracy, and she is proud to have achieved everything she has achieved entirely on her own merits. I’m opting not to name her, as I think it is productive to starve such people of the oxygen of publicity for their irritating, dangerous and ignorant views.

As part of her evidence that feminism was no longer required she explained that the expensive private school she went to had also produced a famous suffragette and one of the first female bishops.

She appeared to be entirely oblivious to the possibility that perhaps the link between people who make social impact and people who attend private schools might be to do with who has the best chances of being heard and of being accepted in positions of power, rather than just because, entirely by chance, people with the most ‘merit’ in the UK are overwhelmingly white, middle- or upper-class and have had access to high-quality education.

I am sick of hearing privileged people explain about the fabulous meritocracy that we all live in. If you don’t know whether you have privilege (after all, you did burn your toast this morning, and you can’t afford those new boots you want), assume you probably do, simply by dint of your access to the internet and clean running water.

Are there people who are more privileged than you? Unless you’re Donald Trump, probably yes, but even then you can still choose not to pull up the drawbridge. If you are unsure what privilege is and what you should do with it, have a little look online, it’s all right there on the internet, filed just behind the pictures of guinea pigs in fancy dress (try everydayfeminism.com).

“FUCK ME! Are you genuinely telling me that you seriously don’t believe there is a single person out there who isn’t younger, poorer, browner, queerer or less you-like who could do this job as well as you?”

Meritocracy is a wonderful, magical concept which currently doesn’t actually exist, like unicorns. If you insist that you have one in your organisation you’ll probably not be able to prove it and you’ll have to ignore large volumes of horseshit in your boardroom.

I notice that meritocracy is a word which is most often evoked in explanations as to why a society, organisation or institution couldn’t possibly do more to improve diversity. This is like only mentioning leprechauns when you are forced to explain deficiencies in your end-of-the-rainbow-gold-guarding security protocols.

When a boardroom which is largely peopled with straight, white, middle-aged men announces to me that they are a meritocracy (you’d be amazed how often this exact thing happens to me), I’d like to stare at them like they’ve just curled a turd on the conference-phone, and loudly exclaim: “FUCK ME! Are you genuinely telling me that you seriously don’t believe there is a single person out there who isn’t younger, poorer, browner, queerer or less you-like who could do this job as well as you?

“Do you honestly believe that the realms of science which demonstrate that diversity is better for organisations than same-i-ness are just trying to upset your delicate sensibilities? Have you really tried to improve the mix of people who you present opportunities to? One of you literally napped through that paper from the audit committee. HOW CAN YOU BE THE BEST THERE IS?”

I am supportive of lots of mythical concepts: a car that texts you to remind you where you’ve parked, or large, colourful children’s toys which pack down to 1 per cent of their actual size and can be stored neatly in drawers, or women who claim to be proud non-feminists AND can also demonstrate an accurate understanding of what the word feminism means.

However, I’ve made a brave, bold decision not to use utopian dream constructs to excuse bad behaviour. That’s right folks, you’ll never again hear me explain that I couldn’t complete my tax return because: Xanadu.

Much like dust-free skirting boards, meritocracy is something which requires near-constant attention and action. It isn’t enough to loudly proclaim that you have them; you have to be able to consistently demonstrate their existence, using more than just individual stories or infrequent examples.

Can I do more? Of course I can. Can you?


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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.