Lovely young women, men with pink cheeks, Katie Price… and me
On Thursday evening, I took part in a debate at the Cambridge Union. I was arguing that the only limit to female success is female ambition.
On my team were the author Steve Moxon and Rachel Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Lady. I had worried she would be icy given what I’d written about her piling food from Waitrose in Kensington into her car on a Friday afternoon before driving down to her inherited second home on Exmoor (therefore why am I hated locally and not she). But to her credit she was magnanimous.
Opposing teams: Liz Jones poses for a photo with Katie Price shortly before a debate at the Cambridge Union last week
On the opposing side, which I think was
claiming women are still discriminated against (I kept getting confused
and worried my speech would argue the wrong case) were Charlotte Vere,
from a think-tank, and a second-year economics student called Anna.
Anna was standing in for Margaret Hodge MP, who had pulled out at the last minute – probably because she had discovered that the third member of her team was Katie Price.
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We had drinks before the debate in a
lovely library. It left me wondering why A-level student Elly Nowell
objected to the architecture at Oxford – as I walked over the Cam,
dodging bicycles, I wished with every particle of my being that my
higher education had not taken place astride the Elephant and Castle
During the drinks I went up to Katie who, despite the black-tie code, was in sparkly treggings.
I told her I was glad there was someone in the room who’d had more plastic surgery than me, but she didn’t laugh.
hope you’re not going to write anything negative,’ she said as she
teetered, surrounded by her entourage and film crew. She said she was
‘s*******’ herself, which made two of us.
beautiful women and handsome men with pink cheeks kept introducing
themselves. If only my parents had had an ambition for me other than to
make it to adulthood without being run over, I could have come here and
glided through life. I’d have made lifelong contacts, been given a
leg-up rather than having to scrabble at the bottom of the pile.
I felt I had a lot in common with Katie – all we have to offer is hard work, tenacity and a thick hide.
I was up first. My argument was that women put domesticity before work which, when it lands on their desk, is an annoyance.
Anna, who quickly got on my nerves, took exception, saying all the women in the room had worked hard to get to Cambridge. True, but I wonder how many, come 35, will go part-time or give up work altogether, given they will inevitably marry alpha males able to afford to keep them.
Mid-debate: Katie gave not so much an argument but an account of how she made it – a single mum, she worked hard
Birds of a feather Liz felt she had a lot in common with Katie – 'all we have to offer is hard work, tenacity and a thick hide'
Anna was over-confident, which is
dangerous: you need humility when starting out. She said that when women
get to the top, they behave like men, and never mentor young women,
which is just not true.
mentored many but, bar one or two exceptions, they have let me down,
disappearing for years to have babies, forgetting they have a debt to
repay, no thought of loyalty. And anyway, how can Anna possibly know as
she has not yet had a job
It’s as if these intelligent young people only believe in cliches, not the real world, which I suppose is why the architecture is delusional. The real world is ugly, boring and difficult.
Katie Price gave not so much an argument but an account of how she made it: a single mum, she worked hard. She is a strong person, she said, and, despite criticism in the press, has never once lost her self-belief.
Lots of young women stood up and said that Katie was an incredible role model. I was surprised: I’d have thought these super-bright girls would baulk at a woman who posed for Page 3.
The antagonism towards me, a journalist, was staggering. When Katie looked at me and said, ‘And when people like you, Liz, publish stories without checking them out…’, everyone cheered.
Then one student stood up and said: ‘Success can mean being the woman a man comes home to every night.’ You what Haven’t we been fighting for 40 years not to be that
Of course my mum was a success: she raised seven children on no money and had a husband who worshipped her. But she did not try to have a high-flying job. These women are in a fantasy. Of course I lost: 90 yays and 400 nays.
But I still think I’m right. I’ve found, over 30 years, that women squander opportunity, that they return investment with maternity leave, stress, tears, more tears and gossip. Unless we acknowledge this, nothing will change.
But I also still wish I’d gone to Cambridge. I’d have demanded an easier life. While these youngsters see me as the ultimate ‘me’ columnist, they are the ultimate ‘me’ generation. Selfish, spoilt and full of a sense of entitlement.