The Prince and Princess of Wales are at an unusual impasse about their son George’s secondary school, according to rumours. A regular, incredibly rich couple might fight about whether or not to send their kid to boarding school because it means that the child will have to live somewhere else, and some parents don’t like that. They might, in an alternative universe where one of them was politically engaged, have had a fight about whether or not to send George to private school at all.
In fact, Kate’s problem with Eton college, which is William’s choice, is that it’s single-sex; she got horribly bullied at school, which – you’ll have to just surrender to the gossip mill, here, a causal link hypothesised by an anonymous insider – was because it was an all-girls’ school.
This is an entirely new sensation to me, agreeing 100% with Kate. I went to an all-girls’ private school in London in the 80s. It comes up every now and then on social media, the smoking gun of the hypocritical lefty, that this was a very expensive education. My defence is always that, whatever the age is of political responsibility, it’s definitely not 11; come at me when I send my own kids to private school, which I wouldn’t. But the real reason I have no trace of shame about it is that I hated it so much, and came out of it so completely horrible, and it took so many years to rewire some basic trust in humanity, that I just cannot conceive of it as a privilege.
The school was an intensely hierarchical place, across a large number of metrics: beauty, wealth, intelligence, breeding, social capital, the full Lacanian sweep, plus weird things such as whether you had any brothers. Whatever hand you had been dealt, there would always be some pile you were at the bottom of, so everyone felt awful about themselves, all the time. I didn’t realise, until years later, that even the girls who looked as if they had everything, a thigh gap, a politician dad and a sports car, were mired in self-hate because they couldn’t do physics. It may have changed now, of course.
I don’t think what I’m describing is just general adolescent funk. My life is lousy with teenagers now, and they don’t have the catastrophising vibe that they’re one wrong move away from social oblivion. As little as I can explain it, the genders do seem to have a civilising effect on one another. Do boys distract girls from their elaborate shun operations by, I don’t know, throwing things? Do girls shame boys with eye-rolling into throwing fewer things? I wouldn’t want to gender-essentialise it, God knows. I only know that they are not meant to be siloed.
Which isn’t to say that nothing good came of it – my experience of an all-girls’ school, followed by twice as long as a trustee of a prison charity, informed a lot of my politics, including why I became a transgender ally. Before I had thought seriously about trans rights, and the immeasurable preciousness of any human being with the courage to live their most meaningful and truthful life, I thought: “Wait, are you saying all-female spaces are kinder? Purer? Inherently less violent? More supportive? Are you joking? Are you out of your mind?”
Plus, I’ve seen a lot of graphs about unequal societies and how even the top decile is less happy than it could be. I believe that, because what kind of a fool doesn’t believe a graph, but I also know it because I’ve seen it. There is nothing on earth more miserable than a bunch of rich people, competing on minuscule distinctions, without even a variety of the sexes to take their minds off it.
If I were George’s parents, I’d send him to the local Windsor comprehensive: what is private school for, anyway, except to buy your kid into a social stratum that the prince is already at the top of? That being impossible, then yes: anywhere but somewhere single-sex.