Eton and women

I was told the other day by an acquaintance that Eton is income blind. Her son has been given a place and she was waxing lyrical about how Eton really does offer the financial support needed for “poorer” families to send their children there. Really? I doubt many children from “poorer” families even sit the entrance exam.

Photo by Andrew Parsons/i-Images

Photo by Andrew Parsons/i-Images

But let’s leave that one for the moment. Let’s just accept this as good news and rejoice that Eton is income blind. Let’s also rejoice that Eton does not discriminate on racial grounds or religious grounds, or because of sexual orientation, or physical disability. You can go to Eton if you are black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight, able-bodied or disabled. You just can’t go if you are female. Bad luck girls.

Eton is often referred to as “the chief nurse of England’s statesmen.” And therein lies the problem. Eton continues to churn out a vastly disproportionate number of the ruling class. The Prime Minister, The Mayor of London, The Chief Whip and The Archbishop of Canterbury are all currently old boys from the one school. To understand how extraordinary this is, you need to know that there are over 4,000 secondary schools in the UK.

If the current predominance of Old Etonians was exceptional my gripe would be unseemly. But the current situation reflects a long-term stranglehold on positions of power. 35% of all the prime ministers we have ever had in this country have come from Eton. 35% from one school which does not take girls.

I would love to know if Eton celebrated International Women’s Day this year. Was the issue of structural inequalities for women in this country discussed in any classrooms? What were the solutions voiced? What are the views from inside the club on Eton and women? I would love to know, from the boys who will be our next masters.

Perhaps next year, Eton could celebrate International Women’s Day by announcing it is taking in girls.