This blog was written by Marrion (Mo) Todd, Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Huddersfield. Winner of the PERN blog competition, an achievement she shares with Ronalds Busulwa. To follow Mo on Twitter go to @MoTodd5
Why has equality been given a makeover? Why are headlines incomplete without a nod towards the levelling up agenda? Why does equality need a new buzz phrase to engage people? Are we suffering from political correctness fatigue and does levelling up provide respite from that? These are all questions that burst into my head when levelling-up became the latest political waggon. Being a literature student (whose likeness to an engineer always makes me smile), I can take things apart. So let’s deconstruct this term levelling-up to see what it hides.
Equality is about being equal, about meeting in the middle, about everyone getting a fair whack at life’s pinata to see what goodies drop out. Whilst levelling-up promotes empowerment, it also supports stasis. To me levelling up presupposes there is a system in place of haves and have nots, with the haves on top and the have nots below. The theory is that the haves empower those with less advantage to step up to the same level. What’s wrong with that? Surely, everyone on an equal footing is what we’re after. I have an answer to that – colonialism. Wasn’t colonialism marketed as a levelling up policy, looking to improve native populations by introducing Western methods and Western languages into their cultures? There is a nasty aftertaste of nineteenth century patronage that also comes with levelling up; with those in power smugly patting themselves on the back for their benevolence whilst those running towards them try to elbow each other out of the way in their fight to be the ones favoured.
Levelling up suggests the ones at the top, who have always been able to see over the wall from the start of the game, simply take time out to build boxes for everyone else to stand on. In the meantime, everyone else has to wait. Why not simply remove the wall? The wall stays intact because the wall is a supporting structure, and box making is an enterprise that can generate both labour and money. So the people who need a box to stand on end up being handed the materials and the tools to make the box, whilst the person who already enjoys the privileged view carries on unchanged. Whilst I am all in favour of box makers the world over, sitting back and thinking that providing tools for people to build boxes solves the problem, particularly whilst those already in power get to carry on building walls. That is why, if equality needs a make-over, I prefer levelling out as its upgrade. Levelling out suggests the removal of the walls, so everyone gets an equal opportunity from wherever they are to take part, and also embraces the previously recognized needs from the equality agenda, for a redistribution of wealth and resources. The world is suffering from the excesses of human activity, therefore people need to be encouraged to change, not to stand still enjoying their excess whilst encouraging others to join them.
Whilst the levelling up agenda encourages those with the resources to help those with less, it still encourages classist binary distinctions and does not appear to directly address those patronizing overtones. The lasting impression appears to be one where gratitude is expected for receiving handouts, similar to a recently released teacher being criticized for not gushing over being released when she should never have been imprisoned in the first place.
Having had my moment standing on the box I’ve made, despite my criticism of levelling up as a term, there is much to be welcomed by the amount of airtime devoted to tackling equality. But with that in mind, let us be clear it’s equality we want, not a bigger box.
Mo Todd is a married mother of two, researching Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and its relevance to current changes to masculine identity. Mo graduated with first class honours in History with English Literature in 2012. When not knee deep in academic work, Mo co-directs a publishing business called Montidots Ltd whose output mainly consists of fantasy role-playing games written and illustrated by Simon Todd.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Yorkshire Universities, PERN or the University of Huddersfield.