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Molly-Mae: classist rhetoric in #girlboss packaging

Juliette Barlow takes apart Molly Mae's recent controversial comments and questions the reality of social mobility in the UK.

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Image Credit: Garry Knight

By now, you’ve probably seen the controversial clip of Love Islander turned social-media influencer Molly-Mae Hague saying ‘we all have the same 24 hours in a day’ and ‘if you want something enough you can achieve it, and it just depends to what lengths you want to go to get where you want to be in the future.’ At first glance, this simply seems like a tone deaf take from a young, naïve social media star, but it reflects a darker reality.

Influencers such as Hague often pedal a hyper-individualistic, right-wing world view, packaged in pretty, pink, inspirational #girlboss packaging. Her hypocrisy is tangible; much of her wealth comes from her £500,000 deal as the ‘creative director’ of fast fashion brand ‘PrettyLittleThing.’ Based on her estimated £11,000 weekly income, Molly-Mae earns around £275 an hour, whilst garment workers for PrettyLittleThing’s parent company Boohoo earn as little as £3.50 an hour, far less than the national minimum wage.

This is not just an unfortunate coincidence, but the bedrock of capitalist exploitation: she earns that much because they earn so little. Many garment workers, including those working for PLT, work in unsafe conditions, with factories constantly falling short of basic health and safety standards. During the pandemic, crammed working conditions, lack of facemasks, hand sanitiser and hygienic toilets made these factories a hotbed for coronavirus. It’s unsurprising garment factories had a disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths compared to other sectors, with sewing machinists four times more likely to die than their counterparts in other industries. Shockingly, those working in these horrific conditions are disproportionately women from minority ethnic backgrounds.  With her fortune based on the gross exploitation of these garment workers, who is Molly-Mae to be telling people they aren’t ‘working hard’ enough?

Aside from her blatant hypocrisy, Molly-Mae’s rhetoric about hard work reaping rewards  also simply does not add up. Despite the myth of social mobility, there remains a massive ‘class ceiling’ in the UK where opportunities in life are largely based on your parents' careers and inherited privilege. Research by the government’s social mobility commission has revealed that inequality and class privilege in Britain is ‘now entrenched from birth to work’ with children from professional backgrounds 80% more likely to go into these occupations than their less privileged peers.

Even the 10% of working-class children who manage to successfully leap over all the barriers they face to enter Britain's higher managerial, professional or cultural roles earn on average 16% less (£6,400 a year) than their more privileged colleagues. There is also a ‘double disadvantage’ of disability, ethnicity and gender, with women from working-class backgrounds paid 35% less (£19,000 a year) than their privileged male peers; the figure is even higher for non-white women. Significantly, these wage gaps persist even when comparing those with the same education and experience; Oxbridge graduates from privileged backgrounds earn around £5,000 a year more than their working-class counterparts.

Therefore, for many people, it’s not simply a question of hard work, but the harsh reality of inequality in Britain that leaves them unable to achieve their goals. Although we do all have 24 hours in a day, we don’t all have the same 24 hours.  If two people were competing in a 1000m hurdle race but one person had one hurdle to jump over whilst the other had twenty, who would be more likely to win? This doesn’t negate the fact that the person with one hurdle worked hard, and it doesn’t mean that they are not deserving of winning. It simply demonstrates the undeniable structural inequalities in place that led to their win. It would then be pretty rich for this person to go on to criticise the person with twenty hurdles for not winning as they aren’t ‘working hard enough’. Likewise, Molly-Mae fails to recognise that if she didn’t have the multiple privileges of being a conventionally attractive, straight, cis, white, non-disabled woman, she probably wouln’t have made the cut for Love Island nor gained her subsequent lucrative brand deals.

In fact, hard work doesn’t translate into how much you earn. If this were the case, people born into generational wealth who haven’t lifted a finger in their lives would be struggling, whilst NHS nurses regularly working 12 hour shifts in a global pandemic would not be having to rely on food banks or skipping meals in order to feed their families (something done by over a third of nursing staff, a figure which jumps to 61% when considering nurses from minority ethnic backgrounds.) To suggest that these nurses, or the over 15 million people living in poverty in the UK simply aren’t working hard enough is downright insulting.

You shouldn’t have to be working 24 hours a day in order to have a decent standard of living. Your intrinsic value shouldn’t be based on your productive output; all humans should be entitled to basic necessities like food and shelter irrespective of how hard they are working.  This culture of toxic productivity  has led to an unsustainable way of living; it's no wonder people are experiencing burnout and a variety of mental health issues. Molly-Mae proudly claims she doesn’t have many friends, viewing them a ‘waste of time’ and would rather focus on ‘making money.’ To me, this is an immensely sad reality; life should be about having enjoyable experiences with friends and family, not simply accumulating wealth.

However, it's not just Molly-Mae who pushes the idea ‘poverty can simply be overcome by hard work’ - her views are indicative of a wider Thatcherite rhetoric that has been around for years and has been internalised by generations of people. The idea that people can 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps' is a myth peddled by the Tories that ignores systemic inequalities and justifies political decisions such as the lack of help given to the working classes by successive Conservative governments.

Since the 1980s Britain has become deeply socially and culturally divided by growing wealth, class and power inequalities, which have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Those in ‘routine and manual’ jobs have been hit hardest with job losses, furloughs and pay decline, whilst disadvantaged primary school students are an estimated 7 months behind their more privileged peers. This entrenched inequality is a direct result of Tory rule; since they came to power in 2010, a further 600,00 children are in poverty, food bank usage has soared, and the income gap between the richest and poorest in society is only getting wider.

The idea that simple hard work can get you out of poverty insinuates that poverty is a choice based on laziness, which relies on a harmful, reductionist individualist world view that displays staggering ignorance about inequality and privilege. Perhaps it is time that we extend our frustration towards Molly-Mae to scrutinising our government who push the same ideology, with dangerous policy making implications which continue to deepen the divide within our society. I can’t think of a better way to use my 24 hours.

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