by Jacinta Nandi
I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of all Essex girls being filthy sluts, but one time I raped a girl from Romford, and afterwards she gave me her phone number.
“Where are you from?” A posh boy in a club asks.
“She’s from Essex,” says my friend. “She’s an Essex girl.”
“Oh, never mind,” he grins back, a sloping, lazy grin, arrogant but not vindictive.
“Where are your white stilettos, then?” His friend asks.
“Oh, I left them at home,” I say, airily. I’m bored, not offended. Well, I’m not too offended. How can you be offended about something you hear every day?
Thing is, I grew up half-Indian in Essex. I was too white, kind of, to really hang out with the Indian kids. They lived in a different world to me – a world where you had to go to special schools on Fridays, help your mum with the cooking and the cleaning, a world where some people could be deemed “library sluts.” I just didn’t fit in. My friends were the white kids – and they were, basically, racist. We were, basically, racist. That’s what we were. We went to paki-shops, not corner shops, we were scared of black people, we thought they would mug us, or worse, rape us, we thought Mrs Saki shouldn’t wear a sari to school, and we couldn’t understand what Mr. Haque was saying. Ever.
But when I left Essex I left racism behind me. More or less. What racism became was not just immoral, but seriously uncool.
“Where are you from?” A posh boy, with floppy, trendy hair would ask. “I mean, where are you from, originally?” He’d grimace a bit at the clumsiness of the question – you’re not really meant to care nowadays, but I’m still beige enough that people do. “I mean, where do your parents come from?”
“My mum’s from England and my dad’s from India,” I’d reply.
His face would light up. “Oh, India!” He’d say, fascinated. “I went there on my gap year. Do you visit your dad’s family, much?”
If he asked me where my red dot was, or why I wasn’t wearing a sari, that would be racist. Not incredibly racist, I mean, he’d not lose friends or anything, but racist enough to be disapproved of. To be placed in a certain category. An “uncool” category. It isn’t cool, being racist. It’s a bit common. It’s not done.
“Since I moved away from home, I’ve experienced more discrimination for being an Essex girl than I have for being half-Indian,” I say to my friend. She’s a girl, just like me, born in Britain, a girl who grew up only two streets way from me, only both her parents are Indian.
“Come on, Jacinta, you can’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s true. I’ve been discriminated against more for being an Essex girl than for being non-white, more for being working-class, talking in an Estuary accent, than for being a member of an ethnic minority.”
“Yeah, but racism is wrong. All that “Essex Girl” stuff is just a joke, it’s funny, it’s normal. Of course we don’t like people who are different to us, who come from another part of the country, who seem strange. And of course we make light, playful, banter. It’s funny! When I meet people from Newcastle, I take the piss out of their accents. That’s what human nature is – humans will always be like that. You’ll never get rid of that, people will always take the piss out of each other. But when it’s just about what place you come from, and not what country, then it’s just a joke. It’s okay.”
But this argument – “Oh, human beings are all different, and we are just noticing the differences, and we will always notice the differences, that is part of human nature…” – this is a racist argument. When Jim Davison says this about black people’s dicks, we despise him for it. Why then are Essex girls fair game?
Back in 2004, the MP for Colchester, Bob Russell, got so incensed with The People for publishing “derogatory remarks” about Essex girls that he urged readers to stop buying it.
“Had the offensive comments been directed at people because of their colour or religion it would have caused outrage amongst all decent citizens and would be considered by some to break the law,” he said in his motion.
He didn’t get anywhere, of course. You’re not just allowed to laugh at Essex girls – you’re supposed to. The hatred we feel as a society towards girls from Essex is so strong that we don’t even recognize it as hatred. It just a natural reaction towards something so disgusting. But what, exactly, do we hate? What, exactly, is the cliché?
Well, Essex girls are blonde, Essex girls are stupid, Essex girls are sluts. Essex girls like sex, they enjoy being raped. Essex girls can’t change light-bulbs, and they don’t know who the Prime Minister is. They have six different kids to six different men, some of whom are black. They smoke as they push along the pram. They might not be poor, but they are always vulgar. They wear ankle chains. They put their ankles behind their ears, just to make themselves more attractive.
But what’s it actually like, being a cliché?
“I don’t mind,” says Natalie, 24. “You know, wherever you go in the world, when you tell people you are an Essex girl you get more attention. It seems to make you less boring.”
“Well, I don’t consider myself an Essex girl,” says Jamie, 29, “ even though sometimes people make jokes when they meet me. I never get offended – I find it funny. I haven’t heard that for ages, though, I think it’s dying out. But I must admit, I hate Essex girls – the typical blonde hair and annoying cockney accents….. they really do put me off.”
“I don’t consider myself to be a ‘typical’ Essex girl either,” says Jamie’s friend, Terri. “Although I do have your typical blonde hair and annoying cockney accent! So I guess a lot of people would view me as an Essex girl. To be honest I feel far too old and boring to put myself in that category; after all, I’m just a mum of two, getting on with making a happy life for me and my kids. It’s nowhere near as glam as it must be dancing round your handbag looking glam and having fun!”
But not all Essex girls think the cliché is a fair one. Lisa, for example, says:
“I do feel it is unfair to stereotype all girls that are born in Essex as Essex girls…. Although the stereotype fits many living here, it does not fit all. I know many girls who go out binge drinking, dressed like something from a ‘Pimps and Whores’ party and sleeping around like cheap tarts. However I am not one of them and have found myself in situations where people assume I am going to behave in the same way.”
“Actually, the girls nowadays are much worse than we used to be,” says Vicky, 31. “I mean, we were sleeping around and that – I lost my virginity at 14, and it was in a park, which is about as bad as a car, isn’t it? But the teenagers in Essex today, they’re real nightmares. They walk around, dressed up like prostitutes. We might’ve dressed tartily but we never looked like actual prostitutes. And the amount they drink is unbelievable!”
Lisa agrees with her: “They might not wear white stilettos anymore, but I would say they’ve got worse due to the things they do wear….. and the amount they drink.”
Lisa is the only Essex girl I talked to who seemed to resent the cliché for its misogyny:
“Men do get off lightly because I believe more of them whore themselves around, drinking too much and dressed like chavs, but they don’t get labelled at all.”
And of course, when you come down to it, that’s all the Essex girl label is. It’s misogyny.
Class hatred is a factor, too, of course – there is nothing so despicable, nothing so disgusting, as social change – and Essex is the county of “working-class-done-good,” a sanctuary for window-cleaners who’ve won the lottery, for taxi-drivers who’ve saved enough to get out of the East End. This disgusts people, because they want, desperately, to keep the poor poor, to keep the working-class in their slums. People who speak like Victoria Beckham shouldn’t own Bentleys. People who talk like plumbers shouldn’t send their kids to private school. You should know your place – and, if you think that ‘towel’ and ‘tale’ are homophones, your place is in a council estate.
But the class hatred, although wrong – as wrong and disgusting as racism, even if it’s a bit cooler – that isn’t the crux of the Essex girl hatred. We hate girls from Essex because we hate women. We say we hate them because they like sex – and enjoying sex is a grotesque, immoral thing for a woman to do, really she should grin and bear it – but deep down we just hate them for being women. All women like fucking, more or less. It feels nice. God, if he created us, designed us to enjoy sex. Women’s pussies get wet when they get aroused, their clits get erect. This is normal. It is a normal anatomical reaction. Women are designed to enjoy sex.
But Essex girls enjoy it a bit too much. We flaunt our bodies, in tight skirts, pink T-shirts, high heels, ankle chains. We wear too much make-up, we fall out of taxis like sluts. Society condemns us, and we condemn each other, but we don’t stop drinking, we don’t stop fucking. We fuck in cars, in car-parks, in parks and forests. We suck people off down alleyways. We get raped and enjoy it.
“I raped an Essex girl the other day,” says a boy in an “Are Essex girls all filthy sluts?” forum. “She enjoyed it more than I did.”
“I don’t hate all girls from Essex,” says Jamie. “But I do hate all Essex girls. They play on it, and I hate that.”
What we hate is women. What we hate is women with power. What we hate is ourselves.