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One of the great promises that has been used to endear the capitalist system throughout modern history is the belief that it offers an egalitarian chance for people to make their own fortunes, through the virtues of hard work and ambition.
This idea, perhaps most infamously embodied through the promise of the ‘American Dream’ has of course been subject to scrutiny since its conception in the 1930s with works such as ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Death of Salesman’ exposing the sad reality for those whom upwards social mobility proves impossible.
This ‘dream’ is often perpetuated by the fact that in our current celebrity-centred culture, increasingly more exposure is given to the few people who are able to successfully mobilise upwards in the economic system, rather than the majority who remain in place.
Notably, this was recently brought into the conversation through comments made by influencer Molly-Mae Hague on the podcast Diary of a CEO. Hague, who came to prominence after taking part in Love Island in 2019 as well as her recently earned role as Creative Director for fashion company PrettyLittleThing, implied that it was up to the individual to try harder and put in more effort if they wanted to achieve their dreams in life, claiming that “we all have the same 24 hours in a day.”
Hague prefaced her comments by mentioning that she’d faced backlash before for similar opinions; this time proved to be no exception.
One of the people to speak out in protest was Lancaster University’s ex-Women+ Officer Charli Clement, who as a person with disabilities found Hague’s comments to be deeply ableist, with them presuming that the disabled have the exact same opportunities as the abled, despite their disabilities often effecting day-to-day life.
Speaking to SCAN, Clement was keen to stress that she doesn’t believe that Hague deserved the personal hatred that came as a result of these comments, explaining “she’s not the first or only person who has ever said it, but she sparked a conversation in the mainstream media about meritocracy and so the education and discussion has to happen.”
Clement believes this to stem from a wider problem in our society, the idea of hustle culture, where “we put so much pressure on productivity and work, and so little on rest, mental health, and self care.” Concepts of worth are too often reserved for the “contributions” we are seen to be making to society.
She argues that these standards are toxic as “many chronically ill people have little energy and struggle to shower or eat, meaning they can often not work or work limited hours.” Clement went on to acknowledge that “many neurodivergent people also struggle with traits such as executive dysfunction which causes work to be harder.”
In regards to Hague’s comment claiming everyone has the same 24 hours in the day, Clement pointed out that “we can’t all use those in the same way,” as “disabled people may have less hours in which to work due to fatigue and pain, or spent hours doing appointments, therapies or medications.”
It is also as much a problem of class, with those “who have to work three jobs to survive, working endless hours for a tiny wage” not having the same 24 hours as “someone who has a cleaner, nanny, chef and secretary.” Equally, those from marginalised social groups will also be affected by wage gaps; “a disabled woman of colour would not be on the same wage as Molly Mae even if they did the same amount of work.”
Regarding the backlash that she and those calling out the comments for ableism and classism face, Clement expressed that “people said chronic illness is no excuse for not working just because they can, which is ableist in itself as disability affects everyone differently.”
Addressing those who have likened the critiques to cancel culture, she disagrees: “I don’t believe it’s cancel culture – I certainly wish her well with her work and don’t believe she needs to be “deplatformed” by any stretch – but I think accountability is important and we should be dismantling these ideas when they do come into mainstream media.”
Clement is currently working on a book detailing her own experiences being both autistic and chronically ill, which she feels are seldom discussed in combination.