The shadow of misogyny in higher education

 

University sports teams have been emailing, socialising, and wearing shirts recently. Sadly, not the usual forms of communication, entertainment, or attire, but displays of misogyny. Many students stressed these were “isolated incidents”, but isolated incidents can still evidence cultural norms and entrenched values.

NUS statistics show that UK students are reluctant to report abuse, a fact corroborated in my locale by Cherwell’s survey of sexual violence in the University of Oxford. This is despite the passionate and engaged work of unions, feminist groups, and initiatives like the Good Lad Workshop. A culture of victim-blaming and woman-shaming in UK higher education contributes to this.

Most students are vocally appalled by these events. But misogynistic behaviour casts a shadow that demands separate confrontation. Often, the character of informal discussions about various reported incidents, whether on or offline, serves to sustain the very culture that cocoons “isolated incidents” of uncontestably shocking behaviour.

Lately, I have been following the reaction to one comment piece published after the Oxford story broke. The article discussed events in my home institution, but the spectrum of rejoinders to this piece highlighted several issues.

Many people conceded that Oxford student life has misogynistic elements, but claims that the problem is no worse than in other intuitions. Rhetorically, these remarks allude to the thought (or unconscious desire) that things cannot be so bad in Oxford as a consequence. This attitude casts misogyny as a comparative concept, like tallness, which is only newsworthy in its extreme incarnations.

Others worried that to write about misogyny in one institution is to deny it exists as a problem elsewhere, or that to focus on some men is to problematically ignore the good lads.

Still others rightly highlighted the positive initiatives being introduced to tackle misogyny, but then argued that since action is being taken, the problem cannot be that severe. Of course, this line of thought neglects the fact that action is taken because the culture for women is so bad to begin with.

Some responses to those who speak out about egregious behaviour are more deeply a part of misogyny’s shadow. They usually take the form of psychologized claims against an author and their intentions, not the issue they write about. Headlines, such as this - “Is Oxford University a Training Ground for Misogyny” - are decried as sensational, with authors subsequently being depicted as self-serving. Or an author is addressed personally. Women are frequently portrayed as “misandrist, or as needlessly aggressive and confrontational.

Much of this critique is gendered, and the ways some students respond to those who write about misogyny subtly reinforce its cultural force. A female author is not simply an equal but inaccurate interlocutor in shared debate, but belittled as aggressive or awful. Why: because she writes forcefully about misogyny. Women, it seems, are not supposed to make a fuss.

More generally, the claim that female responses to misogyny are sensational or aggressive lie in tension with the linguistic ingenuity frequently wielded to assert that misogynist emails or rape jokes are “banter”, “not intended to harm”, or “exaggeration”. Apparently, men can mobilize un-nuanced language for their amusement, but the timely and impassioned deployment of rage or rhetorical tropes by a woman prompts scorn. One good justification for a “sensational” headline is that it describes sensationally horrible events. Another powerful reason is that people are wilfully blind to the darker underbelly of their institutions and need rousing.

Part of the problem is that students are too defensive of their institutions. Perhaps we are more deeply invested in safeguarding our reputational capital, now that we have to pay more for Higher Education. Whatever the causes, however, too often students and alumni over-identify with their university, or college, and so cannot countenance that things are not good for everyone.

“If things are so bad, why are you there?” they ask critics, maybe to avoid asking why if things are so bad, why they themselves are there. But if good friends or engaged citizens can level criticism with affection, so can students. Let’s learn to parse our anxious impulses and defensive agitations. We can safely praise many features of our institutions whilst contesting misogynistic culture; we can respond to arguments without stepping into misogyny’s shadow.

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN Learning Support Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Working within these environments can ...

School Cover Supervisors in Wakefield Area

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Class cover supervisors in Wakefi...

Secondary Schools Cover Supervisors - Leeds

£50 - £70 per day + & travel and expenses: Randstad Education Leeds: Urgently ...

English Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: English Teacher RequiredImm...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal