Magazine article Times Higher Education

It Should Not Be Normal

Magazine article Times Higher Education

It Should Not Be Normal

Article excerpt

Higher education is reluctant to address the problem of gender-related violence, argues Miriam David

Sexual abuse and violence against women is never far from media attention these days. Revelations about the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Yorkshire has prompted a slew of resignations, and there is to be an official investigation into historic cases of child sexual abuse as the list of celebrities and other public figures allegedly involved seems to grow daily.

Such public debates about how we discuss gender and sexual relations represent a welcome change. But it is only skin deep, for sexism is still accepted as everyday practice among those in powerful positions in areas such as law, politics and - yes - higher education. In the US, "campus sexual assaults" are often in the public eye, and in January, President Barack Obama created a task force to deal with "the crime, the outrage, of sexual violence" in secondary schools and universities. In the UK, however, the issue is rarely acknowledged. Here, sexual abuse and sexism are still presented as problems for others - especially poor "white trash", or young women - rather than affecting us all.

There is little challenge to fundamental and deep-seated problems of how to develop and maintain appropriate social and sexual relations, such as how to show young men that the women in the images of sex they see on the internet are airbrushed versions of reality.

This neglect seems odd given that feminist scholarship and political campaigning over the past 30 or 40 years has ensured that what was once called domestic or sexual violence, and is now more commonly known as gender-related violence, is very much on the public agenda. Academic feminists have also contributed, along with many others, to developing the academic theories and evidence to address the issues. We have shown how male power is deeply embedded in the practices and management of education, including higher education, and how it is only by opening up for debate that we can begin to transform these everyday relations in both the family and the classroom.

But there remains a lack of consensus on how to define, let alone tackle, the problem of intimate sexual and social relations. And there is little public or even academic debate about what kind of support should be provided and how. …

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