There was a time when university finals were an opportunity for students to show off how much they’d learnt about a particular subject during their time in higher education. Not anymore. Students at the University of Oxford are using this exam season to show off their awareness of sexual violence on campus through pinning a white ribbon to the academic gowns they have to wear during their exams. The inevitable pictures of students donning ribbon-adorned gowns are being enthusiastically ‘liked’ and retweeted online.
This comes on the back of a campaign organised by the students’ union at Oxford called It Happens Here that calls on Oxford students to share their experiences of sexual violence. The campaign follows the arrest of the Oxford students’ union president on an allegation of rape. Can it be true that Oxford’s dreamy spires and quiet courtyards are hiding an epidemic of misogyny, abuse and rape?
As I’ve argued before on spiked, there is no evidence to suggest an explosion in sexual violence at British universities. Instead, the current talk of a university ‘rape culture’ is merely the product of female students being encouraged to interpret the messy, uncomfortable and perhaps regrettable processes that are involved in negotiating relationships and sex through the prism of rape. The introduction of compulsory lessons in how to ensure sexual consent at many universities will only exacerbate this trend.
The only thing all this awareness-raising will achieve is encouraging more female students to take on the mantle of victimhood. The irony is that young women taking their finals at Oxford this week are enjoying one of the best university experiences in the world. The knowledge, the contacts and the certificate they will take with them after their studies have ended will open up a world of possibilities for them in the future. What’s more, they will be entering adulthood and public life at a time when it has never been better to be a woman. Yet, rather than celebrating this fact, it appears as if today’s young feminists long for nothing more than an excuse to present themselves as victims of a by-gone patriarchy.
The proliferation of white ribbons also reveals the narcissism at the heart of feminism today. Ribbons, wristbands and online selfies, the most visible forms of modern feminist campaigning, only act as a public display of the wearer’s emotionally correct credentials. Everything, from the Isla Vista killings in America to the Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria, gets turned into an opportunity for feminists to dwell on how they, too, have suffered at the hands of men.