Feminism vs. Satire

September 27, 2009 at 8:55 pm (Fróðleikr)

The VC of Buckingham University, along with a few other academics that nobody seems to care about, has written an article for the Times Higher Education website about one of the seven deadly sins of academy, Lust:

Clark Kerr, the president of the University of California from 1958 to 1967, used to describe his job as providing sex for the students, car parking for the faculty and football for the alumni. But what happens when the natural order is disrupted by faculty members who, on parking their cars, head for the students’ bedrooms?

The great academic novel of the 19th century was George Eliot’s Middlemarch. The great academic novel of the 20th century was Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man. Both books chronicle lust between male scholars and female acolytes, and I expect that the great academic novel of the 21st century will describe more of the same. So, why do universities pullulate with transgressive intercourse?

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he is famously said to have replied, “because that’s where the money is”. Equally, the universities are where the male scholars and the female acolytes are. Separate the acolytes from the scholars by prohibiting intimacy between staff and students (thus confirming that sex between them is indeed transgressive – the best sex being transgressive, as any married person will soulfully confirm) and the consequences are inevitable.

The fault lies with the females. The myth is that an affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power. What power? Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades. I know of two girls who, in 1982, got firsts in biochemistry from a south-coast university in exchange for favours to a professor, but I know of no later scandals.

But girls fantasise. This was encapsulated by Beverly in Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, who forces herself on to JoJo, the campus sports star, with the explanation that “all girls want sex with heroes”. On an English campus, academics can be heroes.

Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?

Enjoy her! She’s a perk. She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.

Yup, I’m afraid so. As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch. Be warned by the fates of too many of the protagonists in Middlemarch, The History Man and I Am Charlotte Simmons. And in any case, you should have learnt by now that all cats are grey in the dark.

So, sow your oats while you are young but enjoy the views – and only the views – when you are older.

  • Terence Kealey is vice-chancellor, University of Buckingham, and the author of Sex, Science and Profits (2008).

Mr. Kealey could not have forseen the sheer volume of rubbish that would pile up over his really quite innocuous piece of satire.  Ms. Olivia Bailey, NUS Women’s Officer, is quite upset:

I am appalled that a university vice-chancellor should display such an astounding lack of respect for women. Regardless of whether this was an attempt at humour, it is completely unacceptable for someone in Terence Kealey’s position to compare a lecture theatre to a lap dancing club, and I expect that many women studying at Buckingham University will be feeling extremely angry and insulted at these comments.

This shocking “scandal” has been further hyped up by the lovely Graeme Paton at The Telegraph:

The academic, who studied at Oxford and has lectured at Cambridge, has helped turn Buckingham into one of the most popular universities in the country. It is consistently rated the best campus university in the annual National Student Survey, run by the Government.

He could not be contacted on Tuesday despite repeated attempts. But his comments have already sparked a debate among academics on the Times Higher Education website.

One contributor said: “It’s a light-hearted piece. Take the article as it was written.” But another said: “In the pursuit of humour he does a disservice not only to the many female scholars who have struggled to get a foothold in academia, but also the many bright female students who have got their good grades through nothing more exciting than hard work.”

I submit, for your approval, my responses to both Ms. Bailey and Mr. Paton:

Dear Ms. Bailey,
Having read your courageous and eloquent exposure of the VC of Buckingham University, as disgusting a man as ever ogled a lady, I have been closely reminded of a scandal which took place in the UK in 1729, when an Irish journalist of very good standing proposed the consumption of children in A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.

This shocking publication was seen as satire at the time, ignoring the obvious danger to the public that such a suggestion posed – why, Irish people might have taken the article seriously! We might now have “Infant and Guinness Pie” on the menu at the local Swan and Crown!

Fortunately, we live in modern times, in which the general public is open to the suggestions of such enlightened persons as yourself and the agency you represent, and will not stand for even the slightest possibility that the unthinking masses might interpret such thoughtless public discourse as literal.

We cannot let claims of humour give cause to speak freely! As a great man once said: “As blushing will sometimes make a whore pass for a virtuous woman, so modesty may make a fool seem a man of sense.”

Yours in sisterhood,

Dear Mr. Paton,
Having read your very silly article in the Telegraph which seeks to make the very silly article written by the VC of Buckingham into a scandal, I’m certain that you’ve been emailed before about the importance of satire in the public discourse and all that other lovely stuff you probably ignore on a daily basis.

What you should not ignore, however, is objective fact, viz., “But his comments have already sparked a debate among academics on the Times Higher Education website.”

Have you actually attempted to comment on this website, Mr. Paton? Because I have, and I have succeeded. I am not, however, an academic. How do you know for certain, Mr. Paton, that these people you quote in your article are established in academia?

You cannot. Furthermore, you know that they are not – you plucked, from a sea of ungrammaticalities and typographical errors, a few “clean” sentences, to make your hype easier to believe.

The long and short of it is that there is no debate among the academic elite about the nature of the VC’s article, and you know it. You also know, as any thinking person would, that the picture of the VC you so thoughtfully provided with your article is not intended to show him in a serious light. I am of the opinion that in your attempt to paint him as a crazed, out-of-control member of this “intelligent elite” everyone seems so frightened of these days, you fail, because the picture is so blatantly taken in jest, but that is neither here nor there.

The Telegraph is not well known for its journalistic integrity, but I thought I’d at least attempt to engender a spark of guilt in that money-addled brain of yours.



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