Female undergraduates: a “perk” of the job?Posted by Catherine Elms on October 23, 2009 Blog posts | Feminism | Rage | | One comment
Once again, in case I needed any more proof that sexism is far from eradicated in the UK, a blatant example of sexual discrimination reveals itself. This September, Dr Terence Kealey from the University of Buckingham wrote that female students were simply “perks” to be enjoyed by male academics. In a Times Higher Education magazine piece entitled The Seven Deadly Sins of the Academy, the vice-chancellor said of female undergraduates:
“There will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration… Enjoy her! She’s a perk.” He went on to write, “She will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife”. He went on to compare universities to strip bars, saying, “As in Stringfellows, you should look but not touch.”
He also said with regard to sexual staff-student relationships that “the fault lies with the females”, and he seemed to complain about the “intrusive” agencies that outlawed the bartering of sex in exchange for good grades: “[T]he days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades.” Kealey never goes so far as to defend male academics who do have sex with students, but by placing the blame for pupil-teacher relationships with the female, he is reinforcing the same sexist, victim-blaming attitudes that we hear whenever a woman is sexually harassed or assaulted.
Dr Kealey’s comments provoked outrage in many people. A spokesman for the University and College Union said of the article: “Harassment is not something to be taken lightly” and the National Union of Students said it displayed an “astounding lack of respect for women“. This man attempts to completely subvert women’s struggles to gain a place in academic circles by dismissing our academic achievements and merits, which we did not achieve by flaunting our curves, but by simply working hard. As a female undergraduate, I know that we’re sometimes encouraged to see our beauty as a “perk” that we can use to our advantage, but I think most of us would prefer to get ahead by means of our intelligence. The idea that our only purpose in a lecture theatre is to look attractive is incredibly distressing, and one that completely disregards our intellectual integrity.
Unsurprisingly, Dr Kealey defended himself by claiming that the article was only meant to be “satirical”. This is absolutely not the case, and I find it very disturbing that such outrageous sexism can be so easily dismissed. This kind of thinly-veiled sexism as humor is something that one would not even accept from the jocular male undergraduate, let alone an older, respectable academic. His words are an enormous betrayal of female students across the UK, and I hope that Kealey is severely punished for these outdated and offensive views.