Another October is upon us and across the country freshers at British universities are embarking on a journey of learning, friendship and fun. Most of them will have studied really hard for their exams, and pretty much all of them will have reached their 18th birthday and therefore be legal adults.
But despite this, a decision has been made – the result of several years’ feminist campaigning to convince the world that western universities are more dangerous for women than the DRC – that these young adults need to receive training sessions on the issue of sexual consent. These sessions are now compulsory at Oxford and at some Cambridge colleges.
Of course, even the people running these sessions probably understand that a 90 minute ‘workshop’ isn’t going to stop someone determined to abuse people. But this is more than just a reminder of what legally constitutes consent tagged onto the usual talks about STIs and fire safety which are standard at university induction days.
Many NUS spokespeople claim that it is their role to inform students of legal definitions of consent, and that the sessions are gender neutral. However, this pretence does not hold up for very long. Hareem Ghani, NUS Women’s officer explains:
Consent sessions work to debunk myths surrounding rape, deconstruct the impact of hyper-masculinity on all genders, and push students not to shame peers for their sexual preferences or sexual activity.
This is clearly about a lot more than consent. It’s about imparting ideologies of patriarchal oppression at the earliest possible moment in a person’s university experience – before they’ve even come into contact with academic staff or work. Lets not forget that at some universities rugby players are obliged to attend anti-sexism workshops before they are allowed to compete in tournaments. The objective here is to ingrain the belief that the source of all evil is the white-cis-heteropatriarchy; to make this belief as much a matter of course as what to do in the event of fire – something you just don’t question.
Much like the insistence of a ‘rape-culture’ at western universities – upon which the argument for talks such as these is based – the content of these sessions claims complete ownership of the truth and takes the most infantile interpretation of reality; sex after a glass of wine…? Rape:
During these sessions the idea is for students to form small groups and have ‘discussions’ about the wider issues. Indeed those who run such classes such as Georgia Turner argue that they are all about opening up a conversation. But she also goes on to say:
‘Attendees are given a list of scenarios to talk through which describe situations in which consent is a grey area. One might involve a sexual encounter where someone is continually pushing you away; another where someone is extremely drunk. Eventually, the students come to a definition of consent as active and ongoing.’
Isn’t it interesting that after using the term ‘grey area’ – which many feminists argue is itself a myth that contributes to rape culture – she blithely adds that students eventually come to the conclusion that consent should be defined in exactly the terrifying way feminists wish it to be… voilà the ‘training’ has worked. There is no real conversation possible here.
There has been some resistance to these sessions – Brendan O’Neil has put the case that they are Orwellian, and there was a walk-out at York University (which involved between zero or a quarter of those present depending on who you listen to). Of course, the other side has hit back with a slew of articles about how necessary the sessions are, which you can read here, here, and here.
But how will the new generation come to view these sessions? As useful information about safety, or as feminist indoctrination? I contacted Ben Froughi who was handing out fliers outside the York University session informing students of their right to boycott the talk, and asked how the response has been from freshers he’s spoken to. He said he feels that there’s been a fairly even mix between the people who have said they quietly support him and those who think what he’s doing is wrong.
Judging by Theresa May’s response to questions about safe spaces and no platforming policies it seems that many of the older generation will be difficult to convince, but it will be down to the young to decide whether to accept or reject this utopian ideal of how human relationships can be sanitised. But we British don’t like being told what to do, and it is my suspicion that’s not the sort of thing likely to skip a generation.
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