The shadows of dreaming spires

March 9, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Posted in Feminisms | Leave a comment
Great Court, Trinity College, Cambridge

 When Manchester United defender Johnny Evans was arrested on suspicion of rape, the media gorged on the sordid sex lives of football’s millionaire superstars. In the weeks that followed, our offended eyes read of alcohol-fuelled infidelity, ‘roasting’, players filming sex acts on their phones and girls who were ‘harvested’ from high street stores to ‘decorate’ their Christmas parties. Though the case never went to trial, the media coverage surrounding it did serve to highlight the misogyny and low morals that can exist amongst privileged & wealthy young men.

Aside the obvious disparities in wealth and education, the more refined manners and better clothes, there isn’t a great deal of difference between the nocturnal antics of Premiership footballers and the subsidised hedonism found at Cambridge University. Unless it has undergone a radical rehabilitation since I last slumped drunkenly in its expensive armchairs, the bar of Trinity College (the largest college in the university) is a playground for misogynists.

It’s at Trinity where I met men who thought a short skirt was an open invitation for sex and for whom courtship consisted solely of plying their dates with booze ‘til they could barely stand. It’s at Trinity where I saw women disparaged as academically inferior and where that was apparently a good thing because most men shied away from the smart, assertive types. It’s at Trinity, one of the last colleges to admit women (as late as 1978!) and where only a third of the student population was female, where I heard men with the nerve to be outraged at the existence of ‘women’s only’ colleges and who’d sneer through student union hustings that if there is a ‘Women’s Officer’ then there should also be a ‘Men’s Officer’.

This week, a member of Trinity was put on trial accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student. The case boils down to whether he stopped his sexual advances when told, and without an awful lot of evidence to prove otherwise, the jury ruled in his favour. I’m sure it’s been an awful ordeal for all involved, but the only thing surprising about this mess is that a case like it hasn’t been brought sooner. The particulars of the event in question (of a drunk guy making sexual advances to a girl) are so common at Trinity (and countless other colleges/universities) that it was only a matter of time before someone felt it had gone too far.

If any good can come out of this case, perhaps it will serve as a ‘wake-up call’ to men in the city to be more careful, more sensitive and more gallant before finding someone to banish their erections. Perhaps it’ll illustrate that the only way of avoiding situations like this is for trust and respect to exist between two people before sex is initiated. Perhaps it’ll show that healthy relationships require far more listening than they do looking.

Like Johnny Evans, Mr Gillett has been exonerated of wrongdoing and one hopes that both the accused and accuser can go about the rest of their lives in peace. But unlike the Evans case, where the issues surrounding it were explored and assessed, the wider degradation of women at one of the country’s elite institutions remains tragically ignored.

Photo: Trinity College, Cambridge. Taken by flickr user jrawle (Creative Commons)

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