The Absolute Disgrace of Toby Young’s Shameless Sexism

Christmas is over. I had a break, ate my bodyweight in cheese and drank a whole lot of booze. Now I’m back and, surprise surprise, I’m mad as hell again. The subject of my ire this time will come as little surprise to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in my company.

Yes, its Toby Young.

I’m not here to deride the personality of a man I’ve never met. I’m not going to dwell on general concerns about the apparent Tory croneyism at play: others have done an admirable job. I’m not even going to go into the fact that there is hardly any student representation in this new ‘Office for Students’. No, I’m going to talk about Young’s shameless sexism.  

Some of you may be aware of a slew of tweets sent by Young which have been helpfully screenshotted before the inevitable sweep of deletion and prayers. There are also articles which helpfully highlight his total lack of respect for women. For those of you not aware, allow me to share some of those witty, erudite expressions of misogyny.

Speak to any woman in academia and they will have a story for you, a story of sexual harassment or lack of career progressionAs far back as 2004, Young was prowling the streets of New York dressed “as a lesbian” in an attempt to coerce women into “making out with him”, it’s briefly mentioned here. He’s now moderated it to suggest he was trying to pick up a “lipstick lesbian”, perhaps even he realised that attempting to sexually assault women was a bit of a shit thing to do, although it hardly softens the blow in the retelling.

He had a bumper year in 2009 in which he referred to the size of not only his pregnant colleague’s breasts “…her boobs are MASSIVE. Be careful what you wish for” but also Claudia Winkleman’s “what happened to Winkleman’s breasts Put on some weight, girlie #comicrelief (sic)” and also replied to someone saying “Actually, mate, I had my dick up her arse”.

Apparently not even politics is safe. A tweet from 2012 delightfully requests assistance: “Serious cleavage behind Ed Miliband’s head. Anyone know who it belongs to? #pmqs”.

Perhaps even more concerning are comments he made about his time as a teaching fellow where he was surrounded by “plenty of pretty students” but was unfortunately forbidden from sleeping with them. He goes on to ponder “What white European male could resist the chance to pounce on a defenceless American maiden?” Well indeed, who could? That’s exactly the issue women are facing everyday in universities, a fact painfully highlighted by Hope Jahren.

Women who are simply trying to learn, to grow and to build successful careers are routinely harassed by men abusing their position of authority. Speak to any woman in academia and they will have a story for you, a story of sexual harassment or lack of career progression, anecdotes about being talked over, minimised and ignored.

Now, let us not waste time suggesting that somehow - miraculously - with no intervention in the form of any chastisement or professional difficulty that he has changed his spots. This also isn’t about regrets. It is about the total lack of concern for such blatant misogyny and sexism. This is about the continuation of the Old Boys’ Club which allows men like this to flourish while behaving with impunity.

For those about to suggest that he couldn’t have possibly known these things would come back to haunt him, or that it has no bearing on his ability to do his job, you are part of the problem. It has everything to do with his ability to perform a role that should benefit all students, not further reduce the opportunities afforded to those already marginalised.

This is about the message being sent to women

Now, I understand that some of you will surely be thinking: “What if they hadn’t seen his twitter?” However that is not an issue of naivety but of indifference. Those who appointed Toby Young clearly don’t care about his attitudes to women, despite them making up a rather significant portion of the group he is meant to be helping.

To claim the same naivety on Young’s part is also misleading- he is not some unknown who just fell out of the sky, he is a man with an established public persona who still felt it was appropriate to make these comments. This is because there are no consequences for men like him, his career moves forward without hitch, whilst women are left feeling maligned.

This is about the message being sent to women, already suffering from structural inequality, sexism and even sexual violence on campuses across this country. A man expresses publicly a blatant lack of respect for women, so confident in his white male privilege that he feels able to speak in this way without any concern for career consequence (and really, why would he given this most recent promotion?) is the best person to shape their academic future.

I can only say that as a woman and a student I find his attitude abhorrent, his comments disgusting and it has left me feeling more undervalued than before. It is yet another kick in the teeth for all those women working hard to achieve their academic aspirations and being thwarted at every turn. In sum, it is an absolute disgrace.

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