Where has all the shouting gone?
Emily talks politics and feminism and wonders if we’re moving backwards in terms of women’s representation.
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I think university has changed a lot, though it’s hard to pin down exactly the moment that happened. This is a late night, sleep deprived ramble, largely of conjecture rather than things I have hard facts on. So feel free to pick it apart.
1. Since Labour came to power the provision of apprenticeships that train people on the job has significantly reduced. People are pushed into universities as the way to gain vocational training. With the introduction of fees and increasingly uncertain job markets people who are going into debt over university tend to want to get a job which they think will get them a decent job at the end of it, especially at institutions which predominately service working class or less affluent demographics, such as where I am, which has a massive business school.
Restructuring the way university is accessed, introducing a financial concern, means that courses such as women’s studies or even broader arts and humanities courses which (should) make the student develop deeper understandings of ideas such as equality drop in uptake in exchange for courses which don’t have such matters as their concerns and so their discussion becomes extracurricular.
2. With the change in the demographic which accessed university (i.e. that working class students gained more access) the socialisation as to status, position, and expectations of the main student body changed. By which I mean where you have working class people making political demands it’s usually substantiated around pay and conditions. Working class women’s movements made demands for pay and recognition equal to their male counterparts, access to working the same jobs rather than in women’s-only jobs, and so on.
In the 80s and prior to that, where student’s social backgrounds were generally more affluent, they came from a background which had different expectations and demands to make, and more time to spend articulating them without the need to get a part time job to make ends meet. This point I think is a substantial factor in the general change in radicality of student politics.
3. The way in which we teach matters such as women’s struggle in schools through history lessons and sporadically citizenship in some instances are very much a “they fought for this and then they got it.” Of course it’s good that the matters are taught to an extent, but they are subject to an act of recuperation in doing so. They become a part of normalising the system rather than for providing a basis for criticising it.
“Women demanded x, y, and z. They achieved [some legal recognition of a status of equality] and so it is today.”
I don’t know if this is something that’s substantially changed over time, has only more recently been introduced into history lessons or what. But I am fairly certain that the accessibility of documentaries, factual TV/radio shows, and so on, in regard to such matters has substantially increased and this has a similar effect of socialisation regardless if the educational conditions somebody was under.
4. There’s a hell of a lot more out there to distract us. Fifteen different magazines to tell us how to be more like [celebrity] and then another 20 to tell us why [celebrity]’s life is much worse than you’d think. Many more movies, and easier access to them, umpteen different TV channels, a many more clubs, computer games, and a heavy emphasis on a consumerist society which keeps on pushing outwards. After a day of study, some extra hours of work, people don’t generally want to engage in complicated political arguments they want to relax and interact with brain mulch that takes their mind away from the drudgery of life.
Discussion on matters such as women’s struggles push the boundaries of comfort. Why engage with ideas that say that society is fundamentally corrupt and wrong and has to change, when it’s much more convenient to just kick off your shoes, slouch in front of the TV and fall asleep listening to Andrew Marr reiterating how Europe is basically responsible for every good thing that ever happened ever in his latest documentary series?
So I may have diverged from the point, I’m not sure. And I certainly could have been more articulate. I should point out I’m not trying to implicate one gender over another as being implicit in the sort of general process I’m outlining but more trying to give an idea in the factors that have overall changed the nature of the discourse on university campuses.