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Women are latest victim of identity politics at Oxford University

Women are not allowed to view the Igbo mask. Credit: Pitt Rivers

June 20, 2024 - 7:00am

Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum has decided not to showcase a West African mask, and online photos of it, because Igbo culture has a taboo against women seeing it. The decision is justified in the name of “cultural safety”.

The rot starts at the top. Museum curator Laura van Broekhoeven could have been invented by Andrew Doyle or planted by grievance studies hoaxers James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian. Though she obtained her PhD in 2002, she has only a smattering of largely uncited low-prestige publications to her name, none of which prevented her being made Professor of Museum Studies at Oxford in 2021. By comparison, Harvard’s deposed Claudine Gay, who has several well-cited publications in top journals, is a veritable superstar and paragon of rigour.

Perhaps van Broekhoeven has shot to the heights of academia because she has been showered with research grant funds as part of right-on curatorial projects such as “Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage” and “Taking Care: Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care”. She seems to have gravitated to the more censorious end of academic governance such as ethics and repatriation of objects committees, while her service to the DEI gods is especially impressive, taking in spells as Co-Chair of the Oxford and Colonialism Network, a member of the Race Equality and Diversity Taskforce, and a member of the Museum Association Decolonisation Guidance Working Group.

Her university webpage features three videos of keynote speeches, including one given at a conference titled “Settler Colonialism, Slavery, and the Problem of Decolonizing Museums” and another labelled “Museums and Heritage Decolonisation presentation at Queen’s University Belfast, 2022”. The museum’s trustees are cut from the same cloth.

Pitt Rivers has set the pace when it comes to virtue-signalling, and the museum is a textbook case of institutionalised Left-liberal extremism. It blends critical theory tropes such as “decolonisation” with the radical Left-liberal embrace of “emotional safety”. Together, the two have fused to create the belief system we know as “woke”, which I define in my new book Taboo as “the sacralisation of historically marginalised race, gender and sexual identity groups”. This school of thought establishes a moral-emotional hierarchy of victim narratives and tripwires around sacred groups which underpins today’s cultural Left-liberalism.

“Diversity and Equity” may be translated as discriminating against white people, men and Asians to hit race and gender quotas. “Inclusion” means censoring freedom of speech to prevent the most hypothetically sensitive member of a totemic group from feeling emotionally “unsafe” or “traumatised”. This incentivises activists to play the trauma card, even as “woke” whites’ cultural antennae are so finely honed that they will have internalised this move and headed it off through self-censorship and racial self-abasement. This is likely what happened in the case of the Pitt Rivers display, even before the obligatory consultation with “stakeholder groups”.

An interesting aspect of the hiding of the Igbo “no women’s eyes allowed” mask is that it throws feminism under the bus in the name of race sensitivity, rankling feminist art historians such as Ruth Millington. There is an analogy here with the trans debate, where women must defer to transwomen who wish to enter their spaces. In both cases, women possess some intersectional points, but fewer than other marginalised groups. As John McWhorter argues, this approach is not about tribal identity politics so much as about “who is hurting who” and therefore has to walk behind in the “progressive stack”.

Once Labour takes office as expected, we should expect a DEI boom in British institutions. The weak restraints provided by the Tories’ episodic attention to identitarian excesses will be relaxed. Keir Starmer’s government will helpfully chime in to warn against “stoking divisive culture wars” should anyone have the temerity to complain. His Race Equality Act will spark new institutional initiatives, revving up the use of mandatory diversity statements, hiring quotas and speech policing.

We can therefore expect things to get worse for expressive freedom, truth, equal treatment, trust in institutions, national identity and social cohesion. Britain’s dwindling sensible media and the few unwoke MPs left standing will have an outsized role to play in taking on the upheaval taking place in our institutions.


Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and author of Taboo: How Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press, 4 July).

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AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

Been convinced you are a victim? There’s an activist (making a good living) working for your rescue. But do note that ‘activists’ are always hungry for greater campaigns and the previous campaigns will be recycled to provide fuel for someone else’s sense of victimhood.

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago

How will they deal with trans people? I am guessing that a self-declaration at the door should provide access.

Karen Arnold
Karen Arnold
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul T

Well that self declaration seems to work for men who want access to female only areas, doesnt it!

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Karen Arnold

Why are all those ads on tv getting increasingly graphic about women’s “lady parts” asy lovely late neighbour used to term that part of the female body.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago

And yet we’re going to vote these people into government with a landslide. Why?

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Because most people just want the Tories out including half their traditional base , and the Tories have anyway been useless at tackling these issues . George ‘repatriate the Elgin Marbles’ Osborne must have been having Pow Wows with this woman .

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

Surely even the dumbest voter must realise that these people won’t be happy until they’ve got cameras in our bedrooms?

Gregory Toews
Gregory Toews
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The dumbest voters are those who think there’s a net benefit to our society to have cameras in the bedrooms.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 month ago
Reply to  Gregory Toews

In the future, everyone will be a porn star for 15 minutes?

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Mine be very boring.

Ed O'Marmy
Ed O'Marmy
1 month ago
Reply to  jane baker

Same here. Maybe the NHS should do something about it

Basil Schmitt
Basil Schmitt
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Because the party supposed to be keeping these people out and ensuring a future for Britain has been in power for 14 years and has utterly failed in it’s purpose, so it needs to be extinguished.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

and replaced by the party that will usher in more of the same. Politics there are as screwed up as they are here.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

These mad or malign curators wish to show cultural sensitivity to the primitive patriarchal beliefs of dead Igbo that most present day Igbo are unlikely to hold but disregard the cultural beliefs of the present day British population. They are not even consistent in that In their ideology they have abolished the concept of the sex of men and women and replaced it with the concept of identity gender that can be adopted or dropped at will. If they were consistent they would simply request that women adopt a male gender identity when gazing upon the taboo mask.

Unfortunately because the Conservatives have mucked up our economy and culture by adopting many of the woke and socialistic nostrums peddled by these people we are going to elect a party that will double down on all the malign policies that have brought us to this pass because so many disgusted conservatives can’t bring themselves to vote for the faux Tory’s and so many leftist women who know that Labour support anti-women policies can’t bring themselves to vote in favour of any party that doesn’t proclaim itself leftist even though they know it is against their interest.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

If they were consistent they would simply request that women adopt a male gender identity when gazing upon the taboo mask.
Wouldn’t that be appropriating the male gaze? I ask tongue in cheek because there is little left to do but mock the identitarian crowd, cultural appropriation, and the rest.

Patrick Turner
Patrick Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I propose that all serious adults on the political right and left fully refuse these pathetic culture wars. Leave the right-wing and left-wing identarians to their respective reductive nonsense. Former and latter represent the most intellectually shallow and debased parts of right and left. Farage/Braverman/Trump and their Alt-right keyboard warriors vs the postmodern narcissists and prigs sadly scattered across the left spectrum. Buried under all of this is the only political and economic struggle that ultimately matters: free market capitalism vs socialism.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
1 month ago

This decision by Oxford is so educational.
I had no idea that Igbo culture was so misogynistic and patriarchal, but now I am much better informed as to the relative status of women in African society.

Margaret TC
Margaret TC
1 month ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

In another article on this I read that what used to be called (and universally condemned) ‘female genital mutilation’ is now named ‘female circumcision’ (and so presumably to be regarded as acceptable). That’s progress for you!!

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

Yeah,women do all the work,men sit under the shade tree and shoot the breeze

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 month ago

‘Women are latest victim of identity politics at Oxford University’

Enforced by a woke white woman. What are the chances of that???

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

It’ll be ‘internalised misogyny ‘ that’s the problem. Now if she changed gender (I bet she’s non-binary) she’d be OK.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

But I bet you she’s looked at it already.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 month ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Yes, a cheeky peep I’d wager

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

Entirely unsurprising, but also, a lot of these kind of changes at Oxford that I have personally seen have been brought in by men, often relating to things which they imagine would be ‘good’ for women (but in fact aren’t).

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
1 month ago

Wouldn’t posting a “No Igbo Women Allowed” sign have been easier? Although you have to think that Igbo women already know that.

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
1 month ago
Reply to  Walter Lantz

I imagine an actual Igbo woman’s marginalization status would be high enough that she could go in.

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
1 month ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

So who is the museum catering to? Igbo women that adhere to traditional taboos wouldn’t enter the exhibit anyway. Enlightened Igbo women who don’t consider it a taboo will visit assuming they’re interested in that sort of thing. So the museum is worried about insulting Igbo men? That’s some kind of cultural pretzel logic.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
1 month ago

Give the damn thing back to the Igbo. Then not only women, but anyone not of the correct color or tribe will be unable to see it. Problem solved.

Jeff Dudgeon
Jeff Dudgeon
1 month ago

In one sense, this is so silly you would imagine the whole decolonising project is feeble and thinly grounded until you realise it has taken root in the institutions.
Indeed it has taken over in so many parts of higher education that inevitably there are some people who overdo it like Broekhoeven. Given the Pitt Rivers museum is devoted to the White Male Gaze on Africa, her post can only have driven her mad.
I was at that QUB conference which she addressed. Half the speakers were decolonisers, the other half serious museum curators. One who spoke on Roger Casement was in a terrible quandary. He brought home objects and people from Africa and Peru (and had sex with their youth) yet was about as progressive as you could then get.

jane baker
jane baker
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Dudgeon

But Hell at least he paid them (said in George Peppard A team voice,),but did he?

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
1 month ago

Well, Dutch liberals take progressivism to the nth level. The latest fashion over there has been to defend prostitution by students to pay their tution and bills as ‘sex-positive’ activity expressing the spiritual heart of the current generation of feminist campaigning.

Dr E C
Dr E C
1 month ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Oh we’ve also got lecturers here in the uk organising conferences to destigmatise sex work for students, don’t you worry…

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

Have we reached the point where DEI starts to devour itself yet? It’s almost farcical when the purveyors of inclusion actively exclude half the population from an exhibit and ultimately decide to exclude the other half as well. Nothing says ‘cultural safety’ like museum materials that no one can see.

Michael James
Michael James
1 month ago

There’ll be more of this with the creeping Islamisation of the West.

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
1 month ago

The ant-woke crowd has succumbed to profit. They really exist now as a flock of writers who spend all their time preaching to the choir to sell books, podcasts and Substack subscriptions. It isn’t about influence or change anymore, it’s just about making a buck. The idea is to find anything with a whiff of wokeness and just rip it, gin up some outrage, start a twitter feud among the crazies, and oh, remember to mention your new book. I recently read some guy complaining about the Word grammar checker being too woke, and realized how ridiculous it has become.
Change requires understanding and compromise. You have to listen to people. Instead, everyone sits in their castle like bubbles lobbing bombs that only the other people in their respective bubble care about. I hate most of what people describe as wokeness, but I am pretty sure that none of the people I read or listen to are being heard by anyone they criticize. It is useless unless you’re selling books.
Of course, everyone does it, not just the anti-woke crowd. Our culture wars will go on forever because so many writers make their living fighting them. Democracy is supposed to be noisy but today there is no incentive to change anything because it is more profitable to complain endlessly.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
1 month ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

To paraphrase some brilliant person who’s name I can’t recall:

Every good cause in time becomes a business which in turn becomes a racket…

We are now at the business phase of anti-woke but boy* do we need it if only for rational latecomers to be able to find a place which confirms they are not crazy for being simply rational and heterodox…

*Can I say boy as a means of conveying exasperation or must I say “zim” or “ze” or something…

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

“What began as play and as play was most useful and excellent became the first and most enthralling business.”
Dr. Moberly, headmaster of Winchester, on abandonning sports matches against Marlborough.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 month ago

Why not just don’t exhibit the silly old thing? Problem solved.

JP Martin
JP Martin
1 month ago

This is hardly surprising given that across Europe there is already a tacit tolerance of polygamy to accommodate the practices of certain communities. This weakness has consequences.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 month ago

The sacred Teutonic belief in Kultur Sicherheit demands a taboo on persons of the Israelite persuasion . . . but who would dare announce such a thing at Oxford? (Oh, wait, “from the river to the sea . . .”)

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

We could always identify as men at the door but hell, they can stick their stupid mask.

Emmanuel MARTIN
Emmanuel MARTIN
1 month ago

I think I need an Igbo mask to decorate the meeting room of our roleplaying and board games club.

Tony Coren
Tony Coren
1 month ago

It’s the Pitt’s