by Louise Perry
Friday, 2
December 2022
Campus Wars
15:15

Oxford students are going back to the dark ages

History graduate Ellie Hargreaves is the latest to be burnt at the stake
by Louise Perry
Translucent withdrew an article claiming that that ‘being trans is a biological condition’. Credit: Getty.

The Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) is set to scrap its women’s officer role, and the current occupier of that role — recent history graduate Ellie Greaves — has voiced some extremely mild objections to the idea, for which she is now being dragged over the coals by her fellow students. 

The proposal is that Greaves’ role be subsumed into a new position, titled ‘liberation and equality officer’, and she wondered if maybe there was a teensy bit of a chance that this might have some small effects on, you know, women? 


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Her objections were very reasonable and carefully expressed. Greaves even used the phrase “people with uteruses” to describe sufferers of endometriosis (a group she feels are currently neglected in university policy), and has elsewhere written of organising a “women and non-binary only club night” — something else she was criticised for, as it happens, by students offended that an event “marketed toward straight women” was being held in “a queer venue.” Poor Ellie Greaves just can’t win. 

This week’s grovelling apology is quite something: 

The comments I made in the article contribute to a bio-essentialist, narrow-minded narrative of what being a woman is, including the prioritisation of women over minorities. I cannot apologise enough for the damage and hurt I have caused the trans community. My knowledge of the trans experience is very limited at the moment, and I will endeavour to educate myself further on trans inclusivity through more open engagement with LGBTQ+ Campaign and personal research. 
- Ellie Greaves

Although these kinds of post-cancellation apologies always have a bit of a holding-up-today’s-newspaper energy, this example is particularly alarming in its degree of self-abasement. The response to Greaves’ apology on Twitter suggested that I was not the only person to think immediately of the coerced “self-criticism” demanded of those caught up in the Chinese cultural revolution. 

This case demonstrates two of the many dangers that come from holding to the blank slate theory of the human mind — that is, the belief that we are not born with any innate traits, but instead develop all of them through experience. 

Firstly, it turns out that it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from one already ambitious claim about the human mind, to an even more extreme claim about the human body. That is, the Second Wave feminist commitment to the blank slate theory of gender — the belief that masculine and feminine preferences and behaviour are entirely a product of nurture, not nature — prepared the ground for the far more radical proposition from trans activists. Namely, that the notion of biological difference was also socially constructed — the very proposition that is now seeing women like Ellie Greaves cast out of polite society for being “bio-essentialist.” 

The second danger inherent to the blank slate theory is that, if you don’t believe in human nature as such, then it’s easy to persuade yourself that you are radically unlike the people who took part in, for instance, the Cultural Revolution, and that you might therefore be immune to the social dynamics that have produced such atrocities again and again throughout human history. 

Funnily enough, the point was put particularly well by Daniel Mallory Ortberg (now Daniel M. Lavery) back in 2016, before Lavery became a trans activist. The title of the piece begins ‘Reasons I Would Not Have Been Burned As A Witch…” and reason number five reads:

Because I’m no better or smarter than a seventeenth-century peasant just because someone explained to me how electricity and outer space work.  If I’d had the same information as your average Bavarian circa 1605, you can bet your absolute britches that I’d be in the tavern jabbering about spirits of evil portent come the first bad harvest or weird-looking moon, looking for someone to blame.
- Daniel M. Lavery

I don’t believe in the blank slate, which means that I’m quite comfortable with stating plainly what ought to be a humbling fact: that the brains of the students of 21st century Oxford are really not much different from those of 17th century peasants. 

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
2 months ago

The self-abasement demanded in these apologies is dehumanising, and distressing even to read, particularly to anyone who knows their Russian or Chinese history. This is the atmosphere our young people are growing up in, and being educated in. This is happening right now, transforming our society along authoritarian lines. And yet anyone who challenges any of it is accused of being a “culture warrior”, while respectable middle class people look away in embarrassment, too polite not to “be kind” in response to bullying, ignorant fanaticism.

Dominic A
Dominic A
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Exactly. I was trying to recall where this was shown, cinematically – 1984, or some such film. Creepy. It is being called out more and more, let’s hope it’s on the wane, and people are wising-up to this Maoist/Soviet manipulation – even though it is now Americans that are creating it. Real comedians (as opposed to light entertainers), have been essentially been shut out of campuses; whereas for decades they loved gigging there, as Universities used to be bastions of the rebellious and open-minded. In retrospect, it seems almost as if this was phase 1 – cut the kids off from humour as comedians speak the truth, make people feel easier, and are therefore dangerous subversives.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Good point.

Note to self: make sure my young daughter gets a full dose of the most un-pc (and by definition, also the funniest) stand ups and those old 60s -80s British comedies, as soon as she is old enough.

Best antidote to wokeness, which is why they hate comedy so much.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

You will not find, on the whole internet, a comedian doing an anti-trans in schools skit as explicitly against the agenda as this one – it is so extreme you will never be quite the same after watching it. Youtube lets it be though, amazing..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7i8PYJfFbhw

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Do they still teach The Crucible in high school? Probably not because it is too on point. I read it last year and it really is a fantastic play that is both entertaining and instructive.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The whole problem is being ‘enabled’ by the hand wringly , kind…I know the saying that once you mention Hitler in a discussion on social media you have lost the discussion, but… nevertheless… one of the most interesting things about nazisim was how a society of very cultured, civilised, ‘kind’ people could all go along with it.
Accepting what people say their ends are, and ignoring what the means they employ to achieve those ends are, stumbles toward a possible reason as to why these sorts of irrational episodes keep occurring in history.
I also feel the wokey world of CRT, Trans rights, faux diversity, inter generational schtick provides cover for the Marxist desire to break the family apart as a necessary precursor to breaking society..as unfair as it may be, it is impossible to achieve the revolution in stable socities.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
2 months ago

Cowards like Ellie Greaves are part of the problem. She should apologize to all the women she has betrayed with her simpering, enabling behavior. Her apology emboldens the bullies and makes life harder for the rest of us.

hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 months ago

“Because I’m no better or smarter than a seventeenth-century peasant just because someone explained to me how electricity and outer space work”

The trouble is that the above statement is not actually believed by current day activists.
Instead, they believe that they are so uniquely brilliant and morally unparalleled, that, had they existed during the era of slavery, for example, they would have been vociferously against it.
They would not have colonised anyone.
They would not have been Nazis.
They would not have employed children.
It is with this sense of moral grandiosity that they judge and cancel those who came before them.
In their minds, they are not like any other generation of humans, but unique and possessed of Herculean morality and penetrating intelligence unmatched by those who lived before them.
That is the level of narcissism we are up against.

Last edited 2 months ago by hayden eastwood
Bronwen Saunders
Bronwen Saunders
2 months ago

Exactly. What we are dealing with is moral hubris. Yet it was precisely this unshakable belief in their own righteousness that enabled the witch burners and the Stalinists and the Maoists to commit such unspeakable atrocities.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 months ago

Another great observation..but of course they aren’t taught history anymore, they’re taught CRT or some other theory that kind of thing, more that Mao and Stalin were either righteous opposers of White Supremacy and capitalism or created by evil white privileged capitalist conspiracies, whether or not Jewish, English, American or just plain old rich people, to further some agenda or their own.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago

Hear! Hear! Hayden!

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 months ago

spot on…I blame (well, not really or entirely) all that child centred upbringing guff all the way back in the 60s .
It took a few decades to work through but we now have the first generation of little princes and princesses of self from the Disney cartoon generation of nice and group hugs, seeing their own little emperors and empresses of ‘me’ teaching and being taught in the colleges and universities.
Every profession or industry that drops vocational training and goes down the path of * university degrees*, and only university degrees, providing the baseline gatekeeper role for jobs goes down the pan.

Ben J
Ben J
2 months ago

The Student Union was a bunch of ass-clowns when I was an undergraduate in the late 80s and it seems they’ve changed very little.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
2 months ago
Reply to  Ben J

When I was at Cambridge I thought the SU were a bunch of goons that pretty much no one gave a toss about. They actually believed they spoke for the student body, but this was a delusion. They were nothing more than narcissistic, overly ambitious would-be politicians – laughable really, if they now weren’t so dangerous.

Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
2 months ago
Reply to  Graham Bennett

My college elected me to the University’s Student Representative Council (the fore-runner of OUSU) on a platform of not attending any of the meeting and filing all the bumph in the waggerpaggerbagger – a pledge which I fulfilled faithfully (not least because the bumph was all roneoed on double sides, so you could not even use it as scrap paper). The trouble with OUSU is that there are University administrators who think (faute de mieux) that it actually represents student opinion.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 months ago
Reply to  Graham Bennett

IT is because of all the self obsessed types going back as far as 70s and 80s going into politics that we are in the state we are in.
There are very few grown ups in the room…I vote Conservative usually..but c’mon, Matt Hancock is an embarrassment…whether better or worse than Ed Davey, Lorna Slater, Dawn Butler, Keir Starmer, Jeremy Hunt, Nicola Sturgeonor Otto Sholz et al isn’t here nor there.
They are all a bunch of value signalling products of that PPS multi generational process that has left us with politicians who have the event horizon of a mayfly and a empty bundle of values to signal without a useful bone in their bodies.

Francis Jones
Francis Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Ben J

Very tricky issues – to be faced painstakingly.
They are old school. Times changed.

Jim R
Jim R
2 months ago

Except the 17th century peasant brain had not been afflicted by social media and iPhone addictions. Hard to say whether malnutrition was worse but I’d venture their brains were much healthier.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim R

And that’s why the 17th century was followed by a period of greater rationality and personal freedom.

I have a dreadful feeling about the 22nd century.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Well, look on the bright side. We’ll all be dead by then.

Bill Hartree
Bill Hartree
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim R

Social Media addiction is certainly helping a lot of conservatives, Trump being a prime example.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago

Had Thomas Cromwell NOT been decollated he planned to dissolve both Oxford and Cambridge.
It now appears he was correct.

Neil Dangerfield
Neil Dangerfield
2 months ago

‘liberation and equality officer’
Common translation:
‘Witch finder general’

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

As I have already said on the Spectator, I wonder who made her make that “apology” and when she found the word “bio-esistentialis”. I wonder if it is the same as a “bio-exorcism” as seen in Beetlejuice. I wish someone asked her (is she a “her” or something else?)

Anyway, given that she used the expression “people with uterus” and organised an event for women and non-binary (???) people, it serves her right.
Is she another Kate Clancy?

Lastly, editor, who is Ellie Hargreaves?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 months ago

“set to scrap its women’s officer role, … subsumed into a new position, titled ‘liberation and equality officer’, ”
Oh so ironical.
The change in title is actually less sexist. And a lot of the regulations, laws, etc built into the last decades (such as the “women’s officers”) was very sexist in favour of women (no male spaces, or acknowledgement of say the half of domestic violence victims that are male). But women kept whining about how society was sexist….

And as the article points out correctly, what’s happening today is exactly in line with the “blank slate”, “no biological differences” ideology feminists themselves followed and demanded.
And it’s not just them, never heard any other women push back against them, as it was very convenient.
Women are as strong and capable as men (unless it’s Ukraine or Iraq or working in factories). Serena Williams is the best tennis player, the US women footballers deserve equal to pay, fewer female software programmers is sexism….

Enjoy the fruits of your efforts, ladies.

Last edited 2 months ago by Samir Iker
Seldom
Seldom
2 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

“Sexism in favour of women” is what sexists call women’s rights. Without such “sexism”, women in the West would still be living like their Iranian or Saudi counterparts. As for half of domestic violence being against men, where are the bodies? We know how many women died in the hands of male partners (or ex-partners). Have you got non-made up numbers about how many men are killed every year by their female partners?

Claire D
Claire D
2 months ago
Reply to  Seldom

The latest figures from the ONS – ‘Domestic abuse victim characteristics, England and Wales: year ending March 2022’ (this is the year of the report, the figures are from the period March 2019 – March 2021) are,

260 female victims of domestic homicide.
The suspect was female in 9 cases.

71 male victims of domestic homicide.
The suspect was female in 33 cases.

Last edited 2 months ago by Claire D
Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 months ago

The fact that second wave feminists know that ‘gender’ is an oppressive social construct is the reason that we are opposed to ‘transgender’ ideology. Sex is a physical, biological reality which exists, in all mammalian species, for the purpose of reproduction. That is all it is.
The conservative right believes that girls should wear dresses and be submissive. The identitarian left believes that anyone who wears dresses and behaves submissively is a girl. Both beliefs are born of misogyny and there isn’t a hair’s breadth between them.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

Oh FFS! The ‘conservative right’ hasn’t believed any such thing for at least fifty years.

Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
2 months ago

Agree. Second wave feminists are not to blame for the illogical, unscientific deduction that if gender is a social construct, biological sex must be one too.

Glyn R
Glyn R
2 months ago

All this is so vividly reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution- and with regard to Net Zero -their equally horrific Great Leap Forward, one can’t help but wonder if they are not the blue print being followed. Clearly mass ignorance is a great help – even Oxford and Cambridge students are abysmally educated, but funding from China has enormous influence on universities, are they contributing to this insanity? Whatever, they must be laughing their socks off at this madness that the majority is tolerating in the West – they know where it will lead and it is not a joyous Utopia for any of us.

Last edited 2 months ago by Glyn R
Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 months ago
Reply to  Glyn R

Among the Chinese, Baizuo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baizuo) is a term of derision.

Lancastrian Oik
Lancastrian Oik
2 months ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Very interesting- thanks for the link.

Neil Dangerfield
Neil Dangerfield
2 months ago

Looking at the world from a position of being in it for 60 years, climate change is the last thing we need to worry about!

Bill Hartree
Bill Hartree
2 months ago

Evidence?

Lancastrian Oik
Lancastrian Oik
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill Hartree

There isn’t any. Of “CAGW” or whatever you want to call it, that is.

Lizzie J
Lizzie J
2 months ago

Perhaps I credit Ms Greaves with more intelligence than her Oxford education warrants, but when I read her ‘apology’ I took it as a lady protesting too much and in reality sticking a finger in the air at her critics, knowing that the non-woke would see the parallels with Mao’s China and know she didn’t mean a word of it.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago
Reply to  Lizzie J

I wondered that too.

Enrique Granados
Enrique Granados
2 months ago

In a liberal ideology that has enthroned the illusion of limitless autonomy and the appearance of consent as the best tools for self-realization, biology is perceived as the last constrain to defeat.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

I’m sometimes tempted to think that a small nuclear device detonated over Oxford might be the solution to all our problems. Forget Slough.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
2 months ago

Could be different. I’m thinking of the movie “Idiocracy”.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago

The comedian JP Sears – he is fantastically popular on Youtube and all the similar streaming like Rumble – doing a skit on the man swimming on the woman’s university swim team. really good – and totally unanswerable by anyone…..

Good Stuff, short and strong – ridicule, that is the best attack.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sgjc29QCGo

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
2 months ago

Haha, postmodernists out to try a murder/suicide on Western society, Culture, and themselves. A pathology of self hate. This happens throughout history, Pol Pot to the French Revolution, to even the fun ones like:

‘However, according to the historical sources on several recorded instances of mass hysteria that occurred during the Middle Ages, some medieval cases of mass hysteria were distinctly weird with symptoms that were sometimes humorous and other times downright frightening. For example, in the early 14th century, a nun at a secluded Catholic convent in Northern France began meowing like a cat. Within seven days, all other nuns at the convent started meowing and purring: they even organized afternoon meowing sessions that lasted for hours. Since the Catholic theology of the time considered cats to be the Devil’s animals, the nuns were whipped by soldiers employed by the local noblemen and the meowing ceased.”

but us without a nobleman and his soldiers…. We do have Mattias Desmet though, and his explanation of how mass psychosis forms – and this whole gender insane psychosis is absolutely one of them, as was Fas* ism, Cultural Revolution, and the rest of the global horrors.

”Totalitarianism is the blurring of fact and fiction, yet with an aggressive intolerance for diverging opinions. One must toe the line . In his new book The Psychology of Totalitarianism, Belgian psychologist Mattias Desmet calls this phenomenon “mass formation.”. (his book is fantastically popular on Amazon where it is used to describe/explain the global insanity of the covid response – 4.5 stars, lots of reviews..)

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 months ago

Well, look at the bright side – she’s not likely to be actually burnt at the stake.
Although that may be coming; if someone is able to convince themselves that someone can change their gender through wishful thinking (and that cosmetic surgery on one’s sexual organs can help with that), I’m sure they can convince themselves that that’s the appropriate way to treat e.g. vile evil TERFs.

D Glover
D Glover
2 months ago

‘Bio-essentialists’
What, you mean like all geneticists, surgeons, obstetricians…..?

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
2 months ago

It is entertaining to follow the acceleration of the wokists’ attacks on each other over claims of moral purity. As that struggle continues, it becomes more and more grotesque and untethered from reality. Surely it must end somewhere when there’s no more purity to be claimed? But when will that be?
The abject apologies of the innocent do provoke pity, but not so much those of activists who have pushed the woke agenda until they are assailed by their purer fellows. When that happens, we might be forgiven for sitting back and watching in indifference as they cancel each other.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

Ok, being dense here. You indicate that your last quote is there because you say that today’s witch burners see themselves as unlike those of the past. However, the author of that quote says he would indeed be a witch burner, so I am not sure what your point actually is on that front.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrea X
Alan B
Alan B
2 months ago

“Liberation officer”?!?

Geez how many times have we been here before. See, e.g.: “forced to be free” or “planned spontaneity” or of course, “some pigs are more equal than others”…

“I pushed my soul into a deep dark hole and then I followed it in/ I watched myself crawl out as I was a-crawlin’ in/ I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind/ I saw so much I broke my mind/ I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in”

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
2 months ago

I think compulsory screenings of ‘1984’ and ‘Farewell My Concubine’ are needed for all Oxford students.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
2 months ago

Hard to care, let alone know for whom to hope wins, the horrible (Greaves) or the even worse.
People forget or never knew that the Nazi book burnings of 1933 started spontaneously on college campuses and Goebbels and the Nazi regime had to run to catch up. Or that once he started it Mao lost control of the Cultural Revolution to the true zealots, the college students, and he had to shut it down.

Red Napier
Red Napier
2 months ago

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing this article.

Michael James
Michael James
2 months ago

I have the feeling that someone is playing a huge practical joke on us, and having fun watching us taking all this woke stuff seriously.

Tony Sandy
Tony Sandy
2 months ago

Lets be safe. Lets conform and remove every possibility of disagreement by saying nothing. Hmmm, why does this remind me of the Nazis and a certain Pastor Niemoller quote? Anyone want to play a game of divide and conquer – beg I go first with a lie (The bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed)! Those playing victim, turn to the left (or is it right? I have difficulty which is which as the end results are always the same).

T. Lister
T. Lister
2 months ago

The second wave feminism I am aware of did not suggest an absolutist view of nature vs nurture. There was always the recognition that there were some differences b/w males and females hence the need for feminism in the first place.
And Ms. Greaves perhaps could have debased herself more than that ‘hostage’ apology did but I am not sure how.

Last edited 2 months ago by T. Lister