Porn & Policy at Teddy Hall

It is not at all an unfortunate time to be a left-wing rabble-rouser at St Edmund Hall. Haunted by the ‘Ghost of Scandals past’, students at Teddy Hall over the last few years have embarked on a long march to liberate the college from its old association with lad culture.

This is a project that is somewhat half-complete. Teddy Hall, with its Men’s Officers, is not yet the envy of Wadham but nor is it deserving of the image of a boozy men’s rugby club with an academic college attached.

The transformation of the Hall has been radical enough that we were among the first colleges to boycott The Sun, a nominally ‘progressive’ step if highly problematic in its attitudes to women who work in pornography. We banned ‘Blurred Lines’ because of its role in perpetuating rape culture, we voted to divest from fossil fuels, and even voted to support a boycott of Israel in 2013 – the only JCR (I believe) to have done so.

But this obsession with cultivating an image of being ‘progressive’ has its own problems. This is in no way unique to Teddy Hall, but it bubbled over at the college last week when the JCR sadly voted to scrap one of its honorary members: the highly successful porn actor, Jenna Jameson. In a brilliant piece for Cherwell, JCR member Susanna O’Brien explained, “Sex workers are among the most stigmatised women in our society, and Teddy Hall missed an important opportunity to stand in solidarity with them.”

By wrongly focusing on how a college would be perceived, rather than the real function of our university in society, Oxford students once again put their foot in it – and the furore was reported everywhere from Cuntry Living to The Times of India.

This is the unchallenged tenet at the core of Oxford politics: that the utmost political priority is to sanitise our image for the sake of ‘access’. It was this thinking that last year led reactionary students to criticise the calling out of racism by “I, too, am Oxford”, as ‘bad for access’, wrongly believing ‘access’ to trump oppression.

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In trying to combat a stereotype which is fundamentally true – Oxford is full of white male privilege – students can inadvertently ignore the role of that privilege. Perhaps Oxford politics should give up the unwinnable fight of polishing a privileged turd, and focus instead on dismantling those privileges instead.