Claiming the scalp of a nasty little shit

The fall of Toby Young is a victory for the movement against sexual abuse of women, argues Seb Cooke.

Toby Young
Photo by Out RAjious, flickr – Creative Commons (detail)

Toby Young has always been a nasty little shit but has managed to get away with it for the most part. When he pops up on TV he’s usually introduced as a “father of four” and “academy school pioneer”, titles which mask his agenda which is basically to destroy the state education system in the same way a member of the Bullingdon club might smash up a restaurant.

The introductions might not change, but now he’ll be forever known by the wider public as that guy who had to resign after just one week for his sexist, homophobic and bigoted views. And he held on for just long enough for a series of cabinet ministers – including the Prime Minister – to tarnish themselves by publicly backing him. Maybe they didn’t properly vet him – the conclusion drawn by some in the media this morning. Or maybe they thought they could get away with it and the outrage would only be confined to those who already knew and despised him. In other words, perhaps they took a gamble that people were ultimately as bigoted as he was or they generally wouldn’t care. After all, Trump was elected after saying and doing worse.

But the Harvey Weinstein revelations, the way that led to a much wider outing of sexual abusers and the huge volume of ordinary women going public with their experiences via social media have shifted the political terrain against the Toby Youngs of this world and their supporters.

Also crucial here is the experience of women in universities and even schools, facing sexual harassment and a “lad culture” which supports it. Women’s resistance to this sexism finds it way beyond colleges and into the working class more generally, as people hear about the experiences of their friend, child or family member who has gone off to uni. One of the strongest argument against Young was that his appointment was a shot in the arm to the most vile and sexist elements in the university system and therefore a threat to the safety of women.

And what does this say about where power lies in society? Yes, lots of power does exist in the government. But that power clearly isn’t absolute, otherwise they would have made their appointment and carried on. Ordinary people have demonstrable power too, even when it’s expressed in a scattered way. Women fighting back against widespread sexual abuse have power. They’ve just claimed the scalp of that shit Toby Young.


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