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Ruth Padel resigns, but the “gender war” rages on

Book blogs all across the interwebs are abuzz with news of Ruth Padel’s resignation from the post of Oxford professor of poetry only nine days after she was elected. Her resignation came yesterday after claims that she was the anonymous source that tipped off journalists about allegations that her rival, Derek Walcott, had sexually harassed students.

An article from the Guardian quotes Padel’s statement last night, upon her resignation:

I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott’s withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out. I did not engage in a smear campaign against him, but, as a result of student concern, I naively – and with hindsight unwisely – passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain.

The New Yorker‘s Book Bench blog comments on the supposed gender war that many academics and writers believe is driving this drama:

The accusations from both camps (and, yes, that would be Men v. Women) have been pointed. A male Oxford professor called for Padel’s resignation by saying, “We now have proof” of a smear campaign against Walcott “led by a gender-based faction determined to have a woman in the post.” The poet Clive James defended Walcott thus: “What male teacher is going to escape a sexual harassment case? All you’ve got to do is stand there, and you’re sexually harassing them.” After Padel resigned, the novelist Jeannette Winterson opined that “Oxford is a sexist little dump.” The poet Jackie Kay didn’t mince words: “The old boys have closed in on her. It would not have happened to a man, and I am very sad.”

  • Ms Baroque

    It’s all utterly depressing. There was indeed a misygyny element to the spectacle of feminist historians like Marina Warner and Hermione Lee defending Walcott and negating his substantial anecdotal reputation for sexual harassment (topped up by two official incidents).

    If anythingk the split there was across the Atlantic, with the Americans – who have aftrer all veen the ones working with Walcott over the decades – taking those claims much more seriously.

    The anonymous dossier campaign was nothing to do with Padel. She never would have been implicated in it to the extent that she is if she hadn’t meddled by going to the press with her “concerns” about Walcott. The idea that she told journalists and then didn’ expect anything to blow up is just ludicrous. And by painting that in the colours of the gender war she is doing women everywhere a disservice – we’re simply not that gormless

    Jeanette Winterson and Jackie Kay may be right about Oxford being a sexist little dump, I wouldn’t know – though it would explain the cultural tolerance there for sexual harassment – but if Padel has had to go it’s because she put a blade through her opponant’s wheel and lied about it and then, in confessing, didn’t seem to see the significance of it.

    It was just bad luck for her that some nutcase had simultaneously organised a creepy anonymous campaign.

    Neither one of the two poets comes off very well, but neither one is the victim of a masterminded conspiracy. And Padel will suffer more than Walcott, who has shown himself to be (like Nixon) literally unimpeachable.

  • John

    All you’ve got to do is stand there, and you’re sexually harassing them.

    Just brilliant.

  • Paddy Stamp

    That’s it, I’m dumping all of my poet friends. For safety’s sake.

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