Oxford University has issued an apology after an image of a female janitor mopping up chalk graffiti that reads “Happy International Women’s Day” went viral.
The image was first shared on Thursday — which happened to be International Women’s Day — by Sophie Smith, an associate professor of political theory at the British institution, with the caption, “Oxford security makes a woman cleaner scrub out ‘Happy International Women’s Day’ on the Clarendon steps. What an image for #IWD.” The janitor’s face had been obscured in the tweet.
It quickly went viral, with many people pointing to the symbolism of having a woman erasing a message written with the intent of supporting her. The university apologized in a tweet replying to Smith’s image: “We are deeply sorry for this and for offense caused. International Women’s Day is hugely important to Oxford. This should not have happened.”
Smith, in turn, thanked Oxford for the apology but wrote that she hoped the woman in the image “receives a heartfelt apology, a warm cup of tea, the rest of the day off and, along with all our precarious staff, good enough pay to live in this city.”
The Guardian notes that Oxford laboratory manager Garrick Taylor — and the president of the Oxford UCU union — pointed out on Twitter that the image is key to the debate about equality. He wrote, “During a peaceful International Women’s Day rally. A low paid and probably precariously employed female cleaner was sent out in the freezing cold to clean chalk writing saying Happy International Women’s Day. Did it have to be removed? Then?”