By Manasi Nene
Colleges and universities, especially those as old as Cambridge and Oxford, have a lot of historically sexist baggage they need to deal with – though they allowed women to sit in the classrooms, women did not become “full members” of the University till 1920, and Cambridge didn’t confer formal degrees to its women till 1947.
Examiners at Cambridge have now been told not to use words like “genius”, “flair” and “brilliance” while evaluating students, because they have a gendered connotations. Dr Lucy Delap, a lecturer in British History at Cambridge, told The Telegraph, “Some of those words, in particular ‘genius’, have a very long intellectual history where it has long been associated with qualities culturally assumed to be male.” She adds, “Some women are fine with that, but others might find it hard to see themselves in those categories”. The aggressively male academic environment at Cambridge isn’t news to anyone, but these schemes to rectify it also seem a little lopsided to us. After all, it’s nice that Cambridge is bringing attention to how sly sexism can be – but shouldn’t we then be trying to reclaim these words and titles, instead of banning them?
Oxford, too, has been under scrutiny lately – in an attempt to make the History department more gender-balanced, they introduced a “take-home” exam, along with its regular classroom exams, in a move designed to boost skewed results for its female students. But critics have said that this move is insulting, because it implies women are a weaker sex that cannot handle the pressures of the classroom.
Can we? Can’t we? What is the real reason behind boys getting more first-class degrees than girls? Apparently, it’s because boys are “risk-takers”. But if that is the case, shouldn’t we be looking more towards schools, to fix the risk-taking-imbalance at its root? Cambridge and Oxford are certainly trying, but we’re not quite sure they know what they’re doing.