It's insulting that female students at Oxford University are being offered special treatment

When feminists in the 1960s took on the paternalistic structures of their universities they were demanding freedom; today, we are given extra protection 

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The Independent Online

In a bid to help girls get First Class degrees, Oxford University has replaced a final year history exam with a paper that students can complete at home.

The new “takeaway” measures, which will be introduced at the start of the forthcoming academic year, were introduced after statistics showed that 32 per cent of women achieved a first in history at Oxford, compared with 37 per cent of men. 

This latest step in the meddlesome bureaucracy that is becoming higher education is incredibly patronising to women. The idea that girls – who are more likely than boys to go to university, do better in their GCSEs, and achieve higher grades in their A-Levels – need special measures to improve academically is nonsense.

These infantilising special protections prove that we have once again begun to see everything through a narrow lens of gender.

These were social attitudes – particularly in the stuffy, male-only world of education – we managed to shake off decades ago. When feminists in the 1960s took on the paternalistic structures of their universities (who told them not to read certain books and not to wear mini-skirts), they were demanding freedom; today, we are given extra protection.

The sole purpose of feminism is to demand women are treated equally across all boards within society – that includes when sitting an exam. So what if five per cent more male history students at one university are able to do better? This does not reflect a gender injustice, but an insignificant drop in the ocean of reality.

The idea that women need a special leg up – because they are apparently incapable of getting there themselves – is not only insulting, but we have proven how unnecessary an attitude like this is. Nearly three quarters of women who graduated last summer had found full or part-time jobs within six months of leaving university, compared to just 71 per cent of men.

If current trends continue, a baby girl born in 2016 will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than a boy. These are incredibly positive achievements.

Statistics aside, young women don’t want to be treated like delicate flowers in a world of rigorous academic discourse. We, just like boys, go to University to engage in new and challenging ideas and learn skills along the way.

Rather than trusting women to get high grades of their own accord, Oxford University’s Victorian decision is grounded in the outdated idea that women are less capable in the classroom, and not cut out for the serious world of academia.

This goes against the tide of progressive gender equality we have seen develop over the past few decades, where women have demanded to be treated exactly the same as men – in the classroom and beyond. 

In 1869, Emily Davies founded Girton College at the University of Cambridge. It was the first residential college in England where women could take the same courses and exams as men. Davies, a tireless campaigner for women’s right to an education, rejected any idea of a special system or curriculum for women. To those who resisted her push for women in higher education, “different” meant inferior. For many years, her mantra has contributed to a healthy climate within our Universities. We mustn’t forget it.

Women don't need cups of tea, biscuits and other home comforts to get a First Class degree. Just leave us to our books and we’ll do just fine.

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