Respondents told of “boys club” atmospheres in JCRs, condescending tutors and a perception that women “need to do more to prove themselves” than men.
One Somerville postgraduate described discrimination as existing “mostly in the expectation people have. They assume you are less interesting, of less important, or are less likely to continue in academia, or are less likely to be in senior positions, so they don’t bother to push you as much compared to male counterparts.”
A Magdalen undergraduate expressed similar concerns, commenting: “Meeting new people you have to prove your worth to be taken seriously as a woman.”
Some respondents also felt judged in non-academic life, with one explaining how she had been laughed at by male opponents when being fielded as part of a male hockey team. Another, part of her college’s women’s football team had been told by tutors that her involvement was a “waste of time”.
The issue of sexism amongst tutors was expressed by a minority of respondents. However, two female historians at St Hugh’s College, claimed to have experienced inferior treatment to their male counterparts. One said: “My tutor once wrote on an essay where I had cited ‘feminist historians’ that ‘not all historians were feminists, thankfully!’ Essentially the male tutors at my college, by and large, do not see gender history as being as valid as political male dominated history.”
Another said: “I think a significant minority of tutors in my subject regard all students as something of an imposition on their time, but are more dismissive of female students’ concerns.”
She continued: “Academic staff really need to stop alternately mocking and patronising female students. It’s rude, unproductive and makes for a depressing working environment.”
This comes after an article published in Friday’s Daily Mail, which reported the claims of Shenda Collins, an image consultant, who stated that she believed female academics in the University felt compelled to adopt a “jumble sale” look to their clothing in order to be taken seriously academically.
However, many respondents disputed Collins’ findings, claiming that they felt less pressured in their clothing choices in Oxford than in other environments. An Oriel student suggested that Oxford academia was “a freer environment, in which societal pressures still exist but academics can challenge them because they are intellectually empowered, and so do not need to submit to the idea that attractiveness is all that matters”.
Other respondents echoed the idea that Oxford was more progressive on gender equality than other environments; several former JCR Presidents, and a former Cherwell editor said that they found gender to be no barrier to their achievements.