Writing: Rebecca Leigh
Illustration: Rebecca Leigh
Over the summer it surfaced that the Tokyo Medical University altered the score of female applicant’s entrance exams in order to keep the rate of women admitted under 30%. This year’s intake was only 18% female. After reading the institute’s excuse, that female doctors will have children and leave Japan with a shortage of trained medics, it became increasingly apparent to me that there is still sexism ingrained within academia. Why is it that an intelligent young woman in the twenty first century has opportunities taken away from her because she has the biological capabilities to carry a child? This pathetic excuse for sexism infuriated me. I wondered, to what extent was this an isolated incident versus an institutional problem worldwide?
Throughout my education at a highly academic private school, sexist behaviour was ingrained in everyday life. My school had only become co-ed in 2006, so the echoes of the old boys school still haunted the corridors. After becoming mixed, only a third of the year was female, which immediately made us as a minority. The area where segregation and gender bias became most apparent was among the sports teams. Being a member of the hockey team for the duration of my school career, I was infuriated with the difference in recognition between men’s rugby and women’s hockey. The rugby team received first class coaches and virtually infinite funding, compared to our old mini bus and limited resources. For sports that supposedly held equal importance within the school, our treatment couldn't have been more different. Now the school is finally allowing a girls rugby team, despite my friends and me asking almost eight years ago. Yet I would be surprised if this new women’s team is treated with the same reverence that that men’s team has always been given.
In 2018, UCAS reported that 30% more women aged 18 applied to university than men aged 18 in the UK. Edinburgh University’s student population is 61% female, and more women are entering university education than ever before. So, if more women attend university than men, why is it that we still face stigma and prejudice in academic situations? I've found myself in political debates where my opinion was attacked by male peers before I had even made a point, because of the assumption that as a young woman I wouldn’t be as versed in political strife like my male counterparts. Most difficulties still facing women in academia are based in stereotypes stemming back to a time, not long ago, when women were excluded from university education. Cambridge did not allow women to get a degree until 1948. As shown in my school, the gendered memories of the past are hard to shake. So I ask the question - what is modern feminism? Statute protects us, society accepts us, yet there are many battles still to be won. Sexism is alive and well in systems of education, and its up to us, whether it’s speaking up in a tutorial or getting on that rugby team, to fight against it in our daily lives.