2018 is a golden age for women in Cambridge

Gird your loins


Women are running the show in the University of Cambridge, and we're here to stay.

The Union, Footlights, Varsity, the ADC, The Cambridge Student, CULC, The Wilberforce Society, CUSU and, of course, The Tab: the most definitive institutions of this University – and all have women at the top.

When a female undergraduate starts at this bizarre, often overwhelming, sprawling mass of castles and learning, she can see women in power throughout the city. With Ruby Keane at Footlights, Daisy Eyre at CUSU, and Maria Epishkina (as President-elect) at the Union, to give but a few examples, the face of Cambridge is pretty gender-balanced. And so it should be.

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here come the girls

Beyond these institutions, women continue to make progress. Following campaigning, the Women's Boat Race has taken place on the Thames, alongside the Men's, since 2015, with coverage supplied by none other than famous Newnhamite, Clare Balding. 2017 marked the first admissions cycle where more women received offers to study than men.

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one small row for woman, one giant race for womankind

It seems that in 2018, in our little bubble of privilege, success, and ambition, opportunities and achievements are starting to be derived from talent and energy, not sex. Discrimination, either positive or negative, does not play a part in women pursuing their extra-curricular interests and committee positions.

It is remarkable to reflect on how far we have progressed. Back in the mists of time, women were not permittted to receive University degrees, and were restricted to only the single-sex colleges, kept captive by grumbling and Victorian fellows (sporting, I imagine, fine moustaches); it's an old, and depressing story. Yet even more recent decades have seen gender-based conflict; Magdalene only admitted women in 1988, being the last college do so, the first female President of the Union was only elected in 1967, and women only broke into the Footlights in 1978, with Emma Thompson at the forefront.

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Cricket team of Newnham College Cambridge, 1908

Don't rest yet: much is still to be achieved. Gender inequality is still rife – we are not free of the sexual harassment that disproportionately targets women, women still underperform in the History tripos, (supposedly held back by the notion that 'genius' has a 'masculine' connotation); and, on a University-wide level, only 35% of lecturers, and 18.3% of Professors are female.

look at all that inequality

There are also the broader, and more difficult, questions of intersectionality. Although female progress is impressive when viewed in the light of historical inequality, it is not ground-breaking that a middle-class, well-educated, high-achieving woman can achieve well in a liberal and progressive academic environment filled with such people. Access and outreach challenges continue to plague the University; the real problems are in supporting students from lower-income backgrounds, and from ethnic minorities, currently under-represented; this is not the place to address those questions, but to remember to get on with these more pressing issues.

In the meantime, though: here's to the girls.