Gender equality week raises questions about feminism

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Gender imbalance remains a concern for staff and students at Oxford. Women are still lagging behind men in key areas such as application success rates, finals results and representation in positions of responsibility.
Gender equality week is designed to bring the issues of gender imbalance to the fore, but what are the underlying causes and what are we doing to tackle them?

Women are underrepresented on JCR committees, where only nine out of thirty colleges have a female JCR president. Statistics also show that women fill a minority of roles on Oxford’s JCR committees. However, some colleges such as Corpus Christi and St John’s are reversing the trend by having more women than men on their JCR committees.

Preeti Dhillon, JCR President at Corpus Christi said, ” CR President is traditionally a male dominated position, and I think many capable women do not even think about running as they do not see it as an attainable post.”
It has also been questioned whether the atmosphere around events such as hustings can put off many candidates, not just women. Some JCR presidents have criticised the inherently masculine culture of many social and political events, suggesting their confrontational and competitive nature satisfies gender conventions of what male leadership should look like.

“From the finals gap, raw student numbers and leadership positions, Oxford is still very much a male-dominated institution”, says Jason Keen, St John’s JCR President.

Yet, despite widespread acknowledgement of the need for greater female participation, many JCR Presidents are reluctant to fly the feminist flag, citing an ignorance of its true definition as the reason. Feminism has become associated with images of bra-burning extremism, meaning many are unwilling to define themselves as feminists.

“Some see the word feminist as having negative connotations, which is a shame when considering that everyone should be interested in actively promoting gender equality”, said New College ex-JCR President, Matthew Ranger.

Evelyn Ashton-Griffiths of Christ Church said, “I would avoid calling myself a feminist as I don’t find the term particularly helpful. Personally, I often find feminism can be over-intellectualised and it therefore misses out those who need it most.”

JCRs are progressive in comparison to the University itself, where only 9.5% of Heads of Department or Professorships are taken up by women, half the national average of 18.7%. On the University Council, just five out of twenty-four members are women.

Fiona Caldicott, outgoing Pro-Vice Chancellor for Personnel and Equality, who heads up the Gender Equality Scheme Steering Group at Oxford University said, “We are committed to addressing the issues in areas where there isn’t gender equality.”

The task of the GES Steering Group is to ensure that the major issues surrounding gender inequality at Oxford are being tackled. Oxford University initiatives include Career Development Fellowships to encourage more women to apply for post-doctoral positions and Science outreach programs for girls in schools.

“At the very least, Gender Equality Week keeps talking about the issues and if we’re lucky by talking we’ll be changing some minds and attitudes as well”, according to Jesse Harber, St Hilda’s JCR President.

 

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