Like many others, throughout my life, I have dawdled between the upper and lower middle class, experiencing both private and state education and making life long ties with people of all classes. Because of this, conversation challenging the confinements of gender, race, sexuality or class within the education system draw me in until I’m knee deep in googled articles and infuriatingly angry. So when I learned that more women than men have been accepted in to Oxford University for the first time ever this previous academic year, there was a plethora of things I wanted to say.
The central question is why. Why did it take so long? Why has it never happened before when statistically, girls have achieved significantly better A Levels than boys since the year 2000? Why is it that one of England’s most elite institutions seems to desire male students opposed to female? The simple answer is, of course, sexism. But as always, it runs a little deeper than that.
Institutional bias does not just stretch to women like Virginia Woolf, who was refused library entrance at Oxford without a male companion in the 1920s, but also to her contemporary counterparts. Girls with a passion for academics and a desire to walk through the stone arches of ancient knowledge universities like Oxford have sculpted over their long and prosperous years are being pushed out of the equation simply because they are women – and women of color have it even worse. There is a deep-rooted notion amongst old English establishments that to be British is to be white and to be male and patriarchy ensures that those who entertain this unspoken rule are appointed to the positions which could make or break a marginalized individuals’ career.
Refusing to admit women well in to the late decade of the seventies and hesitant to appoint women to positions of power — the first female Vice Chancellor appearing only in 2016 — Oxford clearly sends the message that there is a particular type of person most desirable to represent their colleges and they are not diverse women. Unless you’re Malala Yousafzai. Every woman’s application should be treated with the same fairness as that of the notable diverse women who have attended Oxford and continued to do amazing things throughout their time there and afterwards. Every woman, despite their deviance from the white male norm, should be able to sleep at night with the comfortable knowledge that they are being taken seriously.
Of course 2017 shows us that there is a change from the severity of discrimination that previously reigned. Long dormant tectonic plates of Oxford’s foundations are shifting with the times in to more desirable and rightful positions, admitting more women because they are intelligent and not rejecting them because they are women. But there is still a long way to go and a lot to challenge the educational system about. The gender gaps at Oxford are finally closing but the race gaps are still being forced together with all the might of those who do not hold enough power to make a significant change.
It’s about time you started helping us properly, Oxford.