Have You Seen Her? Where Are Women Going after University?



Most undergraduates in the UK are women, 63%* in fact and at postgraduate level it’s pretty much even. Which explains why 77% of MPs are women, why women earn on average 15% more than men per hour, why they dominate 70% of the top jobs in the UK and why 78% of all scholarly articles in the last two decades have been written by female academics especially, obviously, in the field of women’s history. HOORAY! Since 1918 we have smashed through the patriarchy and the glass ceiling in one fell swoop! Emily Davison didn’t throw herself under the King’s horse for nothing.

Looking at this you might start feeling indignant: ‘why do women have all the money and power?’, you may cry. Why should one gender be favoured over any other? You might even dare to question this power imbalance, in public, if you can brave the heckles, rape and death threats and objectification. Doesn’t the imbalance seem ridiculous? We agree. And wouldn’t it be equally as ridiculous if, as is the case, it was men that enjoyed these privileges over women?

The lack of female representation in the top jobs – whether it’s business, politics or academia –  and the lack of equal pay for doing the same job, is just one aspect of gender inequality which needs to be tackled and one that we think is particularly relevant to Wessex Scene readers. It is easy to see to see how female students could become demotivated when their future careers are dictated by pure biological coincidence rather than the (not necessarily monetary) value of their contribution. Throughout history women have been there, inventing, philosophising, calculating, managing and yet we are strangely ignorant of this. In the present we students see the academic journals, written by men and the country still being led by predominantly male voices. In the future we know that as women we may earn less than our male peers for the same work. How can we fight for recognition, when we are unsure of where we fit into our history, present and future?

In terms of hope for the future, events such as ‘Inspiring Women’ put on by SUSU on Monday 18th are a really positive step in the right direction. It was really great to see influential women – such as Josephine Knowles of ‘Beyond the Streets’, an organisation dedicated to helping people out of prostitution – speak about their incredible careers, the progress made and how they have overcome sexism and at times racism in the course of their careers. It reminded us that we can’t give up fighting for our futures, our aspirations – from motherhood, to politics, to being in the circus and everything in between- and above all equality, regardless of gender. Most of all, the evening was about combatting our ‘inner barriers’ and recognising when our own lack of confidence and assertiveness holds us back.

But this left us wondering, is getting over the inner barriers going to break down the established, external and rather stubborn structures that maintain the current levels of inequality? And how do we deal with these structures? Some suggest that the changes will happen naturally, but we think that a more proactive approach needs to be taken. One essential starting point is to bring women’s perspectives into education. Not only would this need to be at undergraduate level, but should start at primary school. If we could teach young kids about these awesome women and their successes, if the remarkable work done by women in the World Wars could be emphasised and we could be taught from a young age that feminism and other movements for equality have had a significant role in shaping the 20th Century then maybe certain roles, jobs and subjects would cease to be gendered.

In the meantime, events like ‘Inspiring Women,’ the presence of an active feminist society on campus, the space given to feminists by the Wessex Scene and Surge Radio to discuss these issues keep the fight and need for equality at the forefront of our minds and remind us what we are fighting for.


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Discussion7 Comments

  1. avatar

    Sorry for being an idiot, but the first stat has an asterisk because it’s true while the others are reversed? Perhaps worth making this crystal clear to avoid confusion.

    In any case it’s worth considering that the people publishing academic papers today, the MPs and people in the top jobs are largely from the previous generation (to current students). Only one generation ago the portion of undergraduates who were female was dramatically lower, and the portion of females in top jobs today may well be a consequence of that. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if 30 years from now, when the current student generation starts to take on the top jobs, gender imbalances (at least in the percentage of females in top jobs) start to disappear.

    I realise that the issues surrounding differences in pay can’t be explained that way.

    • avatar

      Hi, yes sorry it was with an asterisk because it is the only true fact!

      A really good point, we discussed the idea as well, whether as more and more females go into university, hopefully more of their work will be present in the future. This is why we think events such as the ‘Inspiring Women’ ones are important, as it is sometimes difficult to believe in what you are doing when you have seen so few successful female role models. We know they are out there, we just need to learn a bit more about them!

      We opted for the view that we need a bit of a push to encourage what can hopefully then continue to happen on its own.

      The only point which was still baffling to us, is that even in the last 20 years, the contribution of women to academic journals only seems to be 21% or so, which has not at all risen since the 17th Century. It is important to look at the reasons for this to identify whether there is a lack of women willing to write journals or whether they are under-represented, and if they are not willing to write, then what causes this.

      • avatar

        There’s reason to hope the proportion of publications and jobs is heading in the right direction, but as the article points out the fact that women are graduating in greater numbers needn’t mean the problems will sort themselves out. There’s a load of structural reasons as to why women might publish less, and have their career progress interrupted – particularly with regards to norms regarding having and raising children, and the extent to which junior academics are poorly facilitated in this regard. As well as all the usual sexist and implicit bias stuff that gets in the way.

      • avatar
        Rachael (PhD student and victim of the double body problem)

        While PhD numbers are fairly balanced, the proportion of women in post-docs dramatically drops. Thanks to ever-shrinking funding supplies, researchers can now expect to loiter in the ‘post-doctoral wilderness’ for up to 10 years, completing post-doc after post-doc, before they are offered secure employment. Often the post-doctoral wilderness requires the reasearcher to globe-hop to wherever the funding is (making academics in relationships or married even less likely to both make it to a lectureship- known as the ‘double-body problem’) making it very difficult to form meaningful relationships or start a family.

        During a PhD (where gender proportions are roughly equal) the researcher will probably publish between 1 and 4 papers. The majority of a researcher’s papers will therefore be published in the post-PhD part of his/her career.

        Since women have the added disadvantage of the ‘biological clock’ during the Post-doctoral wilderness (ie a woman may be nearing the end of child-bearing years by the time she secures a lectureship), many more women never make it out of the wilderness so the proportion of male-authored papers shoots up (men can always just settle down once they have tenure). Added to the generational bias and you can see why so few women publish post-PhD.

  2. avatar
    An equalist, not a feminist.

    Yes there are more women than men at university, but what courses are they doing? Look at the male:female ratios in subjects like maths, physics and engineering. The average student doing a STEM subject will earn more than the average humanities student, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately there is a considerable gender imbalance in these subjects, and the pay gap will reflect that until silly myths about ‘boys subjects’ and ‘girls subjects’ are history.

    • avatar

      Perhaps, as the article suggests, emphasising women’s achievements throughout each stage of education may help to overcome the imbalance between subjects. Innovations by women in STEM are all too often glossed over and made invisible, especially in primary and secondary education.

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