Today’s history lesson is on Elizabeth Wordsworth. She was the great-niece of poet William Wordsworth and, more interestingly, a great advocate for women’s education. Already the principal of Lady Margaret College of Oxford, she founded St Hugh’s College in 1886 as an all-women constituent of the university, specifically for young women who couldn’t afford the expensive fees. Exactly 100 years after Wordsworth founded the college, men were invited to join and St Hugh’s is now one of the largest colleges at Oxford.
Last night, St Hugh’s – the college created for women, by a woman – appeared on University Challenge with an all-male team.
As far as all-male panels (or manels) go, this isn’t as dangerous as a UN conference on gender equality featuring only men. Or as confusing as the all-male MSNBC show discussing “women in politics”. Or as infuriating as the panel of men that advised women to “speak up at work” to tackle sexism. You get the picture by now, but if you need more examples, there’s a whole Tumblr full.
But the college’s decision to put forward an all-male team not only perpetuates University Challenge’s issue with women – either women are not included at all or objectified – but tramples all over its own “radical tradition” and “trailblazing” history. It is outrageous that women can start and populate a college at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, only to be excluded on a national platform – designed to celebrate and showcase brilliant intelligence – centuries later.
The irony behind the all-male team wasn’t lost on Twitter users watching the programme:
Karma isn’t the most relied-upon theory to apply to last night’s University Challenge but, whatever happened, St Hugh’s lost out to their opponents by 15 points. Wonder what would have happened if women had been invited to compete?