August 25th, 2011


A Room of One's Own

The GCSE results are out today. And once again, the voices of alarm can be heard bellowing across the swamps of government and media. There's the usual number fretting over standards, but by far the most are concerned with the attainment gap between boys and girls. 'Worrying'; 'something must be done'. If you are 16 and female and have done well today, the message you're getting from society is far from the congratulations you deserve. Instead, you're hearing that there's something wrong, something dangerous, something somehow improper about your achievement.

Young women have heard this every year since equal opportunities in education became law in the UK. If you took your formal exams later than 1972 and you're female, you set your first foot on the educational attainment ladder onto a rung marked 'not for you'. Your mothers and grandmothers, older sisters and cousins fought and suffered to win these rights, but they are not honoured, any more than you. Our so-called equal society continues to panic and preach if men do not always come first. Centuries of male domination -- of preferential treatment and access for males -- were not questioned, but give young women even an approximation of a level playing field, and the war horns ring. The voices on the radio and in newspapers, on tv and in government -- mainly male -- urge new initiative, changes in class-room practices, stronger measures, all aimed at making sure boys do better. No-one thanks the teachers who are helping girls progress, no-one celebrates the young women who are succeeding.

I think they're brilliant, all these young women with their new qualifications. I think they deserve far better from us than this male-centric panic. They deserve everything they have achieved and they deserve us to celebrate them. Well done to every one of them, and may they climb higher and shine in all their future endeavours.