Feministy Shit.

CONGRATZ TO THE CLASS OF 2014 =D . I hope you all had fabulous days, regardless of the weather, and had millions of photos taken with family and friends fit to burst with pride.
Fia x

Part 6: A Patriarchal Graduation

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my graduation. My parents wandered around looking super proud, my dad actually wore a suit (he only wears them when forced), my mum looked like a news reader – smart and fashionable – and my brother was on his best behaviour, smiling perfectly in all the photos. Adding to this the free wine and a nice, sunny day, it was truly lovely… But I did have a few complaints.

‘How the fuck am I meant to fit my hair under this hat?!’ When you have a short, curly bob which rarely obeys you on the best of days, there is nothing more panic-worthy than being given a mortar board on a day which you want to look smart, and preferably ‘nice’. This, I noticed, was a generic complaint. No matter who I talked to, we were all looking for the earliest opportunity to be rid of our ridiculous headpiece…

Except women couldn’t remove theirs during the ceremony. That’s right, at the start of the ceremony graduands were informed that only men were allowed to remove their mortar boards once they were in the ceremony hall and, in fact, women could be removed from the hall if they took theirs off. I’ve attempted to research into why this is, but have struggled to find an historical, factual root(if you know why, please fill in this part of the mystery in the comments). The only reason I’ve heard, I sincerely hope is just urban myth – women aren’t allowed to remove their caps since it represents a ‘cap’ on their learning. The fact that this little scrap of information exists, be it true or otherwise, is deeply disturbing itself.

Complaints about the robes came in torrents too ‘IhatethisIhatethisIhatethis… My hood keeps riding up!’ After going to military school and spending 7 years attempting not to look stupid wearing my blues (photograph attached for your hilarity), I am no stranger to slightly ridiculous, incredibly uncomfortable uniforms – the kind of uniforms that your parents insist upon proudly photographing you in. So when it came to my graduation, a day dedicated to wearing robes that made you look like Professor Snape, and a hat which inevitably makes you look like a pineapple, I was prepared for the inevitable battle with the required outfit of the day.


What I failed to take into account, however, is that the graduation robes were initially designed for men. Women going to university and respectively graduating was not commonplace looking back 100 years ago, let alone before that (women have only been graduating since 1878…), and subsequently robes were designed to be worn by men. The structure is designed for broader shoulders, so even upon taking into account chest size, the robes do not sit properly upon the shoulders of most female wearers and again are awkwardly shaped around their breasts (I felt very lucky to be part of the itty bitty titty committee on this day). The hoods, too we’re initially designed for the male physique and broader shoulders, so often, do not sit properly on women’s shoulders – even when pinned in place.

My final feministy comment on the subject of graduation is more of a sad observation than an angry rant. As a Mathematics student, I was graduating with a majority of students completing both Bachelor and Masters courses in fields of science and technology… But there was a lacking of self identifying women students. Given that, at Lancaster University, there are actually more women students in the population than male students, the fact that there is still a noticeable imbalance in the number of women enrolling in scientific subjects is a sad one.



One thought on “Feministy Shit.

  1. An interesting read. I myself was not the biggest graduation fan, debating whether I would be attending mine at all but I thought I would look into more the points raised in this article a little more, so I will try to address them in order (just for the sake of ease). A lot of it seems to come down to tradition. Don’t shoot this comment down at that sentence, because whilst I believe it is the case I don’t believe that just because it is the tradition, that that makes it right.
    Mortar boards. They are the bane of graduation. Even being a guy, mine didn’t fit under my hair, was uncomfortable etc. At Reading there was no mention of anyone being allowed or not allowed to take them off during the ceremony and from own and viewing others graduations I don’t recall seeing anybody taking them off. So possibly it is more a Lancaster University “rule” and I would suggest if you have the opportunity to, probing an official from the university or seeing if the library there has previous graduation ceremony documentation outlining if it was a long standing rule of the procession and if it was when and why it came to be. Searching the web equally frustrating, with claims being made in articles and forum posts with only anecdotal information and personal experience only. There seems to be many urban legends (men taking them off and throwing them in the river when women began wear them and an educational glass ceiling) with peoples experience with them on:
    – the wikipedia page on mortar boards http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_academic_cap
    – Ireland and an education glass ceiling http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=99585

    I looked into the universities listed on the wikipedia page listed as having had women abandon wearing caps in a sign of protest. The dress codes for the listed universities state that for wearing mortar boards at Cambridge they are optional, Durham they have been replaced by hoods and cowls, at Dublin they are optionally worn or carried by any scholar, Newcastle does not include it for any graduates with them only being worn for photographs, Bristol they are also not required etc. unfortunately this section of the wikipedia page is unreferenced and I couldn’t find when these protests occurred only the current guidelines to academic wear. This is not to say sexist rules due to academic dress didn’t occur before. I found a ppt document that suggests the myth of men throwing their mortar boards in the river is from Durham and that is why they don’t wear mortar boards there now but it isn’t from what I would constitute as a reputable source so further research would be needed for that.

    I could not find much on the history of people being allowed or not allowed to take them off during the ceremony. In the USA I found it used to only men who could take them off during the prayer / national anthem but not a lot else besides a few differing versions of why mortar boards are worn (modelled either on the Quran where they were carried or tied to the head during study and graduation or from early Christian universities where they were modelled on a Birettia). Men taking it off indoors may come from the early tradition of men taking hats off in church (with many graduations being in cathedrals) but this is an out dated and rarely enforced rule nowadays and is usually adopted by both sexes not just men. A freedom of information act request was given to Oxford university about mortar boards and it can be found with the reply here. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/mortarboards_and_academic_dress


    If mortar wearing used to be sexist in its regulations, from what I have been able to find it seems generally not to be any more but if people are experiencing it should be followed up. I think short of chasing up examples of it occurring with the institutions it occurs in is the only way of finding out more as it doesn’t appear to be written into universities guidelines but may still be acted upon on the day.
    As for gowns, being not the manliest of men (neither in my personality nor more importantly my build) the gowns were a pain in ass. You are more than right in the fact they were traditionally modelled for men only but for super skinny guys like me they also didn’t fit and mine didn’t have a button hole to attach to my shirt. This would be a difficult fight, not because I believe in anyway the gowns couldn’t be adjusted to better fit different body shapes (most importantly breath of shoulders) but with gowns I believe it will be more of a battle of money rather than tradition. There are only a small number companies providing of official gown hire in the UK who rent out the gowns at all the universities here in UK. They would weigh up having to pay to create or adjust half their stock to be a better fit against not paying anything at all and carry on giving out the stock they always have that doesn’t fit as well. And being a business you can see why this hasn’t already occurred. Maybe a letter or online petition stating that when Ede or Ravencroft replace old rented garments they should change the design to incorporate the female body shape would be a place to start.
    It is a shame about the numbers of female maths students. Hopefully the balance of male to female students within maths, computer science, engineering and other subjects that are “male subjects” will change over time. There is a governmental drive (2013) putting £400million into helping female students get into studying science degrees. I don’t know what effect that has had but hopefully it combined with a shift in culture will help.


    That’s all for now, I gotta go look into some more job hunting. Congratulations on graduating by the way and I love the blog! Keep going with it 🙂 Maybe catch up sometime back home or on Skype.


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