Thoughtful comment on gender and politics

Starter for 10: the Royal Family, the Catholic Church and University Challenge – which is the odd one out?

Answer: The Royal Family

All these institutions discriminate against or  under represent women, but for the Royal Family things are soon to change.

There was celebration at the end of October when Commonwealth countries agreed to change the royal succession laws. Everyone could breath a sigh of relief — if Kate has a child and it’s a girl she won’t be leap frogged to the throne by any pesky little brother that might come along later. Of course since the royal wedding there’s been a total obsession with whether Kate is pregnant or not and the change only fuelled the media’s fixation with her tummy.

I personally was rather unimpressed – it’s fairly depressing when the most significant step forward for feminism in recent history will only apply to a woman who has not yet been conceived. The rule that prevented the monarch from marrying a Catholic was scrapped at the same time, but it’s not this area of discrimination against Catholics that recently captured my interest.

Not long after the announcement I heard a debate on the radio about whether women should be allowed to become Catholic priests. This is an area of discrimination where if corrected will have a profoundly larger impact than the changes to the royal succession laws. Although I was born and raised a Catholic this is not an issue I feel passionately about, so I listened to the debate until I’d finished the washing up, at which point I switched off the radio.

Gail Trimble, University Challenge contestant

No, the news about women I’ve been most preoccupied with recently is the report that female contestants of University Challenge have found themselves subject to online hate campaigns. After working on stalking policy for some time I was far from shocked at these revelations. But I’ve always thought the lack of women on University Challenge was troubling and reports such as these cannot encourage female participation. After all, women out number and out perform men at university and should therefore be in the majority on this addictive quiz show.

Reflecting on the treatment of women in these three institutions I realised what’s fairly obvious to anyone reading this: the under-representation and attacks of female University Challenge contestants bothers me most because these are the women I can most identify with. I have no aspirations to join the Royal Family, or become a Catholic priest (shocking, I know!), but I do hope that as a woman, any intellectual contribution I make will be judged on its merits and not attacked for its origins.

Of course these examples of discrimination are far from extreme, and this is deliberate. Often the debate about which women are represented or unrepresented, discriminated against or privileged, isn’t had. Or it’s had in the context of race, sexuality, disability and class. But apart from black women, white women, disabled women, lesbian women and working class women, there are royal women, Catholic women, Jewish women, Muslim women, married women, divorced women, pregnant women, childless women… the list is never-ending. And for as many groups, there are even more struggles for rights, representation and equality. Maybe I shouldn’t be so dismissive that there may now be more Queens than Kings and maybe I should care a bit more that Catholic women are fighting to carry out their religious devotion in the same way as their male counterparts. These all represent tiny steps towards gender equality in some of our most patriarchal institutions and God knows, us feminists need something to be positive about!

5 Responses to “Starter for 10: the Royal Family, the Catholic Church and University Challenge – which is the odd one out?”

  1. Roisin

    Great article, thank you Felicity. I’m really surprised to hear of the hate mail towards female contestants at Uni Challenge. What form does it take and does it really deter a significant number of women from taking part? I had always imagined that there were fewer women contestants because of confidence issues, or the format of the quiz being more suited to men.

    • felicitydennistoun

      Thanks for the comment. It’s hard to know exactly what deters women from competing in University Challenge but I imagine it’s similar to why there are less women in politics etc. I found at university that debating was dominated by men and confidence was definitely an issue. A little bit of encouragement went a long way though and we ended up with many women representing us and competing at other unis.

      The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent all did quite big stories on the hate campaigns in September last year. Sadly there’s loads of stuff to show that once women put themselves in the spotlight by having an opinion they get abuse for it. There are a few interesting pieces on the problem of online harassment of blogs written by women:

      Hope that answers your question!

      Felicity x

      • Roisin

        Hi Felicity, thanks, yes it does answer my question. Depressingly clearly… But this runs against the fact that there are many high profile female reporters and news presenters, and have been for a long time… which is where we definitely notice women in the spotlight. It’s odd. And sad. BTW There’s a hand made Tara thank you card on its way to you soon 🙂

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