At the age of 16, Lizzie Roberts wasn’t sure if she wanted to go to university. She had just finished her GCSEs, so she stayed on to take the A Level Politics and Government course. After a while on the course, her mind was made up.
“I absolutely loved the course and became obsessed with everything to do with politics so decided to apply for that at university, with a combination of History too as I enjoyed both,” Roberts said in an email interview. “Since studying the joint degree however I’ve realised politics is what I am really interested in.”
Roberts was accepted into Lancaster University to pursue her degree, but yet she had encountered an issue when it came to seminars as part of her politics work. She had noticed intimidation from male students.
Writing in The Guardian on the subject, Roberts said a friend of hers, who had dyslexia, was increasingly mocked by a group of men every time she had made a grammatical mistake.
— Lizzie Roberts (@lizrob92) March 27, 2015
For Roberts personally however, the intimidation began during her A-Level course, and had continued afterwards, especially today on social media.
“In my A Level politics class some of the guys were really aggressive, rude, sexist and intimidating,” Roberts said. “I was usually able to argue my point back but often it became very wearing. I feel like this more in the social media realm these days, it seems like whenever I post anything I will get a few guys berating my point and trying to put me down.”
While politics had been considered a strongly male focused industry, there had recently been an increase in women studying politics courses. Data from UCAS indicated that 3,160 women were accepted in the 2014 cycle year to study politics courses, compared to 3,135 in 2013. 3,135 men were accepted in 2013, and the gap between men and women was smaller in 2014, with 3,175 men accepted onto politics courses.
— UCAS Analysis (@ucas_analysis) January 21, 2015
Bethan Hunt, who graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in politics and is now the Education Officer for the university’s Student Union, says she did not notice any intimidation while she was studying it, said she thought the gender balance was always equal.
“I know some subjects are male dominated and some are female dominated,” Hunt said in a telephone interview. “I always thought we were a balanced course.”
Hunt said the perception had been that young people were not interested in politics, and that there is still a societal issue when it came to viewing women’s participation in politics, especially at Westminster.
“Because women are seen as people who traditionally look after a family, the hours of an MP don’t adapt,” Hunt said. “You are expected to go to a certain Party and make appearances everywhere. Until society recognizes that it should be for both men and women, women find it inaccessible.”
A need for support
Roberts, who says the intimidation does not bother her, says there are solutions universities can have in place to combat the issue of intimidation.
“In first year and possibly the beginning on every academic year all students should have a workshop on what a safe study environment is and how to debate within that,” Roberts said. “Such as, letting everyone have their say, not shouting over people, not being aggressive in your manner, not laughing at other peoples points, not putting people down, not being patronising and so on.”
In addition, more must be done beyond the issue of intimidation and indeed studies at the undergraduate level. Hunt says that beyond that, more support must be given to women studying at the postgraduate level.
“In this role, I’ve noticed that women do better at A-Levels going into universities, and women are more successful in their degrees than men,” Hunt said, adding that MA and PhD studies are male dominated. “More must be done in terms of retention. Women need to be financially supported to pursue academia.”
On the whole, Hunt says students are interested in wider issues and debates, and want to create social change, which is at the core of their choosing to pursue the study of politics at the undergraduate level.
“I never experienced reasons why I shouldn’t go into politics as an undergrad,” Hunt said. “I already studied it for 2 years before I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
What do you think? Are you a woman studying politics? Did you face intimidation? What can be done to make the environment better for everyone? Have your say in the comments section below.