The history course at Cambridge University is being reviewed to add a greater female perspective.So far so good. But, unfortunately, Cambridge’s approach to improving the historical profile of women has a sinister undercurrent of political correctness.
It is intended that the academic staff should avoid using words such as genius, flair or brilliant. Because – wait for it – this would risk alienating women students. Really? What’s worse is that this was said by a woman, Dr Lucy Delap, the university’s deputy director of history and policy.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, she said that the environment at Oxbridge colleges tended to be male-dominated and that terms such as genius and flair carried assumptions of gender inequality because they were more likely to be used to describe men.
Again, really? OK, let’s consider some famous names. Marie Curie, genius, check. Coco Chanel, flair, check. Queen Elizabeth I, brilliant, check. There are many, many more women to whom you could describe in those terms.
The University’s decision to add a female focus makes sense, given that most of what happened in the past has largely been documented by men and recorded mainly male achievements. Why not bring women’s contributions out of the shadows and include more female historians.
Coincidentally, a new exhibition at Kensington Palace, Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World, is shining a light on three pioneering princesses who did much to enrich Georgian Britain. As well as fulfilling their expected royal duties of producing heirs, they used their positions to found hospitals and orphanages, champion trade and industry and promote inoculation against smallpox.
Their collective legacy has tended to be ignored by the history books and this new exhibition is an attempt to redress the balance. Unfortunately, Cambridge University’s political correct approach to this is as ridiculous as it is unfair. Seats of learning should be encouraging women, not patronising them.