Culture

Cambridge University to Examiners: Don’t Use the Words ‘Flair’ or ‘Genius’ Because of ‘Gender Inequality’

(Photo: Kiosea39/Dreamstime)
Tutors at the British school are being instructed to avoid words that are supposedly associated with male achievement.

Cambridge University has warned its examiners not to use words such as “flair,” “genius,” or “brilliance” when reviewing students’ work because they “carry assumptions of gender inequality.”



“Some of those words, in particular genius, have a very long intellectual history where it has long been associated with qualities culturally assumed to be male,” Lucy Delap, a lecturer in British history at Cambridge University, told the Telegraph. “Some women are fine with that, but others might find it hard to see themselves in those categories.”

More men than women get first class degrees at Oxford and Cambridge, and Delap told the Telegraph that this is partially because of the “male dominated environment” — where women are reading mostly work written by men in classroom buildings where there are mostly male portraits on the walls. 

“We’re rewriting our first two years of our History degree to create a wider set of paper choices, to make assessment criteria clearer, and to really try and root out the unhelpful and very vague talk of ‘genius,’ of ‘brilliance,’ of ‘flair,’ which carries assumptions of gender inequality and also of class and ethnicity,” she said.

Okay. A few things: First of all, I don’t think I’m the only one who hears the word “flair” and doesn’t automatically think “dude.” As for the whole “genius” thing, well, that’s a bit more complicated. Although I personally have never thought of “genius” as being a guy thing, some studies have suggested that maybe everyone doesn’t think the way that I do. For example: A study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the “like a lightbulb” type discoveries that people often associate with “genius” were considered “exceptional” among respondents — but only when that discovery had been made by a man. Discoveries made by females were only considered “exceptional” when their ideas were described as having been “nurtured like seeds.” These findings led one of the researchers, Cornell University’s Kristen Elmore, to conclude that “we associate the lightbulb metaphor with genius and we commonly think of genius as male.”

Now, I’m not entirely sure that all of that makes sense, but let’s say for a moment that it does — is the best way to counter it really to stop the use of the word “genius” altogether? Perhaps it would be better to simply be conscious of potential problems? In any case, when it comes to whether someone is or is not a genius, I highly doubt that word and/or hallway-painting choice play much of a role in that person’s potential — which brings me to my larger point: Delap doesn’t seem to realize just how much her way of thinking can actually perpetuate the idea that women are the “weaker sex.” I mean, think about it: She’s saying women are people who are unable to study effectively because there are too many dude pics on the wall. As a self-identified strong woman, I resent the suggestion that my own brilliance might be hindered by the gender of the people in paintings that I see on the walls. 

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