Universities 'still far from sexually egalitarian'

February 6, 1998

Gender research reveals surprising attitudes to women a work

Confident female university lecturers are often seen as "scary" by their students, while the institutions in which they work are far from the sexually egalitarian places they strive to be, it is claimed.

Tom Delph-Janiurek, a PhD student at Sheffield University, has found that sexual equality in universities is still a long way off. Things are changing, he said, but only slowly.

His study reveals students very quickly form what are often "unwarranted and unwanted" images of their lecturers and fellow students, often based on gender. He says that students often see confident female lecturers as "scary, aggressive or lesbians", while similarly self-assured male lecturers are not referred to in such negative tones.

"However discussion sessions and tutorials, which are more feminine forms of lecturing, do not seem to compromise male lecturers' masculinity in students' eyes," says Mr Delph-Janiurek, who is investigating the links between talk, gender and power in the university context.

His research also reveals how students view each other. Students consider it fine for female students to sit at the front or sides of a class and say little, but if a male student does this he is often described by colleagues as "wimpy or gay".

"Real men appear to sit at the back and make a noise," says Mr Delph-Janiurek. "It seems to be just like at school. If females do this though, it is seen almost immediately as aggressive or a sign of a lesbian. Universities are supposed to be disembodied spaces where gender does not matter. That is not the case at all."

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