It was a poignant week down in Brighton as the class of Sussex University 2013 graduated at the Brighton Dome. Watching my classmates cross the stage to receive their degrees was inspiring and thought-provoking. However proud I was of us all, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of my female classmates had not followed our London mayors’ fun quip recently and achieved the goal of finding a husband whilst gaining our degrees.
Sitting at the World Islamic Economic Forum, Boris interrupted the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, as he spoke about the increase in women entering universities in Malaysia. Johnson butted in to suggest that this was because they have “got to find men to marry”. You can have a listen to it here (note the concerning roar of laughter that follows)
A quick straw poll of my friends has revealed that not one of us considered matchmaking a part of our university career. In fact, it was quite the opposite – as one graduate elegantly put it – ‘you generally come to university to find yourself, not to find someone else.’ To have the Mayor of London jovially express a view that has only really become outdated in the last 50 years is a step back to the times when women were not awarded degrees despite doing the same course as their male equivalents.
The amazing Everyday Sexism project took up Boris’s quote and called on their followers to tell Boris why they decided to go to university with the hashtag #sexistmayor. Some of best tweets included London Feminists’
Also, I’m confused. I thought my tertiary education made me an unmarriageable bluestocking, not a wifely prospect. #sexistmayor
And my favourite from Nouran Koriem
The backlash against Boris’s comments were funny, smart and rightly outraged. Whilst his comment may have been a flippant joke to him, any sense irony is somewhat lost when we consider the dossier of accusations of sexism against him in parliament, his exclusive Eton education and his days at the notorious Bullingdon club. That he chose to make such an outdated and patronising comment at the World Islamic Economic Forum shows a disconnect from global politics which would be disturbing coming from a stranger down the pub, let alone the mayor of our capital.
The anachronistic nature of Boris’s comments remind us how far we have come in our attitudes and provision of women’s education. But their very presence reminds us how far we have to go.