Getting used to this semester’s tutorials was certainly an adjustment. They were at awkward times and in awkward places. One of them involved running desperately down North Street to arrive panting, sweaty and usually several minutes late. Another gave me only a narrow window of time to finish lunch, forcing me to shovel down hall food as if I had just escaped a famine and entered a Michelin-starred restaurant. But the other adjustment was slightly different. In all three of my tutorials, I had found myself being one of only two male students in the entire room.
Although it is generally accepted that universities usually have more women than men, with St Andrews in particular being 57.8% female, being one of only two blokes in every tutorial was something I hadn’t expected. Perhaps the reason wasn’t so much the ratio of men to women in the university as a whole, but the ratio of men and women who, like me, were not only studying arts subjects, but some of the most arty arts subjects this institution has to offer (I’m looking at you, Anthropology).
Initially, I questioned why there was such a discrepancy, why so many of my brethren had abandoned the arts. Indeed, looking back, being an artsy boy wasn’t necessarily the most desirable characteristic to have. At school I learnt very quickly that reciting “The Jabberwocky” by heart wasn’t going to impress people nearly as much as scoring the winning goal. It was easier not to show too much enthusiasm for glitter when it was brought out in art class – a repression I thankfully no longer have.
But none of this stopped me being good at arts subjects, and nothing stopped me loving them. No number of snickers and jibes could hold me back from pursuing the things that I wanted to do and, several years later, I find myself studying entirely arts subjects at St Andrews, my top choice university.
It is clear that social pressures exist. But we have both the power and the agency to overcome them. This isn’t merely the case for men studying the arts but, in many cases, for women studying the sciences too. We’ve set ourselves goals and worked hard to realise them, despite other people’s opinions of what is or what is not an appropriate subject to do.
It is for this reason and this reason alone, that it is important not to pressure men, or women for that matter, to study subjects which they are simply not interested in. While I may be hopeless at most STEM subjects, there are many men (believe me) who are just as terrible at the arts. As I made clear in a previous article, there are few things worse than studying a subject you are not good at and have no desire to do. Feeling pressure to do so would only add to this dilemma.
So why aren’t men told to take arts subjects? Because no one should be in a position of authority to decide what is best for you and your future, regardless of your gender. Except parents maybe – they’re probably the ones paying for the bloody thing. But with that exception, the only person who can do this is yourself.
And so I don’t mind being outnumbered in tutorials. I don’t mind being in a female-dominated classroom, a female-dominated subject or even a female-dominated university. If being a man in a woman’s world is the price of academic freedom, then it’s a small price to pay.