THE BLOG

Why it's Important for Everyone That Men Can Graduate in Skirts

02/09/2013 12:26 BST | Updated 01/11/2013 09:12 GMT

The University of Cambridge has recently dropped gendered dress codes for graduation. Men can now choose to wear a skirt to their graduation ceremony, and women have the option of wearing a suit. Even though I expect that the vast majority of students will chose to stick with the traditionally gendered options, to me this change is a big deal and long overdue. So why does the new gender neutral dress code matter so much? Most importantly, it respects the rights of transgender students. No-one should have to apply for special permission to express their gender identity at their graduation. All members of the university can now enjoy graduation happy in the knowledge that tradition has not trampled equality in this case.

Secondly, I applaud this change as an example of the university telling its students: "Your gender doesn't matter to us. We care about you as a person. We care about your ideas and your talent. We do not care about your gender or how you choose to express it." Because as our society (or at least some of it) is increasingly coming to realise, in most situations gender is just not relevant. I studied physics - a very male dominated subject. The lack of women in physics is a worrying sign of a deeper problem in society, but it didn't damage my experience of the course at all. In lectures, we discussed quantum mechanics and derived equations; I can do these things equally well with men or with women. In this situation, gender is not relevant, and it is appropriate that the graduation ceremony guidance reflects this.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done achieving true gender equality, and in particular this includes pushing for equality for transgender people. Seemingly small changes such as making official documentation and guidance gender neutral wherever possible are important stepping stones to gender equality. (And before you ask - yes I am, on balance, opposed to Cambridge's all female colleges.)

That is why, even though I happily graduated in a dress, I would have been glad to have had the option of graduating in a suit. My gender should not be relevant to my university education, and for the vast majority of the time it hasn't been. To put it bluntly, unless you're my doctor or you're hoping to sleep with me, my gender isn't really relevant to you.