A renowned American thinker(1) once said, “Beware the man whose level of education exceeds his ability to reason.”
Today’s example of the validity of that quote comes to us courtesy of Cambridge University.
Fresh off the revelation that Oxford University will allow take-home exams in an effort to improve female students’ scores (seriously?), Cambridge history professor Lucy Delap advised that the word ‘genius’ be avoided among their faculty because it has “long been associated with qualities culturally assumed to be male”.
In short, ‘genius’ is sexist.
Care to guess Delap’s area of historical specialization? Take a moment …
Yep, Gender studies. You’re good.
More from the good Prof. Delap, as quoted by The Independent:
“We’re rewriting our first two years of our History degree to create a wider set of paper choices … 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.”
So not only is ‘genius’ sexist, it’s racist and elitist as well.
It’s also terribly exclusive of stupid people. What can we call that … mentalist?
Delap’s point seems to be that because terms like genius have historically been associated mostly with elite European males and their descendants, other terms should be used in order to encourage females (and, presumably, ethnic minorities and the poor) to join the ranks of high achievers.
No word on whether her admonition also applies to words like ‘elite’, ‘European’, or ‘male’, although one can surmise that the latter is likely so taboo as to only be mouthed and not actually spoken.
Come to think of it, the term ‘history’ brings to mind the fact that women have been treated unfairly throughout history, so perhaps Delap and her fellow (lean in here so I can whisper ‘history’ – shhh!) instructors should throw that term out as well.
“Study of Pre-occurring Events Department” has a nice ring to it, as does “Master of Arts in Pre-occurring Events”.
There is admittedly no disputing the fact that elite European males dominate the list of those widely recognized among the general public as genius, but to dispel the word from vocabulary as a result seems a bit misplaced and ineffective.
A better strategy might be to more frequently expose students to the contributions of the many female and minority geniuses in human history – so long as we don’t neglect to inform them of important facts simply because those facts are associated with elites, Europeans, or males.
(1) – Okay, so no ‘renowned American thinker’ actually said that. I made it up. But it’s a good quote, despite the fact that it’s sexist and mentalist.