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Cambridge Sanctuary Article, 2009

[A/N: This was in the 2009 Lent term edition of the Cambridge Sanctuary (a satirical student paper). One of my friends was editor at the time and so we were all forced to write something; I suppose that makes this as close to journalism as I've ever got...] 

Women’s colleges: what is the truth? Are they the bastions of militant feminism we all fear, or the communal shower fun we all dream about?


Luckily we – M.M.A.F. (Manly Men Against Feminism) – were in a position this month to answer this question once and for all. Invited to conduct an impartial study we arrived with a list of carefully pre-prepared questions for consideration. What is the real story behind shared rooms? How many female Cambridge undergraduates does it take to change a light bulb? And, are there any plans to consummate college marriages on a pay-per-view basis?

First impressions seemed only to confirm our fears. A whiteboard behind the head porter’s desk implored us to warm ourselves through ‘the vigour of hard work’ rather than by standing in front of an oven. Things went from bad to worse when we discovered the four foot high saucepan on display was, in fact, a symbol of feminine liberty and not what we had assumed. Apparently there is no requirement for girls to learn en masse how to have our tea ready on the table by 5pm. We at M.M.A.F. by no means condone the doctrines of the B.N.P. (we abhor all left-wing political groups), we were however rather forcefully reminded of their comments on politically-correct indoctrination and the resultant degeneration of the British way of life.

However this, as is so often the case, was a situation where first impressions were simply misleading. On closer inspection it soon became clear that far from creating a breed of bra-averting, jack boot wearing feminists, female only colleges are in fact doing more than any other institution (exempting, perhaps, Sharia law) to keep the rightful hierarchy of nature in tact.

After a nervous wait in the college’s austere confines for our interviewees we were quickly put at ease. The delay had not, as we had feared, been the result of a misguided mission to prove female superiority by reducing us to anxious husks of our former selves. Rather, a last minute flurry of cosmetic touch-ups and wardrobe changes had prevented their punctual arrival. Our visit, it would seem, was something of an event for the girls; eligible males under the age of forty-five are, after all, something of a rarity in such an environment. Amidst much giggling and hair twirling we were able to uncover something that would shock the dour old bags who fought tooth and nail for continued female segregation: all they have achieved is to make their students that much more eager to please. 

When asked whether Naomi Wolf was on the right track with her critique of the media - an institution in the chokehold of male tyranny - X told us: ‘I totally admire her, she always looks amazing!’ Y nodded in agreement before adding; ‘There’s a women’s section in the library, just dedicated to anorexia and stuff. It’s so useful; before I came here I didn’t even know it was possible to survive on less than 500 calories a day.’ The girls laugh, before Z adds, in a more serious tone; ‘Of course we’re not saying everyone should try and starve themselves. It’s just that we have so much more competition than the girls at other colleges. I swear, if it wasn’t for the gag reflex I wouldn’t have had a date since Fresher’s week, not with these thighs!’

As the interview continues it becomes clear that attracting a man remains the number one priority for these twenty-first century girls. Students work is put on the back burner as time and energy are instead lavished on creating colour co-ordinated outfits and facebook stalking boys from lectures. Z told us: ‘Cambridge is the perfect place to find a husband. But, we have to work so much harder to attract the guys’ attention. When you live on the same corridor you’re just available. Ending up in bed with each other at some point is almost inevitable. Murray Edwards is so far away from the clubs that even if you do pull, you’re both sober by the time you get back to your room.’ Y agreed, ‘It’s true. Some of these guys are dating the most hideous girls. All mono-brows and hairy legs. It’s just by merit of their being around them all the time that they even stand a chance.’

M.M.A.F. asked the girls if this – intense – level of competitiveness ever led to problems between themselves. Our interviewees looked awkwardly at each other before X finally admitted that it did. ‘At the end of the day, it’s a dog eat dog world out there. Friendship might last forever, but if one girl is dragging the other’s down, well, it’s time to say sayonara.’ Y continued; ‘we used to hang round with this other girl, U, but she had a gammy leg and bad hair and put all the guys off. We just “forgot” to tell her when we were going out until she got the hint. I mean, what else could we do?’

It would seem then, that just as an all male environment has the power to turn us into salivating wrecks at the sight of a skirt, (or a kilt, we have all been there) so an all female college reduces its occupants to frenzied over-excitement at the faintest whiff of testosterone. We spoke to Mr. B. Cockburn, one of the city’s most seasoned flashers, who told us that he has been forced to drop both Murray Edwards and Newnham from his nightly circuit. ‘They get worse every year; back in the day they were used to not having the male company, you know? Now it’s a different story. They go stir crazy in there! I was just minding my own business, dangling my tackle in the ornamental pond, when a group of them set upon me. Like bloody vultures. I shouldn’t be surprised if I’ll need therapy.’

Our investigation drew similar conclusions. In under an hour we managed to collect over 30 mobile numbers and promises for seven formal swaps; try getting that kind of result in a co-ed institution! And finally, time for the question you have all been bringing yourself to ‘la petite mort’ to have answered, namely: in the absences of the real thing are the girls forced to turn to each other in desperation? We spoke to the college LGBT rep for the low down. M.M.A.F. were given a mouthful, sadly of the verbal variety, telling us that lesbian identification had nothing to do with an inability to get a man. As some wise guy once wrote, ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ We invite you to draw your own conclusions.

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