Hurrah for boat race gender equality. Now what about class?

Let’s be clear: the boat race is still profoundly elitist


Today’s Oxford and Cambridge boat race will, for the first time, see women of the two universities permitted to race on the same course as the men and on the same day in front of a live television audience.

This is a step forward for gender equality and another blow to patriarchal assumptions that women are too ‘delicate’ for such sporting endeavours. As recently as 1962 the captain of Selwyn College at Cambridge wrote to the university’s women’s boat club to chastise them for perpetrating something that was “a ghastly sight, an anatomical impossibility and physiologically dangerous”.

But let’s be clear: the boat race is still profoundly elitist. We should all welcome the levelling of the playing field between men and women, but the next step is for Oxford and Cambridge – and by extension the boat race – to open themselves up more fully to those from non-privileged backgrounds.

Just one in 10 children who attend either Oxford or Cambridge are entitled to free school meals – compared with a fifth of children in Britain as a whole. A quick glance at some of the surnames which still dominate at Oxford makes the same point in a slightly different way. According to a 2013 study by the London School of Economics, a disproportionately large number of places at Oxford were taken up by people with Norman Conquest surnames such as Baskerville, Darcy, Mandeville and Montgomery.

This isn’t because a Norman surname is a sign of super intelligence; it’s because we live in a society where class privilege cascades down the generations like a tennis ball bouncing down a flight of stairs. More young people from the London borough of Richmond attend Oxford and Cambridge than from the entire city of Birmingham.

And so as much as today’s boat race may be a victory for gender equality, we should not ignore the class inequalities that persist at our top universities – and in society more generally – in a fit of liberal hubris. As I’ve written a number of times, equality isn’t a state of affairs that is half upper middle class women and half upper middle class men.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.

75 Responses to “Hurrah for boat race gender equality. Now what about class?”

  1. Selohesra

    Who is this Lord Blagger Leon calls everyone he does not like? – I tried googling him (queue Newsbot accusing me of tax evasion for using google) expecting to find some evil Victorian exploiter of the masses but could not find anything of interest

  2. damon

    Christ you’re a nut job. For your information, I’ve just spent the day delivering goods to small corner shops and primary schools. and having to hump the bloody stuff off a pallet and into the back of shops. It sucked but was all there was today.
    Earning a rich man’s £8 an hour.
    That’s what its like for us honest manual workers.
    You probably sit at a desk all day, trolling the internet.

  3. damon

    He’s an odd one alright. Oxford has all the shops that all our towns like that have.

  4. AlanGiles

    I think it’s just one of his catchphrases like George Formby’s “Turned out nice again”

  5. Guest

    Yes yes, keep talking about Vegas, toff.

  6. Guest

    “JEWS R ODD”.

    As you talk about Vegas, not knowing Oxford.

  7. Guest

    “Who am I?”

    Of course you’re not interested in yourslelf, as you you make up PC group-think nonsense. You’ve admitted repeatedly using multiple identities/personalities.

  8. Guest

    Keep making excuses for your anti-Semitism, as you claim that Jews posting makes sites a joke.

    It’s not a joke you’re Lord Blagger, at all, as you spout off the game old PC bigory and and say Jews are loathsome troublemakers – you want to switch between personal and group in the same sentence, it’s obviously fake.

    Go back to your beloved Torygraph.

  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Which are those? There’s a literal handful in the UK, we’re not America.

    Also, the statistics disagree with your contention about “ANYONE”.

  10. Guest

    No, you’re a good right winger, the rich sort of “worker” who looks down on those with jobs, as you fight the magical socialists in your head.

    The statistics don’t agree with your contentions, but facts.
    Keep the PC bigotry rolling.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    Ah so for you to do with a myth based on your dislike of the BBC. Right.

  12. Guest

    So you don’t think, as you talk to yourself. Right.

  13. Guest


    And did satan answer you quickly?. Right, the electoral materials won’t distribute itself, etc. – MOST volunteers don’t get paid, but oh no.

    I don’t want your job either, as you lie about working as usual. And try to elevate yourself above the mere British.

  14. damon

    Leon, you’re trolling me every day.
    Not just on this website. So you must be following me by looking at my posting history. And now calling me a liar about things you can have no idea about.
    Sad man. You’re a trustafarian and you don’t like it being pointed out.

  15. damon

    There is nothing particular odd about Oxford’s range of shops.
    But you are insisting that there is. Because you’re just a trolling weirdo who probably hasn’t got much else to do.
    Oxford has all the main supermarkets, in all the sizes.
    The high street is busy and bustling. It has a Waterstones bookshop and a McDonald’s and has all the kinds of chain stores that all towns and high streets have. Why you are making a point that it’s somehow different to other such towns I don’t know. Just to be an arse I presume.

  16. Guest


    On the other hand, I lived there, self-described arse. And right, how dare somewhere be different in your world…it must all be the same Uber Alles UKIP.

  17. Guest


    You scream I must be you, must share your issues. No, unlike you I work, I tracked you back years ago, Lord Blagger, it was quite obvious who you are.

    You come here, support beating kids – child abuse…

  18. damon

    You are such a moron. I know Oxford too. I’ve walked all over it.
    What are you saying is so different about Oxford compared to any other medium sized town? That they have a lack of supermarkets or something?
    That can be the case in deprived ghetto areas in the USA, or large housing estates – maybe Blackbird Let’s even. Actually I remember the shopping centre there, and it is kind of crap, but there was definitely a supermarket in it.
    Plenty of people on this site are saying ”don’t feed the troll” about you Leon.
    Maybe I should take heed.

  19. damon

    Troll alert!!!

  20. Guest

    Yes, thanks for alerting people to you.

    But you’re no mere troll, you support beating kids and hence child abuse.

  21. Guest

    You say to yourself “JEWS R TROLLS”, right. You, and only you.

    You are demanding all towns be the same, and equating a visit to living in the place for years, for knowing the area.

  22. damon

    I still don’t get what your point about Oxford is. I know it reasonably well and it looks like its got all the usual kinds of shops to me.
    Maybe you should have explained how it’s different to other towns of that kind of size.
    There’s a large housing estate on the southern edge of Croydon where you could definitely say that the shops there leave a lot to be desired. The shopping parade looks grotty and run down. And Blackbird Leys is like that a bit too I remember, but you were talking about Oxford as a whole.
    Talking out of your bum really, weren’t you Leon?

  23. Guest

    I don’t follow your practices, as you don’t read my posts, as usual.
    You’re whining, again as usual.

  24. damon

    OK Leon, you win. Oxford hadn’t got any shops where you can buy groceries.
    Happy now?

  25. Guest

    You’re not the messiah, you’re a very naughty boy.

Leave a Reply