Female Discrimination is Alive and Well and Living in Ireland

It is not that long ago when it was believed that female brains did not have the capacity to learn science, physics and higher mathematics. Over the last number of years females are outscoring males across all school subjects and rather than males admitting that they got it wrong and engaging in a celebration of female academic achievements, there appears to be a threat among the male population of previously male-dominated professions – most notably medicine.

The ‘Taliban’ has not totally disappeared from Ireland. In this regard, the Church still bars women from the priesthood. You would have expected we would have advanced further in equal opportunity, but present circumstances suggest we have not. This is very clear with the introduction this year of new entry requirements for medicine – under the guise of selecting better doctors! Implicit in the latter is that we haven’t selected ‘good’ doctors but how is it this issue has not been raised before; why now? Why indeed!

The beans appear to have been spilled on the hidden agenda that led to a change this year in the entry requirements to medicine in Irish universities – correcting the gender imbalance of 70/30 in favour of females to at least a 50/50 figure. The rationale that the new HPat test would select better doctors is no longer credible. How come when the situation was a predominantly male entry into medicine that the gender balance was not seen as an issue that required consideration? Furthermore, what about all the other professions where there are gender imbalances, why haven’t the Department of Education or university departments brought in different entry procedures for students? There is a strong suspicion that the males who still hold considerable power within the medical profession were behind this revolution and had not the courage to voice their insecurities around the profession becoming more female dominated. Those female students who scored the points that would have got them into medicine last year are obviously very angry and disappointed that the new system has robbed them of their well-deserved places in an Irish medical school. I know of some of these females who have now sought medical school places in universities abroad and, at least, they have not been blocked from pursuing their career choice.

Maurice Neligan in his column in the Irish Times admits that in doing the new HPat test ‘the lads might be better at solving the problems posed’! The endearment term of ‘lads’ suggests a bias on his part; he expressed no empathy for the ‘girls’ who have been sorely disappointed. Indeed, when Maurice Neligan indicates that the test may be biased in favour of the ‘lads’, he missed the point that this test actively discriminates against females gaining medical school places. Furthermore, the cat was also let out of the bag by the male Professor of Academic Medicine and Director of Undergraduate Teaching and Learning at Trinity College when he admitted that the amending of the entry system to medical school has worked and effected a 50/50 mix for the current year – so professor it never had anything to do with getting better doctors! How shameful and underhand this whole exercise is turning out to be!

I do believe that those females who would have gained places through a points system have a legal case to make – they certainly have a moral one. I am also wondering what will happen when the females go to expensive private workshops to learn how to fare better in this new HPat test and begin again to outdo the boys? Will there be another scamper to find ways of getting more males into medicine or will fairness be allowed to prevail? I hope so, but I seriously doubt it. It appears a better road for females to strongly challenge the changed entry requirements. It surprises me that there has not been a loud chorus of voices speaking out in favour of equality of opportunity for females, especially from females within the medical profession and also from women’s movements. It would help enormously if there were also a chorus of male voices supporting equality of opportunity, particularly within the male-dominated political parties. I don’t want to go down the road of conspiracy theory but now that I’ve said it, is it possible?

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology, including Whose Life Are You Living?