Discriminatory formalities?

Today someone brought an issue to my attention about which I have also long wondered – without ever doing anything about it. In DCU as in most (maybe even all) Irish universities, at graduation ceremonies the women graduands wear caps (mortar boards), while the men don’t. This seems to me to be a peculiarly Irish thing: in all UK universities I have experienced, both men and women wear mortar boards.

It seems to me that either we should  ask all graduands to wear them, or else nobody should have to wear them; but to discriminate between men and women in this way seems hard to justify. However, I have to admit I have no idea how this came about in the first place, and despite the fact that I have observed this practice since my own student days, today is the first time that I have ever heard anyone comment on it.

Anyway, I am taking the matter to the relevant decision-making bodies here in DCU, and will recommend that we stop treating males and females differently for these purposes.

On the other hand, although DCU is a modern non-traditional university, even here we do support the idea of certain formalities in graduations. A few years ago a colleague suggested that in these ceremonies the wearing of hoods and gowns should be optional, but received very little support from anyone. I suppose it is a rite of passage for which graduands, their families and our staff still like to see some ceremonial. However, it should not discriminate.

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12 Comments on “Discriminatory formalities?”

  1. Cian Brennan Says:

    Wearing hoods and gowns in graduation ceremonies should be optional. The ceremony is not in any way added to by the fact that most of the participants are wearing silly costumes, and were they abolished, I sincerely doubt anyone would miss them within three or four years.

  2. Vincent Says:

    It is simple enough. All graduating Irish men wear the cowl. And headwear is headwear after all. As to the blokes with the cap, if there is a cowl there is no need, and likely more to do with U.S telly shows.
    The history of the tradition goes to the beginning of the Universities where the students were in the most part clerical. You would not be at all put out by the Benedictine community arriving before their Abbot with their heads covered. Only to have the Abbot remove the cowl in the act of recognition. Anyhow, same shop, different shelf.

  3. Jilly Says:

    Actually there was a LOT of comment about it when I was a graduating student at DCU, and I’ve heard similar comments at other universities. There’s an urban myth that the women’s headgear is meant to represent a ‘cap’ on their learning. This is clearly illogical, given that as you say, in the UK men wear mortar-boards (whereas women often wear a different cap, which looks a bit like a cheese-slice!).

    A couple of years ago, someone from the company which rents out gowns etc for graduations told me that the policy originated with them. Mortar-boards are very expensive to make, and apparently they had noticed that after graduation ceremonies, male graduates were considerably more likely to have lost/sat on theirs, so a decision was taken that they wouldn’t be given them anymore…

  4. Emily MFG Says:

    I like academic dress– it’s a lovely reminder of the continuity of university life throughout the centuries, something of which we often take little note in our day-to-day lives as students or academics. I don’t know either why undergraduate men don’t wear boards and women do– certainly at PhD level both wear the floppy hat! On another note, I know of several European students who have travelled back to Ireland with their families specifically because they wished to take part in the graduation ceremony, of which there is no counterpart in many of their home countries.

  5. Paul McSweeney Says:

    This is also the tradition in UCC but no one seems to know why. One urban legend says that male graduates discarded their mortar boards in disgust at the admission of women to degrees, but I doubt if that is true.

    We (UCC) have made wearing mortar boards optional now for women (and permissible for men) and a few women decide not to use them, but most do. Apart from the tudor bonnets used for doctoral degrees, I have yet to see a man wearing a mortar board.

    Suggestion: make mortar boards optional for men and women!

  6. Maria Says:

    I decided not to wear the mortar board at my MA graduation, causing quite a stir. Sadly I got no reduction in the rental of the garb…

    • None given Says:

      I think that mortarboards should only be used for undergraduates, if at all. I have a Masters and bought a black tam with the black tassel. These are often used in the U.S. to distinguish teachers holding M.A.’s from their students. I wore mine once and have worn nothing on my head at commencement since. As for academic propriety, the tam is my choice and it is a great improvement over the unflattering and impractical mortarboard. As for the academic code? I have earned the right to wear a tam if I choose to do so.

  7. Fergus Cassidy Says:

    There’s an excellent thread on Boards about this.

    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=99585

  8. Perry Share Says:

    At the Institute of Technology Sligo nobody except for PhD graduands wears anything on their head. Great improvement, mortar boards look ridiculous in an age where you only see hats at race meetings and marts. Also no throwing them around, rescuing them from puddles &c. Then again, perhaps if Philip Treacy could come up with a rethinking of the mortar board concept, maybe it could be an Irish export opportunity – all those American high school graduations!

  9. Ciara Ni Bhroin Says:

    When I graduated 4 years ago I refused to wear the cap because I had been told by somebody that the flat top of the cap signifies the end of a womans education. A man not wearing one means he is free to carry on to the next level. I’m sure this is an old wives tale however I did not wish to wear it to mark my gender and when I graduate from my masters I will not be wearing it either.

    Male or female we are all equal

  10. Stephanie Barbour Says:

    I too refused to wear the mortar board when I graduated from my university (Trinity) because I saw no reason to be marked out as different from my male peers. Whether the idea of a women being “capped” in her education after a bachelor’s degree is myth or not, the fact that many believe this rankled with me in view of the fact I was already half-way through my master’s degree when our ceremony was held.

    I was suprised to find though, that the young men were disappointed to be denied the mortar boards. So perhaps making it an option for all is the best solution.


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