The "Unforeseen" Rise of Women

The 21st century isn't the first time women appeared to outshine men.
The "Unforeseen" Rise of Women
Image: SERGEY NIVENS / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

An “unforeseen situation” (indeed, an unimaginable situation) occurred on June 7, 1890, when a young woman at Cambridge University bested the male students in the mathematical examinations by thirteen points. These examinations were designed to challenge the finest minds the British Empire could produce. It was “the first and only time a woman ranked first in the mathematical examinations held at the University of Cambridge.”[1] Philippa Fawcett’s academic prowess shook the prejudices of the Victorian age. But it would never happen again, for shortly afterward the exams were discontinued.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and what was universally regarded as an “unforeseen situation” in Victorian England is an everyday occurrence. Today’s world is awash in “unforeseen situations” involving smart, high-achieving, successful women.

In American academic institutions, “Women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees . . . 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and about 44 percent of all business degrees.” [2] In many cases, they are outperforming male students who, for the first time, must compete with women for privileges and priority.

This seismic cultural shift is by no means restricted to the United States. Elsewhere female heads of state are not just a matter of wishful thinking. Germany, Ireland, South Korea, Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Bangladesh, Croatia, Slovakia, New Zealand, and Iceland are only a few of the countries that have already crossed that gender line.

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May 25

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