Professor Mary Beard said it is important women “keep that sense of anger” about discrimination despite “improvements”, ahead of accepting an Honorary Degree from the University of Liverpool.
The Cambridge University academic, who rose to public prominence after presenting a number of television documentaries on ancient history, appeared before around 200 people in conversation with Professor Sue Wray, at the University’s iconic Victoria Gallery and Museum (VGM).
Professor Wray, an internationally renowned reproductive health expert, initiated the discussion by asking Professor Beard about her first experiences of discrimination, before opening the conversation to take in Roman numerals, Holby City, ‘impact’ and Brexit, among other topics.
Professor Beard told those assembled that when she first started out she felt “very naked to the world”, and soon “learnt more about the cutting edge of practical discrimination” towards women.
She said: “The fact I had not met any discrimination of that sort before, and had been sheltered from it, meant that I just found it very odd. I just thought this is really odd, this is wrong.
“I think if we get the message that we aren’t as good, it’s quite easy to believe that we aren’t as good.”
She added: “You can’t be too grumpy about that now because it really is getting better, improvements are being made. When I started only 12% of undergraduates were female, now it’s almost 50% and that’s in 40 years.
“I’ve lived through a revolution. It used to be a boys’ club with a few girls, now it’s mixed place at student level and I think we’re getting there at the next level up.
“But one has got to keep that sense of anger otherwise nothing changes. We should be thinking very hard about how to make that change quicker.”
Professor Beard urged young female academics to “not let it get you down”, adding that “it’s possible to have fun and enjoy yourself in a world you see as imperfect”.
But she did say that she was glad to have only entered television when in her 50s, had more “resilience” and “didn’t care so much” about the views of critics.
Professor Beard discussed her role on the Jamie Oliver programme, Dream School and her surprise at the pupils’ enthusiasm for Roman numerals, motivated she later learnt, because it was the “only way to know when a television programme was made”.
She also revealed a secret love for BBC shows Casualty and Holby City; described ‘impact’ as a “horrible government imposed word” and disclosed how her unexpected career as a popular television documentary presenter had come about.
In response to an audience question, she said she feels “very despondent” about the UK’s vote to leave the EU and is “hoping Brexit won’t happen”.
Following the event, Professor Mary Beard was bestowed with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor, Professor Janet Beer, alongside Irish entrepreneur and philanthropist, John Kennedy CBE.
WATCH Professor Mary Beard congratulate graduates at this year’s ceremonies: