Photo/IllutrationA woman who posted this tweet says she cried in outrage over the Tokyo Medical University’s discrimination against female applicants. She compares today's Japan with 19th-century Britain as described by Jacky Fleming in “The Trouble With Women,” whose Japanese translation was published this year. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Women’s brains are not only small but are made of a soft, sponge-like material.

This was one of myriad myths that plagued women in Britain during the 19th century.

But feminist cartoonist Jacky Fleming laughs them off in her mordantly funny illustrated book, “The Trouble with Women.”

Fleming shows Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the proponent of the theory of evolution, as saying, “If you made a list of eminent men, next to a list of eminent women, it was obvious that men were better at everything.”

And a comment attributed to Henry Maudsley (1835-1918), a pioneering British psychiatrist, warns women that studying medicine could cause their breasts to shrivel.

Such prejudices of the past are plain ludicrous. But what about today? Don’t we hear, or say, things like “women love flowers” and “women have delicate sensibilities”?

In a recent news report, women were said to have “high communication skills.”

This remark was made as an excuse by the official in charge of Juntendo University’s entrance tests to its medical school, where the exams were rigged against female applicants.

The explanation implied that because of women’s good communication skills, they were bound to score higher than their male counterparts in interviews, which necessitated setting the bar higher for women to level the playing field and help men.

The official backed his claim by citing a medical paper. However, the author of the paper reportedly noted, “I don’t see any connection between (his claim) and the subject of my research.”

Some female medical school candidates were obviously rejected for a nonexistent gender gap. And if the latter still takes precedence over differences in the abilities of individuals in this day and age, we are in no position to laugh at people of the 19th century.

In fact, I totally fail to understand why candidates with superior communication skills had to be rejected. The real reason I suspect is the school’s belief in medicine as “a discipline to be dominated by men, now and forever.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 17

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.