In today’s Sunday Tribune, Isabel Hayes reports on the wearing of mortarboard hats by women on graduation from Irish universities. While female graduands wear hats, male students don’t. Nobody seems to know for sure why.
When I graduated from UCD three years ago, I looked into this without much success. Despite much research by Isobel, she too failed to discover a definitive explanation.
However, the reason that cropped up again and again in both our investigations was that the tradition goes back to when women wore hats on graduation to signify the capping of their education. They had reached their ceiling whereas men were free to go on to greater things!
It all sounds so silly, yet I fear that this explanation is offered too often to be a myth. Needless to say, I am not impressed by this thought. While there is still much doubt surrounding why women don’t wear hats, I decided not to take any chances on my own graduation. If there was any truth in the capping theory, I was not going to go along with that tradition!
So I turned up on a cold afternoon in December with no hat. I feared a little opposition from college officials but none of them even remarked on it. Surprisingly, fellow students and their families displayed far more conservative attitudes. I lost count of the number of times I was asked about it. I had not taken any notice, but I was even informed that I had been the only one out of hundreds of female students who had not worn a hat.
I know of several girls in the last few years who knew of the capping theory prior to graduation. However, they either decided to go along with it just to fit in, were not bothered or looked forward to wearing the mortarboard for once. Each to their own, I say. You will never catch me wearing one though! 🙂