I’ve been waiting for news that men have learnt to appreciate intelligent women for more than 40 years. Finally, it’s been proved that relationships in which the woman is intellectually superior to the man thrive.
A study published in the American Sociological Review, which analysed US marriage statistics between 1950 and 2000, found that marriages in which the wife is more intelligent than the husband are no more likely to fail than if the balance is the other way round.
Back in the sexist 70s, men were constantly trying to mark their territory in relationships. They liked to be seen as the “clever one”.
Once, as a teenager, when I went to a nightclub and mentioned that I was heading to university, the response was a cry of “What do you want to go there for?”. Women were treated like adornments back then – and people thought it should be enough to be pretty, at home, and bringing up kids.
Even when I started on the music show Countdown in 1982, it was hosted by a man and, instead of being called a mathematician, I was called “vital statistician”. I almost felt embarrassed to be brainy.
Today, my partner, Graham Duff, is 15 years my junior and he loves the fact that I have a brain. He would say that he’s more intelligent than me, but obviously he’s lying.
We started playing sudoku earlier this year and, recently, when flying back from New York, I bought two identical puzzle books in the airport and gave him one so that we could do the same puzzles and race each other. It was an overnight flight and we didn’t sleep at all because we were too busy competing. On this fluke occasion, he won, but I’ve been practising in secret and I’m not prepared to give in.
My life today is very different from what my mother imagined for me. On my 18th birthday, I was going out with a boy called Ricky and my mum told me it was time to settle down, so I didn’t end up aged 26 and – heaven forbid – on the shelf. Women were taught to get married and care for a man, who would take on the role of breadwinner and provider. I remember mum telling me to make my brother a cup of coffee and I’d say, “No – he’s got two arms and two legs, he’s perfectly capable of making his own coffee.” There was absolutely no suggestion of women having a brain – let alone using it.
I was from a quite poor single-parent family, and lots of my friends were married with kids by their early twenties. But I studied engineering at Cambridge at a time when there were eight boys to every girl – and that was in the university overall, let alone engineering, which was about 1 per cent women. After university, I worked on a construction site with 2,000 men, so I had to learn to stand my ground, intellectually and physically. There’d be fights between men screaming at me and others defending me. I had to develop quite a hard skin.
My generation kicked against this set-up. We lived different lives, and we’ve raised our children to think differently.
I’ve always earned more than my partner – since I was 23 years old – and if it bothered anyone, they had to get over it. All I’ve ever wanted is to achieve and be busy. I can’t bear to be told I don’t need to work so hard, because I can’t stand sitting at home making a cup of tea.
I’m now 53 and, throughout my life, the one thing men have complained about is my independence. It drives them nuts. I’m so relieved that my son doesn’t share their views – he wants to share his life with a clever girl.
Today, women are learning to embrace their intelligence and celebrate it, not hide it like they did back in my youth. We have it so much better than ever before.
When I started on TV, women were mostly dolly birds. Just think of the strong role models we have today. My supervisor at Sidney Sussex College, Professor Dame Ann Dowling, became head of the engineering department at Cambridge and has been named the first female president of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Others include Susie Wolff, the Formula 1 driver, Kirsty Stewart, the first female Red Arrow – and too many others to name.
Finally, we’ve got statistics that vindicate what I’ve been saying all along and when I beat Duffy in our next game of sudoku, I know he’ll happily challenge me to another round.