Are we reversing out of the scientific enlightenment? The frenzied scenes from Sussex University this week suggest that we might be. This should worry everyone. When a professor of philosophy is hounded by a mob for supposedly having the wrong opinions, the age of reason is in danger.
We’re told that Professor Kathleen Stock is a ‘Terf’. That acronym has been well and truly detached from trans-exclusionary radical feminist. It can now be smeared onto any woman with the audacity to cling on to her sex-based rights. Rights we once took for granted are now vulnerable: single-sex spaces and facilities, and the right to form single-sex groups and associations. Even the word, woman, is being wrestled from the sex it once described.
The penalties are severe – reputations and livelihoods are at stake – and the impact cuts to the core. The bullying and intimidation is enough to devastate anyone’s mental health.
Stock is certainly not the first woman to be condemned for Terf-craft, but the sheer scale of the vitriol she has faced has generated widespread attention. Much support has come from fellow academics and others. Over two thousand have signed one statement alone. They are right to support her, she has done nothing wrong.
But as in the days of the witch hunts, rights and wrongs are less important than feelings and emotions. The mob is angry because it’s offended by people who think differently. The means are justified by the ends, and in this case we’re told that the ends are trans rights.
The mantras are tedious and repetitive: Trans rights are human rights; transwomen are women; and the rest. The first is self-evident – trans people are human – while the second is just not true.
I am transgender and I have been through a full medical and surgical transition, but I’m still just as male as I was the day I was born. Hormone therapy can develop secondary sex characteristics and gender surgery can remodel the genitals themselves, but human beings cannot change sex. We all know this, really, but too many people are scared to admit it. That is perhaps understandable: who wants to be the next Kathleen Stock?
Universities that should be havens of free speech are being turned into bastions of conformity: repeat the mantra or face the consequences.
Over at Cambridge University, the Student Union Women’s Campaign is on a mission to dismantle the sex-based rights their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers won for them. Boldly, they announce, ‘Your gender is never questioned at WomCam events – we assume that if you are here, that this space is meant for you!’ Their naivety is breathtaking.
But they refuse to listen to older women who do understand the need for boundaries and safeguards. Their 2021-22 campaign booklet, How to Spot Terf Ideology, takes foolishness to a new level. The message is, stay in your bubble. When it comes to ‘Talking to Terfs online’, the booklet suggests, ‘The key advice is don’t.’
When Cambridge Students are told to stay in their echo chambers we should all worry. Admittedly the diktat has come from a Student Union campaign – but a sinister message seems to be creeping through society. Terfs are to be identified, marginalised, smeared and hounded from their jobs. Just because they appreciate the importance of sex in human relationships and human society.
We cannot leave a few brave souls like Kathleen Stock, Rosie Duffield and JK Rowling to stand against this tirade, and defend the rights of women. Political leaders need to start giving straight answers to straight questions: women are adult human females and only women have a cervix. But we cannot wait for them. The responsibility falls on everyone to step up and defend not only women’s rights, but the enlightenment that made them possible. Silence is not an option.
Debbie Hayton is a transgender British secondary school science teacher and political activist.
* This article was first published by Mail+ on 15 October 2021: Why Kathleen Stock’s treatment is a modern day witch hunt that should worry everyone.