Artillery Row

Smoked, but not fired

Trans activists at Sussex University have failed to get a female professor sacked

Professor Kathleen Stock is an academic at the University of Sussex. Her book Material Girls was released to much acclaim in March 2021. She has an OBE awarded in December 2020 “in recognition of her services to higher education”. The University’s own website seems rather proud of her for this, and announced her award on 5 January 2021. 

Well, they should be proud, shouldn’t they? They have a female philosopher achieving great things. Stock maintains a quiet dignity at all times in her public appearances and has presented rationally and calmly in her contributions to the debate around the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. If her recent book on the clash between gender identity and women’s rights had been in any way offensive or bigoted it would not have found a publisher. It did, and it sold well.

Bullying students are trying to get this rather lovely, lesbian academic sacked

Yet a group of entitled, bullying, students, joined by a fellow staff member, are trying to get rather lovely, lesbian academic sacked, and to that end have conducted a campaign of harassment over the last two days. Why? Who on Earth could she offend by thinking and writing?

On Tuesday posters went up around campus and the surrounding area. The posters appear to be designed rather hastily in someone’s back room. They accused Stock of making “trans students unsafe”. They were annoyed that “Sussex Still Pays Her”. They continued in another equally unimaginative poster: “It’s not a debate. It’s not feminism. It’s not philosophy. It’s just transphobia and it’s not on. Fire Kathleen Stock” 

Her crime is in believing that sex and gender are different things and that there should be rights afforded to female people based on sex. This is enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 where “sex” is a protected characteristic and “gender identity” is not. 

There is a uniquely sinister intention behind this targeted harassment of one of the UK’s leading female academics. The aim is to silence her and prevent her from working. She is to be kept away from students because she may express views they do not wish to hear or choose to agree with. Hearing a thing they disagree with is suddenly extended to “unsafe”.

This hyperbole is becoming an embarrassment to all of us

Presumably when they were sent to bed early as children, it was something they did not wish to hear, but that did not harm them. This hyperbole is becoming an embarrassment to all of us. In the current zeitgeist of the silencing of women, it has become an arrow aimed at their breasts. And the cry of “transphobia”, without evidence or justification, is the bow with which to launch it.

The same students created an Instagram account called “antiterfsussex” with the byline “Kathleen Stock is a transphobe”. They posted a picture of a student standing above the stone sign of “University Of Sussex” holding a large banner with the demand “STOCK OUT” covered in blue smoke. At first glance, it looked as if it were being burned. 

This image shocked those who were alerted to it on social media. A number of us began the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnSussexUni in response, and by just before lunchtime this was trending at Number Three. Another woman anonymously filmed herself taking down one of the posters. Women began to email and call the Vice-Chancellor, Adam Tickell, when urged to do so by the feminist activist and barrister Lucy Masoud.

Women were angry. This was not a “protest”, as was claimed. It is an unjustified attack on a woman. It is woman-hating and should not be excused by any other term. 

The image of the masked and smoke-wreathed agitator is deeply distressing

To women everywhere, the image of the masked and smoke-wreathed agitator is deeply distressing. It is depressing to know that if you are a woman, like the brave Stock, who speaks out about your rights, that your name may then be taken by those who disagree with you and traduced in front of your employer and the nation. This includes those who should be learning from you and debating with you. 

Academic freedom is crucial in our society. Hearing the views of women is essential in the debate around women’s rights. Hearing views which you don’t hold yourself is part of a well-established teaching and learning process. Students are not always best placed to know what they should be learning if it were otherwise, none of us would attend university, as we would have no need. 

The University eventually came to Stock’s defence. In a statement put out on Twitter, Tickell said:

“We are investigating activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack Professor Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms. Disturbingly, this has included pressuring the University to terminate her employment. Everyone at the University has the right to be free from harassment and intimidation. We cannot and will not tolerate threats to cherished academic freedoms and will take any action necessary to protect the rights of our community.”

This is welcomed by feminist women, and hopefully will stand as a precedent for other universities where female academics express a view on women’s rights. Perhaps it will also serve as a lesson to those who choose to harass them. 

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