Photo by Reza Hasannia

“Watch me take a knife to your throat”

The erosion of academic freedom at LSE has culminated in threats of physical violence

Artillery Row

Threats of violence against “trans exclusionary” or “gender critical” feminists who do not believe that people can change sex merely by announcing preferred pronouns or wearing different clothes have become ubiquitous on social media. It is nevertheless surprising to discover that such threats can now be submitted as academic work for a master’s degree.

The London School of Economics held a conference in April 2021 for students taking the MSc in Gender (Sexuality). One session was entitled “No Time, No TERFs, No Norms”; the disparaging acronym stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. A paper in the session concluded:

“If TERFs think trans* is an endemic threat to feminism, let us be the threat to feminism… Picture this: I hold a knife to your throat and spit my transness into your ear. Does that turn you on? Are you scared? I sure fucking hope so.”

This violent fantasy — laced with sexual menace — was written by a male student who identifies as “genderfuck” and asserts “they/them” pronouns. Apparently no one in the class found his paper (which contributes 30 per cent towards the course mark) out of the ordinary. It was praised by students as “insightful and provocative” and “poignant, funny and enraging”. Indeed, the author was rewarded with an invitation to present the same paper at another conference in the LSE’s Department of Gender Studies.

The paper is a mash-up of postmodern bullshit and incel resentment

The paper is worth reading to appreciate what passes for graduate-level work in Gender Studies. The paper is a mash-up of postmodern bullshit far beyond the wildest imaginings of Alan Sokal or Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose and incel resentment. The author decries the “imagined trans* threat” promulgated by “TERFs” like JK Rowling. To refute this perceived threat, he promises to “take my knife to your throat” and declares “I am the butcher”. The author’s chief inspiration is Andrea Long Chu, a sissy-porn enthusiast who defines femaleness as “an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes”.

If any students taking the course disagreed with such a definition, how openly could they express their views in class? When a student threatens to knife anyone who challenges him, it hardly fosters an atmosphere of open discussion, in which diverse perspectives on sex and gender can be freely debated. The Department proudly quotes a former student saying, “LSE Gender was a safe space for me to share my inner voices,” but evidently safety is denied to anyone who questions the most extreme version of transgender ideology which of course is also rejected by some people who identify as transgender.

The student’s paper was initially exposed by Sex Matters, the organization founded by Rebecca Bull, Naomi Cunningham, Maya Forstater, and Emma Hilton campaigning for sex to be recognized in laws and language. (I am one of its Directors.) The volume of criticism ensuing on Twitter forced the LSE to acknowledge that the paper “did not abide by the School’s Code of Practice on Free Speech” and to remove it from the conference website. This response is completely inadequate. For one thing, this student has made explicit sexualized threats of violence against women, and by his own admission poses a danger to students and staff.

In this view, anyone recognizing the reality of sex inflicts harm on people who deny that reality

Of greater concern is what this episode reveals about the culture of the Department of Gender Studies. It recently accused “those espousing gender critical perspectives” of making “transphobic, discriminatory, inaccurate, and harmful claims about trans people specifically, and gender more broadly”. In this view, anyone who recognizes the reality of sex is inflicting harm on people who deny that reality: such harm justifies retaliatory violence. It is evident that such hyperbolic accusations have created an environment where a student can boast about butchering feminists who refuse to submit to his ideology.

Sex Matters has written to the LSE’s Director, Dame Minouche Shafik, demanding an independent investigation into the culture of the Department of Gender Studies and a commitment to end the hostile environment for students and staff espousing gender-critical views. Those views, incidentally, are shared by most of the British public and have been ruled in Maya Forstater’s Employment Appeal Tribunal as protected beliefs under the Equality Act. Now that the erosion of academic freedom at LSE has culminated in threats of physical violence, the university must act swiftly to restore its reputation.

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