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Defend a woman’s right to tell the truth

20 October 2021

Kathleen Stock is accused of transphobia for her belief that people cannot change their biological sex.

Here’s a situation that could soon happen in a school near you.

An eight-year old asks her teaching assistant in class if daddies can have babies the way mummies do. The teaching assistant, who is very likely to have been a woman who’s given birth herself and knows how these things work says “no, men can’t have babies, only women can have babies.”

Word of this conversation gets around. A group of masked protestors turn up at the school saying that the teaching assistant is a bigot who has no right to work in education. They put posters and stickers up outside the building. The woman’s union puts out a statement saying that while they don’t necessarily agree that she should be sacked, they agree that it’s OK to have a masked protest outside the school and that there has to be an investigation into institutional transphobia.

That is pretty much what happened at Sussex University to philosophy lecturer Kathleen Stock. A small group of students in Anti Terf Sussex said that her belief that humans can change gender identity but not biological sex was proof that she is “one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes, espousing a bastardised variation of radical feminism”.  They say that this opinion is “mainstreaming hate”.

Guilt by association

It’s not just her union branch that hung Stock out to dry. The people in her department refuse to have lunch with her because they are so terrified of guilt by association. Presumably these same academics have lots to say about integrity and moral courage in the abstract. It’s a trickier thing in real life.

But surely the radical left will come out in defence of a worker who’s being intimidated and hounded out of her job? Not if the Socialist Workers Party is anything to go by. With the caveat that you should only demand the sacking of fascists and organised racists, they agree with the students and the union branch that refused to defend Stock.

One of the students’ lines of attack is that they resent paying more than £9000 to an institution which employs someone who doesn’t share their opinions. They see themselves more as dissatisfied customers who are buying a product rather than learning how to engage with different points of view.

Selina Todd, a feminist historian at Oxford University, routinely faces harassment from trans activists for her belief in the reality of biological sex.

Something similar is playing out in Lurgan. Ceri Black has been summoned to her local police station because someone has objected to her gender critical tweets. Similar things have happened to women in England and Scotland. Activists use the police to try to shut women up.

The Irish and British left, with modest exceptions, refuse to stand up for women facing this severe harassment. As a result, the right and extreme right from the Tories to Jim Allister are able to present themselves as advocates for women’s right to speak freely.

The good news is that in Britain a new grassroots feminist movement is developing. To the extent that the left acknowledges its existence, it does so only to denounce it as bigoted and transphobic. But as anyone who saw reports of last weekend’s FiLiA conference in Portsmouth will know this movement is pulling together women environmentalists, educators and migrant rights activists. The contrast between what was happening in the hall and the pickets outside with placards reading “suck my d*ick you transphobic c*nts” was illuminating.

Woman’s Place UK, a group of socialist, feminist and trade union activist women also regularly organises large events just at the moment when the left can’t even answer the question of what a women is.

Socialist Democracy will give its full political support to any group of women in Ireland who want to do the same as FiLiA and WPUK.

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