Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Kathleen Stock: Free Speech Union, Free Speech and Tolerance.

with 23 comments

Woke students try to cancel feminist lecturer Kathleen Stock | Daily Mail  Online

Defending Kathleen Stock.

Here comes the first response:

The position of this Blog on the Kathleen Stock case is not based on a take on the university world. We leave that to Shereen Benjamin, reproduced below at the bottom of this Post. Our stand is Voltairean, tolerance of difference. Voltaire writings express the paradox of tolerance, stating both, “Tolerance has never provoked a civil war; intolerance has covered the Earth in carnage.”(Traité sur la Tolérance. 1763) and écrasez l’infâme! Crush the loathsome thing, “superstition, le fanatisme et, plus généralement, la religion.” (Written many times see: ÉCRASEZ L’INFÂME!). Put another way, just because you can and should put up with different opinions, including ones you can’t abide, does not mean you have to cosset them.

Stock has views, as a radical feminist, a current of thought which, emphasising patriarchy first, is distinct from socialist feminism’s positon of class and capitalism. It, the broad current, is probably best known in recent years for its anti-pornography and anti-prostitution campaigning, which puts it at variance with much of the Ipswich left and Trades Council who worked with the English Collective of Prostitue during the Steve Wright murders in 2006. We do know Stock’s stand on legislation on these issues, but we suspect that as she considers them part of “sex based oppression” we would guess that she does not have the same position as the Collective on the decrimalisation of “sex workers”.

Much as what the Sussex Professor says is eminently reasonable, ‘materialist’, on the biological basis of sexual differentiation. Sue R outlines much of her take rejecting “gender identity theory” in the comments on this Blog. Phillip Collins says in the New Statesman today, “even if we accept that gender association is a more complex phenomenon than it might seem, it is surely possible to believe in the existence of biological sex and, at the same time, to extend the highest standards of consideration to people who identify with a gender other than that which they were assigned at birth.” In other words, both sides in the dispute have good arguments and causes.

There are more contestable – perhaps sensitive is a better word – areas. She has expressed opinions on “autogynephilia” sexually aroused by the idea of being or becoming a woman” ,which some find offensive. Thus, “we could talk more about autogynephilia in a less toxic way, fewer men would feel they had to transition, and fewer men would feel so ashamed of it that they had to deny it existed. But I do not say this to let men off the hook for wanking in changing rooms.” (Julie Bindel interviews Kathleen Stock and asks her about radical feminism, autogynephilia and her new book Material Girls. June 2021.)

Is there is a right to be offensive? In this case we are not dealing with two goods, but those who would assert that Stock is not good at all. She is a “phobe”, in this case transphobe.

‘Islamophobe, was the accusation levelled at Charlie Hebdo. Attacks on the satirical weekly went beyond that. Norman Finkelstein, now a defender of the free speech of another academic, David Miller, dismissed from Bristol University, declared after the massacre of our comrades in 2015, that the paper was not satire but “sadism”. He compared it to the anti-Semitic Nazi Der Stürmer. (World renowned political science professor says he has ‘no sympathy’ for staff at Charlie Hebdo.)

Before his death Charlie Hebdo Editor ‘Charb’, Stéphane Charbonnier  had written Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racistes (2015). The pamphlet takes aim at many targets, including one which has come up in the Sussex controversy, that the objects of both serious criticism and mockery – in that case Islam and Islamism – are uniquely privileged to judge on what may, or may not, be ridiculed or attacked. They have right to be shielded from those whose excessive dislike creates distress.

At the beginning of the posthumously published polemic the left-wing cartoonist asked, “If you think that criticism of religions is the expression of racism” “If you think that ‘Islam’ is the name of a people.” “If you think that punishing blasphemers will open the gates of heaven for you.” “If you think that left-wing atheists play into the hands of fascists and xenophobes” “If you think that it is essential to classify citizens according to their religion” “If you think that one can laugh at everything except whatever is sacred to you.” “If you think that popularising the concept of Islamophobia is the best way of defending Islam.” He concluded, that if you agreed then his book was not for you. He mounted a robust defence of the right to be rude, to make fun of, and throw sallies at all religions, particularly, but not exclusively, ones, like Christianity and Islam, with institutional wealth, power and states upholding them.

After the slaughter at their offices, and the killings at the Hyper-Casher Charlie got a lot of support, including transient defenders from those not known previously as friends of the radical left publication. One can note that their enemies are still active as well: “Erdogan sues Charlie Hebdo over caricature. An ongoing Turkey-France spat deepened after French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a caricature of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prompting legal action from Ankara.” (Al Monitor. 2020). Let us hope that critics of Charlie will not agree with Erdogan against this “libel” which he linked to this, “Unfortunately, we are in a period when hostility to Islam, Muslims and disrespect for the prophet are spreading like cancer, especially among leaders in Europe,” said Erdogan.”

Drift from objecting to what somebody says into wishing to denying them any platform is not the preserve of despotic Presidents. If there is one thing you can guarantee it is that any kind of rows about freedom of expression, perhaps most of all when academic institutions are involved will throw up plenty of very different responses.

For Islamophobia read Transphobia. In both cases there is a drift from asserting the importance of directly lived and felt experience, to making this the basis for a standard of law, or practice, to decide on other people’s rights to express their opinions. It slips from hurt, harm, to punishing so quickly you hardly notice it until it comes along with demands to sack, to prosecute. Measures which under normal law are judged by independent parties (one of the main reasons we have a legal apparatus in the first place), debated through legislation (laws against race hatred, hate crimes, potential laws on misogyny) spread further and further, with people demanding to recreate Blasphemy laws, or to prevent the teaching of views one group opposes. Or as Collins says, “The more we censor for “good” reasons the more we open the door for those who would censor for bad reasons.”

This can be extended much further. Look at Toby Young’s, no doubt well intentioned, intervention. What a fragile bloom tolerance can be seen when we look at those defending ‘free speech’, who immediately summon those who rush into denouncing ‘woke’ and call for the closure of Unis. This is not tolerance, but using one cause to bludgeon another.


Threats to academic freedom today

In today’s commercialised university sector, where universities act like large corporations, academic freedom faces multiple threats.

Casualisation in academia

One comes from employment practices. In 2016 53% of academics were on short-term or hourly-paid contracts. Many employers measure an academic’s ‘value’ according to their student satisfaction ratings and their number of publications in favoured journals. This encourages those who are precariously employed or seeking promotion to avoid controversy and pursue popular and fashionable topics.

The student as “consumer”

A second threat is the perceived need to placate student ‘consumers’. There’s nothing new in students feeling affronted and even offended by ideas that contradict their views. Learning to participate in robust, evidence-based discussion of ideas without resorting to personal attack requires effort and is sometimes painful. The job of universities should be to teach students how to do this. But a focus on recruiting as many students as possible has seen seminar discussions replaced with more lecturing, and time for dialogue between staff and students has been squeezed out by the increasing demands on academics. So instead of challenging students, university managers anxious to achieve student ‘satisfaction’ seek to ensure their protection from ideas that they find uncomfortable or unpleasant.

The corporate Equality, Diversity and Inclusion agenda

A third threat to academic freedom is universities’ ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ (EDI) agendas. EDI is a corporate branding exercise which has little to do with addressing the most significant inequalities in the sector, such as the growing gap between pay for highest- and lowest-paid staff. How much cheaper and more straightforward to fly a rainbow flag than to address casualisation of the workforce or provide subsidised food and accommodation for students. Small wonder, then, that almost every university has joined Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme which, for a fee, confers the stamp of approval of this exceptionally powerful and well-funded lobby group. The more profound costs of Stonewall membership – complying with Stonewall’s demands about what can and can’t be discussed on campus – seem less troubling to university managers.

A hostile climate for critical discussion of sex and gender identity

These three factors have produced an extraordinarily hostile climate for critical discussion of sex and gender identity. When students and staff launch protests against the platforming of speakers who advocate for women’s sex-based rights, university managers with an eye to their Stonewall recognition fail to condemn the personal attacks, or to insist on appropriate boundaries for protest.

A handful of cases involving feminist academics targeted for their views have reached the mainstream media: for instance, Professor Selina Todd being provided with security escorts to her lectures pre-lockdown following threats on social media. Professor Todd is a senior and established academic. Whatever the psychological costs to her of the campaigns against her, she doesn’t face a threat to her livelihood. Academic freedom does, at least, provide that protection to secure and senior staff. But beyond the media spotlight are the junior academics, and those on precarious contracts, who keep silent for fear of their jobs, who choose to research and teach less contentious topics, and who decide not to organise public engagement events critically examining gender identity theory. It’s impossible to measure what isn’t happening. But at the University of Edinburgh where I work, I counted 12 public events that platformed uncritical discussions of gender identity ideology in the year March 2019-20, compared with just one on women’s sex-based rights. That should tell us something. Universities, instead of providing the fora where gender identity theory can be critically discussed, have become engine rooms for its uncritical promotion.

Time for a left wing defence of academic freedom

It has been especially disappointing to see sections of the political left lining up to restrict discussion of women’s sex-based rights. A low point came at the University and College Union’s (UCU) 2019 Congress when a motion to protect academic freedom in relation to sex and gender identity was defeated. UCU has rightly pointed out that the threats to academic freedom posed by “endemic job insecurity” do not feature in the government’s current proposals. But while UCU (and others on the political left who purportedly care about academic freedom and freedom of speech) are selective in their defence of such freedoms, and themselves join in with misrepresentations and smear campaigns against feminists, they play into the government’s hands.

Only a root-and-branch reform of university funding and governance which re-establishes universities as public institutions for public good is likely to produce an environment in which academic freedom can truly flourish. In the meantime, the job of the left is to ensure that no ideology is considered unassailable on university campuses, and to challenge no-platforming and other assaults on academic freedom when they occur.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 13, 2021 at 12:48 pm

23 Responses

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  1. Liberalism is a beginning but it is not an end, because some of us are more equal than others. When professors espouse what is essentially hate speech, they are not on an equal footing with students. There are plenty of creepy academics who have weird theories as to why Jews, Blacks, Women, Gays and others are inferior, pathological or what have you and should be denied equal standing in the Society. How should the Academy respond? I think there are valid reasons for questioning the institutional power invested in such people. I don’t find transphobes palatable, just as I don’t support racists, anti-semites, misogynists, homophobes and other such bigots. I do think there’s a way to take a principled stand within the radical current extending from 1968 and beyond through the present regarding all the important tensions contained herein. Sadly, this blog is missing the mark.

    American Dream

    October 13, 2021 at 1:25 pm

  2. “When professors espouse what is essentially hate speech”

    Please provide an example from the work of K Stock

    Boleyn Ali

    October 13, 2021 at 3:19 pm

    • Indeed, the interview with her by Bindel (one of others on the same theme) I cited will offend, but it is hard to see that it is actually hate speech.

      See also: https://twitter.com/bindelj/status/1448197294155837442?s=20

      I have read her recent book, Material Girls, and it’s hard to see how it could be described as transphobic. “Trans people are trans people. We should get over it,” she writes. “They deserve to be safe, to be visible throughout society without shame or stigma, and to have exactly the life opportunities non-trans people do.” Certainly the book hardly amounts to “transphobic shit”, the term written on stickers that were recently plastered across Stock’s university building.

      Andrew Coates

      October 13, 2021 at 3:31 pm

    • Well, to me she brings to mind Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve from the 1990’s. It was to me a race screed, albeit one packaged in academic arguments. Ultimately the statistical arguments in the first part of the book led to advocacy in the second part for policy changes that materially hurt oppressed people. That said, it did avoid name-calling, that sort of thing. These are essentially gray areas and I am not accusing Kathleen Stock of espousing hate speech per se- rather skirting the edges of such areas and promoting an unfriendly environment for queer students on campus as well as in Society generally.

      American Dream

      October 13, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    • I’m not quite accusing Kathleen Stock of indulging in hate speech but rather of skirting the margins. The closest analogy I can think of is Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, on the one hand a “responsible” academic tome, on the other hand an elaborate argument for why black and brown people are (intellectually) inferior and should be deprived of accommodations designed to promote equity. I think there are very good reasons to question him having power over students on a contemporary campus. Equally so for Jews, Women, Gay and others when the best we can say is that this person acknowledges that they are human beings and that they do have some rights too. Because Transphobia is on an equal footing with all such other expressions of bigotry to me. For people here, that seems like a bit of a stretch and probably in contradiction with the liberatory principles you might claim to espouse otherwise.

      American Dream

      October 13, 2021 at 3:54 pm

      • I’m not quite accusing Kathleen Stock of indulging in hate speech

        But that is exactly what you did in your first comment and is the basic MO being used against her now including your further allegation that she is “promoting an unfriendly environment for queer students on campus”.

        Again you cannot reasonabley state this without providing concrete examples. In fact her public statements, which Im sure you have seen quoted, demonstrate exactly the opposite.

        Boleyn Ali

        October 14, 2021 at 9:51 am

        • You missed the next part of the quote: “There are plenty of creepy academics who have weird theories as to why Jews, Blacks, Women, Gays and others are inferior, pathological or what have you and should be denied equal standing in the Society. How should the Academy respond?”.

          I accused her of skirting the margins. As stated just above, the closest analogy I think of is Charles Murray, who never ever hurls explicit racial slurs but does wield elaborate academic arguments targeted at black and brown people in a deeply biased (i.e. racist) way where the net effect will be to materially hurt these oppressed groups.

          American Dream

          October 14, 2021 at 10:44 am

          • No you started with “essentially hate speech” and then backtracked to “not quite hate speech” BUT “promoting an unfriendly environment for queer students on campus” all with no evidence. The “skirting the margins” argument doesnt work either without concrete examples of “elaborate academic slurs” designed to “materially hurt these opressed groups”. Where is your evidence of this? One example?

            To the contrary her support for trans rights is express and public and quoted in one of the earlier posts on the subject:

            “We repeatedly stress that trans people are in deserving possession of full human rights, including freedom from harm, discrimination, and harassment.”

            This is NOT “skirting the margins”

            Boleyn Ali

            October 14, 2021 at 11:16 am

            • Okay, so to you she’s a trans rights advocate? You really think her life’s work is to advocate for dignity, respect and full rights for transgender people?

              American Dream

              October 14, 2021 at 11:22 am

              • What?

                As per comment 11:16 above you have made a number of allegations which you have singularly failed to back up with any evidence. This dishonest approach has led to the present situation in Sussex and sadly characterises much of the wider debate on the subject. That Stock, and others, repeatedly have to state their support for trans rights is a direct result of this.

                Don’t double down or deflect. If there is no evidence in support of your argument, rather the opposite, you need to be honest enough to change your mind.

                However sadly I suspect Francis, below, is correct.

                Boleyn Ali

                October 14, 2021 at 12:18 pm

        • The problem with arguing with reality-denialists is that the normal technique of appealing to facts doesn’t work with them. For them, the starting point is what they want to believe, and their perceptions of the world are then reverse-engineered to fit their conclusions.


          October 14, 2021 at 11:14 am

  3. What Britain seems to be going through now on this topic America went through decades ago. Although the legal systems are very different and Britain doesn’t have a first amendment to any sort of Constitution there are parallels. African American Professor Leonard Jefferies is a case in point. He went through legal issues regarding his “interesting” views on White people. This from his wiki :

    “Jeffries is a proponent of melanin theory, which posits that greater skin pigmentation makes Black people inherently superior to white people.He says melanin allows Black people to “negotiate the vibrations of the universe and to deal with the ultraviolet rays of the sun.” Jeffries has stated (but not published) the idea that whites are “ice people” who are violent and cruel, while blacks are “sun people” who are compassionate and peaceful”

    There was a big Court fight but I seem to recall Jefferies retaining tenure.


    October 13, 2021 at 4:22 pm

  4. Sorry, Andrew, no way is Prof Stock a radical feminist (by which I take it that you mean a separatist?), She clearly says in that interview with Julie Bindell that she is not although she has discussed with them. I would also like to point out that how nan anyone take seriously somebody( Philip Collins) who writes that gender/sex is assigned at birth. This is straight out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Actually, interestingly Prof Stock’s usual philosophical area is ‘fiction’ and I may seek it out. I think fiction is important here, because as the post-modernists love to keep telling us, ‘it’s all a narratives’. Sex is particularly a series of incidents arranged into a ‘scenario’, one that thrills from it’s transgression. Needless to say, none of this helps the cause of World Socialism despite what the Troll Uncle Sam’s GIZ Stain says.

    Sue r

    October 13, 2021 at 4:28 pm

  5. How anti-trans “radical feminist” is the word used by their critics, gender critical by themselves, when referring to *this* debate,

    Radical feminist in the 60s/70s sense of separatist, Firestone, sex-class, sense does not seem around much today. But there’s plenty to go on, “Radical feminists locate the root cause of women’s oppression in patriarchal gender relations, as opposed to legal systems (as in liberal feminism) or class conflict (as in anarchist feminism, socialist feminism, and Marxist feminism).”

    “Julie Bindel (born 20 July 1962) is an English radical feminist.”

    “When she was 17, Bindel moved to Leeds and joined the Leeds Revolutionary Feminist Group, which was campaigning against pornography.”

    Bindel has been researching and campaigning against prostitution since the 1970s and has written regularly about it since 1998

    Terror on our streets
    The Ipswich murders have raised disturbing parallels with the Yorkshire Ripper case, writes Julie Bindel.2


    “The disgraceful hounding of decorated radical feminist Kathleen Stock by Sussex trans rights warriors is cancel culture at its worst


    Andrew Coates

    October 13, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    • “Bindel has been researching and campaigning against prostitution since the 1970s and has written regularly about it since 1998”

      Bindel’s views on Prostitution were fairly orthodox on the Left in the 1970s and 1980s (that’s it’s a bad thing,). In recent decades , with the rebranding of it as Sex Work, she is going against much of the modern Left consensus that views it in a generally positive light.


      October 13, 2021 at 8:46 pm

  6. Anyone who knows anything about reactionaries and denialists knows that when their pet cause becomes socially unacceptable they tend to become revisionist. Hence we have Holocaust denialists parsing numbers, anti-vaxxers disputing lethality, causes or treatments, that sort of thing. In the case of Transphobes, they may concede that they are human beings and possess some rights, they just may want to deny them bathroom access, medical services, respectful treatment, a sense of safety, self-determination, or what have you.

    American Dream

    October 13, 2021 at 9:34 pm

  7. Interestingly enough, for the self-denominated “Radfems” the vast majority of their toxic projection is targeted at Transwomen, very little at the Transmasculine or non-binary people raised as cis girls who tend to show up at Wimmen’s events.

    American Dream

    October 13, 2021 at 9:49 pm

  8. There’s a definite generational dimension to all this too, at least where I live in urban North America.

    American Dream

    October 13, 2021 at 9:59 pm

  9. The Shadow Minister of Equalities, Taiwo Owatatmi has come out firmly on the side of the trans activists and criticised the LGB Alliance as being ‘transphobic’. I can appreciate that Labour feels they have to stick to the law, and this Gender precognition stuff is now the law, especially in Scotland, but it sticks in the caw somewhat. I am reminded of the famous story about Galileo where he was forced to deny the heliocentric earth, but reputed muttered under his breath at the trial, ‘And still, it moves!’.

    Sue r

    October 14, 2021 at 11:25 am

  10. Should be ‘gender recognition’

    Sue r

    October 14, 2021 at 11:27 am

  11. What’s happened to my longer comment of this morning?

    Sue r

    October 14, 2021 at 11:43 am

    • There now… some are already claiming it had to pass it to the Stonewall Diversity Committee for approval.

      Actually for reasons I have *never* got – this does not apply to things could would rationally think would be held up – WordPress sometimes does not put comments up (believe it or not, including my own), comments sometimes get in the Pending or even Trash category and have to be reclassed.

      Andrew Coates

      October 14, 2021 at 2:35 pm

  12. […] to ignore any longer (Coatesy has dealt with this case in some detail and in an even-handed manner here, here and here). Even if you find Stock’s views repugnant, it is surely unacceptable that […]

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