Kathleen Stock resigns: the ‘hounding’ of an academic on the front line of transgender rights debate
Sussex University students claim ‘trans and non-binary students are safer and happier for it’
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
“A free society protects speech. It does not protect hurt feelings,” said The Times. So it is a disgrace that last week Professor Kathleen Stock, a feminist philosopher at Sussex University, felt she had no choice but to resign, after being “systematically hounded by students who denounced her views on transgender rights”.
What caused such outrage? Stock believes that transgender people deserve respect and legal protection, but that “biological sex” is immutable–a view based on “sound science”. She has also called for trans women to be excluded from some women-only spaces such as prisons and refuges. Stock ought to have had “the unassailable right” to express these views. Yet she faced such intimidation that police advised her to stop lecturing in person. Posters put up around campus described her as one of the UK’s “most prominent transphobes”, and she endured a barrage of online threats.
Many LGBT+ students see this row very differently, said Vic Parsons on Pink News. They believe Stock’s views exclude and endanger trans people, and that she is “fearmongering” about the threat posed by trans women. This is why the anonymous “Anti-Terf Sussex” group celebrated the victory of its campaign to “get Stock out of Sussex”, claiming that “trans and non-binary students are safer and happier for it”.
That’s the problem, said Julie Bindel in the Daily Mail: trans activists see anyone who dissents from their orthodoxy that “trans women are women” as a dangerous transphobe. Female critics are dubbed Terfs – “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” – and subjected to “sadistic bullying”. The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was labelled “a hateful Terf and a bigot” for merely stating that “trans women are trans women”.
The “student bullies” won in Sussex, said Sarah Ditum in The Sunday Times – but only because their elders encouraged it. Yes, the university’s leadership has recently shown “admirable strength” in backing Stock’s right to free speech. But before that, many of her colleagues attacked her on social media, and her University and College Union offered her almost zero support.
In the past, censorship came from above, said Eric Kaufmann on UnHerd. In universities today, it is “bottom-up”. “Across the Anglosphere, cancellation campaigns are soaring”, with students “often leading the charge”: attempts to oust US academics increased fivefold between 2015 and 2020. Unless we tackle this “emergent authoritarianism” there will be “plenty more Kathleen Stocks in the coming years”.