On 30 May 2023, the Oxford Union hosted a talk by Dr Kathleen Stock, a gender-critical feminist and former professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex. The event sparked a fierce controversy and a massive protest, as many students and academics accused Stock of being transphobic and spreading hate speech. In this blog post, I will examine the arguments and perspectives of both sides of the debate, and try to understand why this issue is so divisive and contentious.
Who is Kathleen Stock and what are her views?
Kathleen Stock is a British philosopher and writer who has published academic work on aesthetics, fiction, imagination, sexual objectification, and sexual orientation. She is also a prominent figure in the gender-critical movement, which challenges the idea that gender identity is more socially significant than biological sex. In her book Material Girls (2021), she argues that transgender people cannot expect all the rights afforded by biological sex, such as access to single-sex spaces, sports, and healthcare. She also criticises the concept of self-identification, which allows people to legally change their gender without any medical intervention or diagnosis.
Stock claims that her views are based on scientific evidence and common sense, and that she is not anti-trans or hateful. She says that she respects trans people’s right to live as they wish, but that they should not impose their beliefs on others or erase the reality of sex differences. She also says that she supports free speech and academic freedom, and that controversial views should be tested in public debate.
Why are trans activists opposed to Stock’s views?
Trans activists and their allies argue that Stock’s views are harmful and discriminatory to trans people, especially trans women. They say that Stock denies trans people’s identity and existence, and that she contributes to their marginalisation and oppression. They also say that Stock’s views are based on outdated and inaccurate assumptions about sex and gender, and that they ignore the diversity and complexity of human biology and psychology.
Trans activists and their allies say that they are not against free speech or academic freedom, but that they are against giving a platform to hate speech. They say that Stock’s views are not just controversial, but dangerous and violent, as they incite hatred and violence against trans people. They also say that Stock’s views are not representative of the majority of academic experts or public opinion on gender identity.
What happened at the Oxford Union event?
The Oxford Union event was scheduled for 30 May 2023 at 7 pm. The event was titled “A Perspective on Sex and Gender” and featured Stock as the only speaker. The event was organised by the Oxford Union, a prestigious debating society that is independent of the university. The event was open to all members of the Oxford Union, as well as invited guests.
The event was met with strong opposition from many students and academics at Oxford University. The Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society organised a protest outside the venue, calling for the event to be cancelled. They said that the event was part of a campaign of hate against transgender people, and that they did not want Stock to speak at their university. They also said that they were not opposed to Stock’s right to freedom of speech, but that they were opposed to the use of the Oxford Union platform to express anti-trans views.
The protest started with about 200 people arriving at Bonn Square in the city centre, before walking the short journey to the Oxford Union. Some police officers were present outside the event, but demonstrations remained peaceful. However, inside the venue, the talk was interrupted by two trans rights protesters who were removed by security. Another protester appeared to have glued themselves to the floor. Some audience members shouted for Stock to continue talking despite the interruption, which ended up lasting around half an hour.
When the event continued, Stock delivered her speech for about an hour. She defended her views on sex and gender, and criticised trans activism for being authoritarian and irrational. She also called for protection of female spaces and rights, and for funding for third gender-neutral spaces to ensure the safety of trans women and women. She answered some questions from the audience, some of which were supportive and some of which were critical. She said that she was not traumatised by the protest, and that she was trying to find solutions for the conflict.
What are the implications of the Oxford Union event?
The Oxford Union event has highlighted the deep divisions and tensions over the issue of gender identity in the UK. It has also raised questions about the limits and responsibilities of free speech and academic freedom in universities. On one hand, some people argue that Stock’s views are legitimate and important, and that she should be allowed to express them without censorship or intimidation. They say that universities should be places where debate is supported, not stifled, and where students are exposed to different and challenging ideas. They also say that Stock’s views are not hateful or violent, but reasonable and respectful.
On the other hand, some people argue that Stock’s views are harmful and hateful, and that she should not be given a platform to spread them. They say that universities should be places where diversity and inclusion are valued, not threatened, and where students are protected from discrimination and harassment. They also say that Stock’s views are not reasonable or respectful, but dangerous and violent.
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The Oxford Union event has also shown the power and passion of trans activists and their allies, who have mobilised to protest against Stock’s views. It has also shown the resilience and determination of Stock and her supporters, who have insisted on her right to speak despite the opposition. The event has generated a lot of media attention and public debate, which may influence the future of the gender identity issue in the UK.
The Oxford Union event featuring Kathleen Stock was a clash of views between gender-critical feminists and trans activists. The event was controversial and contentious, as it touched on sensitive and complex issues of sex and gender identity. The event also reflected the broader social and political context of the UK, where the issue of gender identity is highly polarised and contested. The event may have implications for the future of free speech and academic freedom in universities, as well as for the rights and well-being of trans people and women.