LONDON — Professor Kathleen Stock is winning support in her fight against calls by campus protesters for the University of Sussex in Brighton to fire her. The campaign against Stock targets free speech and her defense of women’s rights. It is carried out in the name of fighting transphobia.
At the beginning of October the two-year campaign against Stock culminated with groups of protesters wearing masks and balaclavas demanding her firing, after graffiti targeting Stock appeared across campus. Cops warned her to stay away from the university and take measures to protect her security.
More than 2,800 university staff across the U.K. have signed a statement supporting the professor.
“We are outraged at the campaign of sustained abuse to which Stock has been subjected for years,” the university employees wrote. “We unreservedly condemn the escalation of this intimidation in recent days, including the prominent display on campus of posters and stickers calling for her to be fired.”
A group called Anti Terf Sussex accuse Stock of being on the “wrong side of history.” “Terf,” short for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” is a derogatory term used against supporters of women’s rights who maintain the scientific fact that biological sex cannot be changed.
Stock, a professor of philosophy, published a book in May, Material Girls — Why Reality Matters for Feminism. In it she writes that “trans people deserve lives free from fear. They deserve laws and policies that protect them from discrimination and fear.” But in some circumstances — prisons, rape counseling, sports — sex should take precedence over a person’s gender, in order to protect women’s rights, she says.
These are not abstract philosophical differences. They affect interests vital to the working class.
Stock cites the 134 complaints of sexual misconduct in public sports centers and swimming pools in 2018, including 120 that took place in same-sex changing rooms. Such facts “seem to be ignored by organizations … rushing to instigate self-identification as the official means of entry into women-only spaces on their premises. They have shown little thought for the girls in tough schools for whom single-sex spaces used to be a welcome relief from bullying or sexual harassment by boys.”
Two years ago 40 faculty members attended a student-organized event called at the same time as one of Stock’s lectures to protest her views. In January 600 philosophy academics in the U.K. and internationally signed a letter condemning Stock.
The Sussex branch of the University and College Union refused to fulfill its responsibilities to defend Stock from the calls to remove her, instead urging the college’s management “to take a clear and strong stance against transphobia at Sussex.” Like the middle-class left, the UCU yields the defense of rights that are crucial to the working class to the governing Conservative Party, which acts as if it is taking the moral high ground as it governs for the bosses.
Its minister for women and equalities, Elizabeth Truss, and Universities Minister Michelle Donelan condemned the attacks on Stock. Senior figures in the opposition Labour Party are divided over demands for the professor’s firing for expressing scientific views that are shared by millions — that differences between men and women are real and immutable.
Female academics across the U.K. are facing threats and witch hunts for holding similar views as Stock’s. Jo Phoenix, a professor at the Open University, had a December 2020 lecture cancelled after students threatened to “shut it down.” Phoenix’s “crime” was questioning whether people self-identifying as trans women should be placed in women’s prisons.
Professors Rosa Freedman at the University of Reading, and Selina Todd at Oxford University, have had classes and speeches cancelled for expressing similar views after campaigns targeting their free speech.