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‘A culture of discrimination, silencing and fear’: meet academia’s feminist heretics

‘I don’t want to lose my job and I don’t want to put my kids at risk’

A university gender studies researcher set out to survey the state of the discipline and found a quasi-authoritarian regime. Feminists who would defend the reality and relevance of biological sex fear for their livelihood and sometimes their lives.

Laura Favaro interviewed 50 gender studies professors across a range of disciplines, most of whom worked at English universities, for an article published September 15 in Times Higher Education.

“Having approached the topic with an open mind…my discussions left me in no doubt that a culture of discrimination, silencing and fear has taken hold across universities in England and many countries beyond,” Favaro wrote.

All of her interviewees said they were feminists. Just 14 of them held views academics describe as “gender critical,” meaning that they maintain there is a difference between biological sex – binary and unchanging – and “gender,” the “roles, behaviours and attributes that a given culture deems appropriate for people by virtue of their sex,” Favaro wrote.

This view, notably the stance that sex is a binary and can’t be changed, used to be commonplace among feminists, they told her.

This was Feminism 101: biological differences between men and women are a given. Culture can and should be changed.

But the new, “genderist” feminist regime teaches that sex is a social construct, a spectrum, or a fiction. To these feminists, one’s own “gender identity” determines whether one is a woman. They think “gender identity” should replace sex in most or all contexts. Hence: “trans women are women.”

These “genderists” seem to be winning. Favaro found that the “gender-critical” feminists of the old school “had faced negative repercussions for years for expressing their views.

The genderists call them TERFs, or “trans-exclusionary radical feminists.” They sometimes say their arguments are “hate speech” or “rhetorical violence” and compare them to fascists or eugenicists, Favaro stated.

“Among other experiences, my interviewees described complaints to and by management, attempts to shut down events, no platforming, disinvitations, intimidation, smears, and losing career progression opportunities, including being blocked from jobs,” Favaro wrote.

Others told her of being “physically removed from events” and experiencing massive online abuse, including “incitements to murder.”

Early-stage academics told Favaro that it would be “too terrifying” to go public with their views. “I have children – I’m frightened,” one stated.

In 2021 a London School of Economics conference paper described a scenario in which feminists critical of gender ideology “scream for mercy,” according to Favaro. The paper then described the potential threat: “I hold a knife to your throat and spit my transness into your ear”, concluding: “Are you scared? I sure fucking hope so.”

Nonetheless, “my priority are the people who are being harmed by this debate, who I perceive to be trans people,” a genderist sociologist told Favaro. Favaro implied this view was typical.

Even more, Favaro wrote, a “remarkable coupling of condemnation and ignorance regarding gender-critical feminism was fairly common among genderist academics.”

“Many readily admitted that they limit their academic engagements, including their reading, to their ‘echo chambers and bubbles’ where, as one journal editor noted, ‘we all share basically the same perspectives,’” Favaro stated.

Additionally, “many genderist academics struggled, or were discomfited, when asked to provide their own definitions of sex, gender and (particularly) gender identity, despite their research and teaching revolving around these very topics.”

MORE: Matt Walsh to bring ‘What is a Woman?’ to college campuses

“Some acknowledged lack of sufficient reflection, while others explained this peculiar situation by citing concerns over ‘perpetuating harms’ with their words to people who identify as transgender,” Favaro said.

“There is very little openness to debating certain subjects which are difficult other than being framed as being transphobic,” the genderists told Favaro.

“You’ve got to be for your team and toe the party line,” according to one genderist education academic.

Every interviewee who held a major editorship role at a feminist, gender and sexuality studies journal affirmed that genderists’ perspectives dominated to the exclusion of all others. Many authors, publishing houses and readers have followed suit.

Dissident feminists faced censorship outside journals as well. Genderist academics told her that they have banned the heretics from academic networking and policed students’ writing.

“If students write ‘female’ in their essay, I’ll cross it out,” one genderist sociologist told Favaro. “What matters is gender [identity].”

Those with more moderate views bemoaned the fact that “nuanced debate” was impossible and “anybody in the middle just has no space to speak.”

One psychologist compared the situation to “authoritarian regimes that like to police the thoughts and speech of their citizens.”

Some of those in the middle cited concerns about political projects of the gender activists, including providing hormones and surgery to gender dysphoric children, eliminating single-sex spaces and removing sex as a category in collecting scientific data. They told Favaro they were “too scared” to speak up.

“It feels so alienating because academia should be about discussing and exchanging ideas and it’s not. It’s not in our context,” one middle-of-the-road scholar told Favaro. “It’s also incredibly anxiety-provoking because I don’t want to lose my job and I don’t want to put my kids at risk – I know they could be put at risk.”

MORE: Harvard disinvites feminist philosopher for opposing transgender ideology

IMAGE:Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock

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About the Author
assistant editor
Maggie has previously worked as an associate editor of Columbia magazine, an editorial assistant at DNAinfo.com, and an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Phoenix. She holds a B.A. from New York University and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.