The smearing of Kathleen Stock
Oxford students are using every trick in the book to silence gender-critical views.
Lecturers are growing increasingly concerned about students using artificial intelligence to help them write their essays. They worry that by entering a few key words into a programme such as ChatGPT, students will be able to produce semi-convincing, if hackneyed, papers, without learning how to think and write for themselves. If the members of Oxford University’s LGBTQ+ Society are anything to go by, academics are right to be concerned.
When students in the LGBTQ+ Society first heard that Professor Kathleen Stock had been invited to address the Oxford Union at the end of next month, they must surely have asked a machine to compose their response. What else could explain such a trite statement? The students, who profess themselves ‘dismayed and appalled’ at Stock’s invitation, have produced a paragraph containing every clichéd sentiment we have come to associate with No Platforming campaigns. It could even be used for a game of campus-censorship bingo.
Stock was hounded out of her post at the University of Sussex in October 2021, after trans-activist students denounced her gender-critical views as transphobic and waged a campaign of intimidation against her. Far from being horrified at this ignorant and censorious turn, some Oxford students now want Stock to be denied a platform at their university, too. Their brief statement, published on Twitter this week, repeats all the old arguments that have been made against intellectual freedom in higher education in recent years.
First, it conflates words and violence. According to these students, Stock does not write articles and give lectures, she wages a ‘campaign of hate and misinformation’. By letting her speak, the Oxford Union is apparently ‘allowing her to stoke fear against trans people’. What’s more, she is scheduled to appear at a time when the trans community is – allegedly – ‘facing a constant attack on its lives and rights’. The references to hate, attack and danger make it sound as if Stock is pitching up for armed combat, rather than giving a talk on sex and gender. It’s not Stock spreading ‘misinformation’ here, but the LGBTQ+ students.
The second argument is that Stock’s appearance could potentially be traumatising. By inviting Stock, the Oxford Union stands accused of ‘disregarding the welfare of its LGBTQ+ members’. The statement advises anyone upset by Stock’s invitation to make use of the LGBTQ+ Society’s ‘welfare secretaries’, who can offer ‘support or someone to talk to’. The presumption of mental vulnerability is hyped up and weaponised to political ends. The performative nature of this fragility is all too clear. For instance, the LGBTQ+ Society complains that Stock’s appearance is scheduled to take place ‘right before Pride month’. Essentially, this is a demand to rule out discussion of gender-identity ideology not just during the whole of June – out of deference to the rainbow flag – but also for several weeks either side of that month. This is laughable.
Predictably, this talk of violence and trauma culminates in an attack on free speech. According to the LGBTQ+ Society, Stock’s invitation legitimises hate ‘under the guise of free speech’. These student activists find it impossible to conceive of free speech as an important principle in its own right. It is, instead, treated as a bogus concept – merely a cover for expressing hateful views. They also claim that Stock will be allowed to speak ‘without challenge or opposition’. This is despite the fact that Oxford Union events allow for audience comments and questions.
But this is beside the point. The LGBTQ+ activists do not want an opportunity to debate with Stock, they want to make her go away. ‘We call on the Union to rescind its misguided invite’, they pompously declare, ‘and on all Oxford students to stand in solidarity with the trans community and express their dissent with these views’. In their eyes, only one view is permissible on campus and it is not the one held by Professor Stock. The arrogance of them assuming ‘all Oxford students’ should share their opinion beggars belief.
Since issuing their call for Stock to be No Platformed, members of the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society have doubled down on their arguments. ‘Stock has a history of insulting trans people, campaigning against their rights, and defending the abusive practice of conversion therapy’, a spokesperson told the Daily Mail. There is no evidence to support such claims.
The students also object to Stock’s attempts to defend herself. ‘Stock’s response has resulted in us receiving over a thousand hateful, threatening, homophobic and transphobic messages, making clear that the movement she represents is driven by hate’, said the LGBTQ+ Society spokesperson. In other words, hurt feelings speak their own truth and Stock’s guilt is proven through association. If this is what counts for academic reasoning today, then higher education is truly lost.
Fortunately, there are still sane voices to be heard on campus. The Oxford Feminist Union has said that it is ‘delighted’ that Stock will speak at the Oxford Union and has publicly thanked the event’s organisers for ‘enabling free speech’. And of course, the Oxford Union deserves credit for inviting Stock in the first place. These interventions make clear that not all students think the same and there is an appetite for debate on campus. The loudest voices must not get away with silencing dissent. Stock must be allowed to speak.
Joanna Williams is a spiked columnist and author of How Woke Won, which you can order here.
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