Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK has written a blog post explaining that UUK is not promoting gender segregation. That’s nice, but I don’t know of anyone who said it was. The objection is that UUK is treating gender segregation as permissible, and that it said it’s not unequal.
Since its publication, there has been some public debate on a small component of the guidance: a hypothetical case study (p.27) in which an external speaker on faith in the modern world requests that the audience is segregated according to gender. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender, to those who wish to sit with the opposite gender – hence the mixed seating alternative which is part of the solution in this case study. The issue is how to ensure that no one is unlawfully excluded from the event.
Ah that’s sneaky. The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own gender - no no no, it’s not that easy. The religious beliefs “require” that everyone sit with her or his own gender. It is not a matter just of what I am required to do, it’s a matter of what others are “required” to do, and of the right of the male speaker to “require” it of everyone who attends the lecture, including people who share his religion but not his reactionary version of it, and people who don’t share his religion. Dandridge frames it as a matter of allowing people to obey their own religious “requirements” but ignores the issue of forcing other people to obey “requirements” that 1) are not theirs and 2) are on the face of it obnoxiously and impertinently discriminatory.
Suppose a white guest speaker says her religion “requires” white people to sit with white people and black people to sit with black people. I wonder if Dandridge would phrase that as “The case study reflects the challenges of accommodating everyone’s views, from those whose religious beliefs require them to sit separately with their own race, to those who wish to sit with the opposite race.” I wonder if she would feel more squeamish about that; I wonder if she would say it at all. My guess is that she would feel more squeamish and wouldn’t say it.
And nobody is “unlawfully excluded from the event” on the basis that she describes. A racist is not unlawfully excluded from the event if the racist says her religion requires racial segregation and the university refuses to arrange any such segregation. The racist can still attend the event; she is not excluded; she is simply not granted an unreasonable and malevolent demand.
Universities have a vital role to play in securing free speech and promoting debate. This practical guidance has been developed to ensure that as many debates as possible on sensitive and emotive issues can continue to take place. By promoting free speech and open debate the rights or wrongs of gender segregation can be challenged and discussed.
Bollocks. We can perfectly well challenge and discuss the rights or wrongs of gender segregation, and racial and ethnic and religious segregation, without putting the actual segregation into effect. We can also, frankly, perfectly well treat some questions as settled and just fucking move on. We don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of genocide, and we really don’t need to challenge and discuss the rights and wrongs of gender versions of Jim Crow laws.