Concerns about the motivation »« Now you see it, now you don’t

Why the one and not the other?

Catching up with Catherine Bennett on gender segregation in the Observer on Saturday.

Naturally, much speculation, not all of it fanciful, has addressed the further privileges that intolerant faiths might soon, with the support of UUK’s useful idiots, be extracting from academe. Some speakers, for example, feel equally incapacitated by the prospect of women’s faces in a university audience, or “congregation” as a Muslim chaplain, Saleem Chagtai, referred to it last week on the Today programme. Can they, too – lawfully, and with the continued backing of Fenella Morris QC – demand that women cover up, be screened from sight, or evicted altogether, supposing, of course, this is consonant with genuinely held religious beliefs?

The answer is probably no, but then the question is why not? The question is why the one and not the other? Why is a comparatively minor form of gender inequality treated as acceptable when more major ones are not? Why is an incremental approach to gender inequality countenanced at all?

As much as this episode promised to endear our universities to certain clients, there must be reputational fears when their representative body, having considered all the evidence, concludes that sexual regulation by a controlling, all-male religious elite has nothing to do with sex discrimination. Like the Saudi driving ban, it just looks that way. “There does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating,” the report concluded, instantly facilitating further religious appropriation of publicly owned university spaces.

It’s so rich, that “merely” – especially coupled with that “imposing” and that “segregated seating.” There does not, does there? I beg to differ. There does.

…as Dandridge says, fetters were in use long after 1911, after the vote, even after 1920, when women were first allowed to graduate. In the 70s, her interview reminded me, it was still legal for the five newly co-ed Oxbridge colleges to impose limits (usually about 20), on the intake of female students, whose reception was apt to be guarded, when not overtly resented.

Prior to our rebellion, young women joining my – notionally co-ed – institution, many of us from mixed comprehensives, were herded off on our first night as undergraduates to be lectured by the resident cleric and doctor on our responsibility not to get impregnated. At least, back in the institutionally sexist day, we did not face intervention by a 70s version of Nicola Dandridge, drawing on her considerable legal education to argue, on behalf of the college, that treating women like brainless temptresses was a traditional feature of the academic culture.

I never got a lecture like that. I didn’t even realize I was fortunate not to.

If a cleric such as Saleem Chagtai, whose Islamic Education and Research Academy blanks out female faces on its website, can assure BBC and Channel 4 audiences that separate seating is justified by “psychological studies” as well as equalities legislation, presumably he is open to a change of heart when scientists such as the physicist Lawrence Krauss (who walked out of a segregated lecture) and advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission dictate the exact opposite?

Less promising, being inexplicable and beyond rational argument, is the matching enthusiasm on the part of British universities to find space for “genuine belief” and the supernaturally ordained. Although UUK has promised to review its guidance, it is not legal advice it needs at this stage so much as complete religious deprogramming.

We’re doing our best.

 

Comments

  1. says

    When my boys were young they went through a stage of “Eeeeeeew! Girls have cooties” (I have no idea what they are, and I’m pretty sure the boys didn’t either, but the girls certainly had them). Of course my boys quickly grew up, and became adults.

    It looks like some guys never do.

  2. RJW says

    The real agenda is the Islamisation of Western civilisation, misogyny is just part of the toxic cultural baggage of that poisonous totalitarian ideology.

  3. rq says

    I know so far they’re arguing on religious grounds – sincerely held, at that – but what happens when someone invites a feminist* (of the radical, man-hating kind) to speak, and she insists – through her sincerely held belief – that no men are allowed even close to the front of the room (because, you know, men), otherwise her freedom of speech is impeded? Will they ‘enforce’ ‘voluntary’ gender segregation in that case, too?

    * Here to be considered as the fringe, non-mainstream kind of feminist that is actually arguing for the superiority of women.

  4. says

    Richardelguru

    (I have no idea what they are, and I’m pretty sure the boys didn’t either, but the girls certainly had them

    Body Lice. Although I think it’s probably been 70+ years since any of the kids talking about cooties has actually made that connection.

  5. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    First the quoted article

    Can they, too – lawfully, and with the continued backing of Fenella Morris QC – demand that women cover up, be screened from sight, or evicted altogether, supposing, of course, this is consonant with genuinely held religious beliefs?

    Now Ophelia:

    The answer is probably no, but then the question is why not? The question is why the one and not the other?

    I can give you Nicola Dandridge’s legal analysis. Please remember that one must evaluate the rights of the correct person. When evaluating rights claims when a speaker insists on a segregated audience, claim it is the speaker who will be hurt if the segregation is not carried out, but if the segregation is carried out, as long as it is carried out in a way that affects men and women equally, and as long as trans* people are rendered as if they never existed, it’s fine.

    So the problem that renders the answer different in the case of the Hijab is dependent on the type of head covering worn. If it wraps over-and-under the head, this will be fine, for although covering exists, men and women can still see each other equally. Therefore, if a speaker asks that women be covered, first ask if this both-covered-yet-uncovered solution is acceptable. If this isn’t acceptable, a truce face covering may need to be employed to protect the speaker’s rights.

    However, in the case of the face covering veil, women will be able to see men even though the men can’t see them. So this would only be acceptable if the “veil” is made of black polyvinyl. Then women would not have an advantage by seeing the men when the men can’t see them.

    Problem solved with patented ND logic!

  6. jaggington says

    RJW #2
    You sound like a racist, trying to defend the presumed superiority of Western civilisation. Misogyny is by no means exclusive to Islam. It permeates Western cultures, it is entrenched in many Western religious and political belief-systems. The same applies to homophobia and to racism.

    rq #3
    I accuse you of inventing a strawperson feminist. I lay down a challenge to you – provide a link to the writings* of such a

    … fringe, non-mainstream kind of feminist that is actually arguing for the superiority of women.

    *or YouTube channel or whatever. Just some actual evidence that such misandrists exist and have any kind of public platform and are not just the imaginings of paranoid misogynists.

  7. rq says

    jaggington
    Why yes, you’re right – suggest something else that might flip the tables here, something more plausible, then. Although someone writing like this might prefer to have a non-male audience…
    But you’re mostly right in that I was engaging in an unreal, fantasy scenario and am now even more off-topic. The point being that I don’t think the UUK would support segregation if the roles were reversed (one never knows, though).

  8. RJW says

    @6,

    “You sound like a racist, trying to defend the presumed superiority of Western civilisation”

    Instead of using ad hominem attacks, take some time to review what you’ve written, Moslems regard Islam as far superior to all other religions and cultures, are they racist? By your criteria they are. Or do you apply double standards to non-Western societies, that would seem to indicate some latent racism, actually.

    Where did I claim that misogyny is exclusive to Islam, more straw. Moslem societies usually exhibit some of the most extreme forms of misogyny (death for adultery, “honor killings’ and the judicial punishment of rape victims) if you regard the difference in the degree of misogyny as immaterial, you perhaps should reset your moral compass. Any Westerners, particularly women who are doctrinaire cultural relativists are welcome to migrate to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, not surprisingly few choose to do so, however many Moslems immigrate to Western countries, perhaps they are attracted by the advantages of Western civilisation. Your analysis of the “racial” implications of that phenomenon would be fascinating.

  9. Minow says

    Again, and at the risk of boring myself as well as everyone else, the analogy with forced exclusion or forced covering of women does not hold because we are only talking about voluntary gender segregation in areas set aside in a place that contains adequate non-segregated seating for everyone who wants it. The proper analogy would be with permitting women who choose to cover their faces to do so at meetings. But who opposes that? Surely no one who considers them selves a liberal?

    The constant misrepresentation of this as being about forcing women too do anything is suspicious and does whiff a bit of ‘islamophobia’, dark foreign practices being foisted on vulnerable western women by hairy men from the east, with a bit of orientalism thrown in in the idea of the passive, oppressed Muslim woman incapable of autonomy or intellectual resistance..

  10. says

    Minow, your claim doesn’t hold, because the segregation demanded at UCL (to cite the most familiar example) was not voluntary, it was enforced.

    And please don’t say things “again” when I have said even more repeatedly (because you and others keep getting it wrong) that nobody objects to genuinely voluntary seating arrangements, in which people may clump together according to some specificable criterion or other. The point is that setting aside whole sections of the room for one gender or the other can’t, by definition, be “voluntary” for reasons that should be obvious even to you. (Hint: women aren’t supposed to sit in the section set aside for men. Or vice versa. I hope that helps.)

  11. Minow says

    Ophelia, I am talking about the recommendations that are under discussion, which allow for segregated areas so long as they are meaningfully voluntary. Of course that will mean that there are parts of the room that men are not allowed to sit in and parts that women will not be allowed to sit in, but that does not mean that the segregation is not voluntary. Surely you are not suggesting that it is intolerable that there should be any seats in an auditorium that are reserved for special uses?

  12. says

    Minow, no “the recommendations that are under discussion” do not allow for that. Yet again you’re pontificating without knowing what you’re talking about.

    But you’re also just denying the obvious. If you can’t sit wherever you choose to sit, then the segregation is not voluntary.

    Maybe you would manage to see that if the terms were changed from women and men to blacks and whites. A section for black people on the left, a section for white people on the right, and a “voluntary” section in the middle. That’s not voluntary segregation.

  13. Minow says

    Yes it is voluntary, if everyone is meaningfully free to choose which section they sit in. You can never choose to sit wherever you want, there are always restrictions. Theatres and opera houses segregate (by your definition) according to wealth, for heaven’s sake.

    But let’s get this straight, the UUK recommendations do not require adequate non-segregated seating?

  14. says

    But everyone is not “meaningfully free to choose which section they sit in.” And yes, in fact, at a public event that charges no fee or a flat fee you are free to sit wherever you want.

    If you don’t know the answer to your last question then do your homework.

  15. Wylann says

    Hey, I’m a guy going to one of these lectures.
    Oh look, there’s a seat open over there.
    What’s that you say? I can’t sit there because it’s set aside for women only?
    But, I want to sit there.

    Ah, I see. It isn’t voluntary after all. It’s only “meaningfully voluntary.”
    Got it.

  16. says

    Minow, thank you for bringing up one of my pet hobby horses:

    Theatres and opera houses segregate (by your definition) according to wealth, for heaven’s sake.

    You forgot to mention concert halls. If you are meaning to imply that segregation by wealth in such places, or at least those that receive state subsidies, is unacceptable then I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, if it were down to me, entry would be free as it normally is for art galleries and museums in the UK. I would also like first class carriages on trains to be abolished. And a whole lot of other examples of segregation abolished, single sex schools, religious schools,.. you can probably provide me with a more complete list.

    Speaking of trains, I can remember a time when there were women only compartments on trains and women only waiting rooms on some stations. This would be illegal now but it may surprise you to hear that it wouldn’t bother me too much if they were brought back, at least late at night. But this would be segregation for a purpose. It’s an empirical fact that in this society as it is now women are more likely to be attacked if they are travelling alone late at night than men and that the attacks are more likely to cause serious injury or death. Segregation, yes, but segregation with a view to redressing this inequality imposed on women by the society we live in. Now I may have got this wrong and, if so, I would be quite prepared to withdraw the argument. But the important point is that I do have an argument for it. As I pointed out to you in anther post, in the public sphere, the onus must be on the person who advocates segregation to argue for it. It just won’t do to say that the only argument you have seen against your position is… whatever.

    Come up with a cogent argument for your position and I will consider it; you may even convince me; but unless and until you do, don’t expect me to take you seriously.

    But let’s get this straight, the UUK recommendations do not require adequate non-segregated seating?

    You know what? I think this is kind of irrelevant.

  17. Minow says

    This would be illegal now but it may surprise you to hear that it wouldn’t bother me too much if they were brought back, at least late at night.

    It would surprise me, because it would seem to be a very upfront admission that you are not applying any principle at all, but merely wanting to permit those freedoms that you find amenable and forbid those you don’t like the look of. This is generally the position of liberals I meet, but it is rare to have them own it.

  18. Minow says

    blockquote>But everyone is not “meaningfully free to choose which section they sit in.”

    Everyone is meaningfully free to sit in the type of seating they want to sit in, segregated or not. If they do not think segregation by sex is a good idea, they can sit in an unsegregated section, if they like the idea, they can. It does not mean people can sit in places reserved for other people, but that is a sad fact of everyday life. If we are going to get outraged just because some people in a room are making a different choice than ours, we are going to be indignant a lot of the time.

    And yes, in fact, at a public event that charges no fee or a flat fee you are free to sit wherever you want.

    Except for the reserved section at the front.

    If you don’t know the answer to your last question then do your homework.

    I do know, or thought I did, but you seemed to be contradicting it. Can I assume from your evasive answer that you are back-pedalling?

  19. says

    There isn’t always a reserved section at the front. Reserved is not segregated.

    No, you cannot assume that. I don’t feel like finding the relevant bit of the UUK guidance and pasting it in here for you because you’re too lazy to consult it yourself. There’s a bit where it says what happens if the speaker rejects the mixed section plan. My not helping you with your homework is not back-pedalling.

  20. Wylann says

    WTF is meaningful being used in this context? You’re either free to do something, or you’re not. Is this another apologetics weasel word that means something to turds promoting this policy but something different to everyone else?

  21. says

    It would surprise me, because it would seem to be a very upfront admission that you are not applying any principle at all, but merely wanting to permit those freedoms that you find amenable and forbid those you don’t like the look of. This is generally the position of liberals I meet, but it is rare to have them own it.

    Nice try, Minow. So you have some debating skills after all! I have to say that being as ancient as I am – I was born in the first half of the last century – I have been called many things, but I can’t recall having been accused of being a liberal since at least the mid 70′s. But it was never just “liberal,” it was always something like “soggy liberal” or “bourgeois liberal” and was considered mildly insulting. On the other hand, I hail from a long line of Irish peasants, gypsies and horse thieves, many of whom would have been gratified to learn that one of their number would one day be promoted to such dizzy heights, even if only in your fevered imagination. So, since I’m obviously unable to attain your level of political sophistication, if you want to call me a liberal, OK I’ll be a liberal; just don’t make me wear the badge permanently.

    So I’m not applying any principle at all. Maybe not. I value things like freedom, compassion, fairness, kindness and rationality; I don’t claim I always live up to these values, but if by applying a principle you mean dogmatically following some pre-ordained recipe without taking into account such values, without regard to the manifest consequences of one’s actions and without taking into account any cogent arguments there may be for not following the recipe in a particular instance, then I freely admit to not applying any principle. When I say that a case can be made for women only accommodation on pubic transport late at night, I don’t pretend it wouldn’t involve coercion, of course it would. I accept this and make an argument for allowing it in this case. You, on the other hand, make no argument for segregated public meetings but seem content to carry on denying the obvious.

    As to whether I merely want to permit those freedoms I find amenable and to forbid those I don’t like the look of, you may well be right. It doesn’t seem like that to me, but it is always difficult to judge one’s own motives. On the other hand who are you to judge? If you find that question difficult to answer let me help you out:

    When you have been thrown out of college for a year because you dared to question their connections with a racist regime (at that time apartheid South Africa) then, perhaps, just perhaps, you will be qualified to start thinking about making a tentative judgement.

    When you have been severely injured at a demonstration against this racist regime, kicked by policemen as you lay helpless on the ground, attacked by some fanatic as you are stretchered to an ambulance without any of the copious number of police in attendance doing anything to stop it, and then, to cap it all charged with and convicted of “threatening behaviour,” then, you will not exactly be qualified to make such a judgement but I will be willing to consider what you say.

    When you have been standing on a freezing picket line for days on end only to be confronted by idiots who found it particularly amusing to throw condoms filled with urine at you, then maybe ….

    I could go on and tell you about other times when I have been concerned to permit those freedoms I find amenable and to forbid those I don’t like the look of, but, short of showing you the scars on my legs from when some racist scum threw boiling oil over them (oh, yes, that’s another occasion,) I don’t think you would believe how anyone could be quite as “liberal” as I evidently am. Perhaps you were only joking when you said it.

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