It can’t be done

Chris Moos has a good article at the Huffington Post about gender segregation at UK universities.

Mind you, I disagree with him on one thing.

While there should be agreement on the fact that it is the right of students to voluntarily self-segregate, it is also clear there is no right of any campus group to force students to segregate, either by creating social pressure on students by advertising the events as “strictly segregated”, signposting “male” and “female” entrances and seating areas, or by verbally and physically enforcing segregation on the audience, as it occurred at UCL in March, as reported by the Guardian. Worryingly, this widely publicised case where students were refused entry through the “female entrance”, and subsequently intimidated and manhandled when they refused to comply is omitted from the discussion.

I disagree with the first clause. You can’t really have a “right” to self-segregate without segregating others, so there really is no such right. Segregation is from certain others, so it’s not a “self” thing.

He expands on the idea later.

Whether or not students want to segregate, in a liberal and democratic society the right to practising one’s faith stops where one starts imposing it on others. Contrary to what some assert, there is no right of the religiously observant to impose their sensibilities on others. For those who agree to segregate voluntarily, there is no need for advertisement, signposting, social pressure, intimidation or violence. Of course, if the segregation in these 40 cases had indeed been voluntary and agreed-upon by all attendees, the organisers would not have needed to promote or enforce it in the first place.

How could you do that though? How could you get all attendees to agree to segregate, and how could you do it without the risk of pressuring them? Imagine trying that with race. “Do you all agree to separate into white seats and black seats?” It’s not on. “Do you all agree to separate into believer seats and infidel seats?” Also not on. If those aren’t on, it’s not clear why the gender version should or could be on.

No I don’t think so; I don’t think the idea can or should be salvaged. People can sit where they choose to, within reason – but that naturally means that other people can’t tell them where to sit. People can get up and move if they don’t like someone who sits near them, but that’s all they can do. Self-segregation is an oxymoron, unless it just means staying home.


  1. says

    “Do you agree to segregate into ‘people who are willing to segregate’ and ‘people who are not willing to segregate’?”

    Or maybe it’s “people who want to have rocks thrown at them, and people who don’t.” That way it’s not compulsion, it’s just an irrational hatred of rocks.

  2. Eristae says

    “Do you agree to segregate into ‘people who are willing to segregate’ and ‘people who are not willing to segregate’?”

    Bwhahaha! I love it.

  3. Claire Ramsey says

    Thank you for pointing out the logical flaw in the notion that segregating is an individual act. Of course it is not, so there can’t be anything called self-segregation and it can’t be offered as a pretend “right” or “freedom.”

    People get so confused about things that they prefer to believe are individual choices/rights v the huge number of things that are group phenomena. . . it’s a delusion.

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    if there are suggestions, separate entrances, and signs, this is not self segregation. This is imposed segregation and men should always sit in the women’s section and women should always sit in the men’s sections. Couples should always always sit wherever would always cause the most disruption. And do not yield. Link arms if you must. Let them call the campus cops. WTF are they gonna do?

    And if the administration fucks with anyone over this? Blockade them. Religion deserves no respect. They command respect by social convention, but we must crush them with ridicule. Just standing up and saying you don’t believe and that you don’t play the “all faiths lead to god” game is an affront to them. We need to gain the power to give them this insult whenever we desire.

    Religious people do not understand right and wrong as we do. We understand things like consent and maximizing benefit. They do not. They live in a world where Magic Man God makes things right or wrong by his will. They are moral degenerates and we cannot win against them unless we stop thinking they are moral equals.

  5. says

    This is not so different from the mentality of the “neutrals”: No, sorry. You can’t allow supporters of harassment and sexism to impose themselves on everyone *and* welcome women to the same gathering/blog/forum/organisation.

  6. Maureen Brian says

    The article you link, Ophelia, is no great step forward, whatever Mr Moos may think.

    As has been mentioned, he fails to make the distinction between individual choice and social pressure – which covers a spectrum from stewards outside the meeting charmingly directing the members to one or other of two equally convenient doors to physical brutality. The distinction is not in the method of enforcement: it is the question of in whose mind the possibility of segregation first arose.

    Does anyone really imagine that in an audience of, say, 200 in a university lecture hall each and every person will have an identical level of urge to segregate? Impossible, so either you have no segregation or segregation under some form of duress. It is, after all, perfectly legal to have a meeting open only to women and a meeting in parallel open only to men but only if that is what the audience genuinely desire – individually! – and there is no intention to exclude. Somehow that option does not appeal to Mr Tzortzis and his chums. From accounts in the press, segregating the audience seems pretty high on the list of objectives for the meetings.

    Mr Moos also forgets his history. When women were fighting in the UK for access to higher education and sometimes facing physical force in that struggle there were moments in each university or school where the entry of women into lecture theatres was conceded, followed by years when the male students disrupted participation by insisting that the women sat here, sat there, or had to run a gauntlet of groping to get into the room.

    In those days, too, some university heads saw imposed segregation as a nice, comfortable middle way. It’s not that at all. It is also illegal, even in the hallowed halls of UCL.

    Sad, that! LSE used to have a very good grasp of social and economic history. It seems to have been lost – perhaps in all the cuts.

  7. says

    Well said! I guess a lot of people are confused about this because they oh so much want to find a middle of the road solution that will make everybody happy.

    But as you say, that won’t work. If one side is unreasonable then there cannot be a reasonable solution that makes everyone happy. At some point that will have to sink in.

  8. Minot says

    I agree that in the situation described here ‘voluntary segregation’ would be a very difficult thing to achieve, but I guess the author is also thinking of other situations, such as the women only areas established at my university union some time ago (controversially of course) that were designed to afford women students spaces guaranteed safe from certain kinds of harassment. That sort of self segregation should be protected I think.

  9. says


    That is a difficult issue.

    I can see why women might want to have women only clubs – but then it becomes hard to lambaste other clubs for being men only.

    I can see why women might want to have a safe space. But my solution would be to make all spaces safe, whether they contain men or not. That being said, as long as complete equality is not achieved, a women only space has more justification than a no-woman space.

  10. Maureen Brian says

    I imagine it did cause a fuss, Minot, but if the women themselves chose to create a safe space that’s the opposite of imposed separation.

    In the late Middle Ages when I was at uni the age of majority was still 21, numbers going into further education were just beginning to rise and we had to fight off the university’s interpretation of its in loco parentis duty by – of course – putting limits on the freedom of women.

    Some battles are never won, they just change shape every couple of decades!

  11. opposablethumbs says

    My first impression on reading the paragraph quoted was (as Minot said) that Moos was trying to leave an out for women’s groups to hold women-only events or informal get-togethers in a safe space.

    I agree that it’s potentially tricky to find a way of wording things to allow for that but which won’t get twisted by either islamist segregationists or MRA-type troglodytes. Come to think of it, that’s an insult to cave-dwellers; let’s say MRA-type douches.

  12. freemage says

    It’s worth noting that these events are, by design, open to the university public, not just some segment of them. The debates, in particular, are not an Islamic religious service; they are an attempt to persuade non-Muslim students that Islam has some value.

    So comparisons to ‘safe space’ policies for clubs and such miss the point entirely. If the men at these events wish to self-segregate, it’s quite easy to do so:

    1: Show up an hour or two ahead of time, to make sure you’re at the head of the line.

    2: Upon entering, sit in a cluster. If your venue has accessibility policies, make certain you aren’t tying up the set-aside zone (if you’ve got someone in your group who has access issues, that individual should be the anchor for your group).

    3: There is no 3, you’re already done. Everyone else will file in and sit around you; you’ll be in your little bubble of XY-ness.

    Of course, if you arrive late, you may end up needing to stand in the back of the room in order to hide from vagina cooties, but you certainly should still have that option.

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