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.
Sarah AB says
It’s rather disingenuous of her to suggest that mixed seating is presented as part of the alternative when I interpret the guidelines as suggesting that the wish for some mixed seating may be overruled.
Ophelia Benson says
She says in the post that offering some mixed seating is the solution, but I disagree with that. Again, changing the terms to race rather than gender may make that more obvious (which itself is sad). Whites on the left, blacks on the right, and people who don’t care in the middle. Really? I don’t think so.
Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges says
How about Muslims in this area, Christians in that area, and somewhere there will be mixed seating (in can’t be in the middle because then those on the edges of the segregated areas aren’t really segregated), where those of any religion or none can sit. Somehow, I doubt that would have been seriously considered any more than racial segregation. But sexism is still acceptable, so.
SC (Salty Current), OM says
How I hate this stupid term.
Yes, this. My jaw dropped reading that (attempt at an) argument.
I was thinking about something similar to this as an example. If, say, an EDL representative wanted to talk about nationalism and the modern world and requested that the Muslims or immigrants sit separately, would they approve that?
Scott Belyea (@ScottBelyea) says
Well, I’m a bearded white male over 65. I may end up in a section all my own …
Ophelia Benson says
Or if the Islamist speaker wanted the Jews to sit separately? I think not.
It’s “interesting” that for their example they chose to use “ultra-Orthodox” when in the UK context the category is MUCH more likely to be Islamist than Ultra-Orthodox, and when there is actual history of Islamist speakers doing just that.
Ophelia Benson says
Wow. I posted a comment on that post, and it was held for moderation – but now it’s just gone. Wow.
I didn’t save it, fool that I am. But it was civil, albeit cold. I simply asked if she would make the same argument about racial segregation.
Ophelia Benson says
So I tried again. I saved the question this time.
The problem with “separate but equal”, even assuming that “equal” is actually true, is that separation encourages thinking of “them” as, well, “THEM”. Other. Alien. Not like us. It’s the root reason why sexism remains so prevalent in our culture. We’re still convinced that the social constructs we imposed on ourselves constitute real differences in the thought processes of the genders. It’s why I cringe whenever a facebook friend shares one of those “hilarious” men/women posts. As long as we keep reinforcing “They’re different, not like us” viewpoint, it will continue to drive sexist thoughts.
It’s long past time we learned to stop stuffing people into boxes. Men and women aren’t strange creatures from different planets that can’t communicate without the help of some trashy self-help book.
Al Dente says
Ophelia, both of your comments are now posted on UUK’s blog.
If your religious beliefs require you to avoid interaction with 50% of the population, the only sensible thing to do is stay the fuck home.
There is no way this would stand up to a legal challenge in the UK courts.
As I commented in a post on that blog, “I’m a professor at a UK university, and this `guidance’ is just embarrassing”. UUK is supposed to be the representative body for my profession, but this policy is craven and weasely. The only good thing is that it is getting a good kicking in the comments there.
The UK currently has way too much of the attitude that one should try to appease all sides, and meet people half-way, out of “respect” for their sensibilities — but that leads to unacceptable compromises such as this one, when people should instead be standing up for what is right on principle.
Of course, there ARE Christian groups that demand racial segregation on a religious basis.
But who would welcome a ‘Christian Identity’ or ‘Church of Christ Christian’ speaker into a university? The moral standing of these creeps is equivalent to Fred Phelps.
But…ISLAM. If we don’t address WHY muslim bigotry and hatred are consistently given a free pass by ‘progressive’ westerners, we can’t fight back.
Cold War pan-arabism,