It’s just a social norm, totally no pressure

Steve Bowen has a good post about UniversitiesUKgendersegregation. And, specifically, Nicola Dandridge. (She’s personally getting all the heat over this issue, but she’s the only name that’s been put out there. It’s almost as if she’s their sacrificial lamb or something…Except not quite because equality is in fact her field, as we learned last week. She’s a specialist in equality, and this is the dog’s breakfast she’s defending.

From Steve Bowen’s post:

There is no universal human right to non-association and nor should there be. If you are the kind of person who does not want the company of a certain gender, creed or race, your only right is to avoid places where those individuals go. Universities are open publicly funded spaces and whether or not the speaker is a Muslim or Haredi Jew, or even if most of the audience are, the fundamental principle should be one of equal and open access to all parts of the auditorium.

Dandridge also insisted that universities were not being advised to “enforce” gender segregation, but this is [dis]ingenuous. Social norms will always compel people to follow the stated protocols and if you happen to be, for example, a Muslim woman in that situation there is zero chance that you will risk the [dis]approbation of your peers by bucking the system. The very act of offering segregated seating, even if mixed areas are also available will mean that at least a proportion of the audience will be compelled to segregate whether they really want to or not.

Dandridge seems to be carefully oblivious to that obvious fact. It’s infuriating.


  1. says

    The republicans and their subset teabaggers do the same thing in the US, putting people like Michael Steele and JC Watts out front to give the false impression that there are many and they agree with the majority.

    Normally calling someone a “token person” is offensive, yet that’s the most apt description for Dandridge and others like her who let themselves be used to defend such positions.

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

    I could have written this on the thread dealing directly with the BBC interview, but I happened to be motivated to write this by Bowen’s theoretically-correct-but-tragically-misguided analysis. True, he has been misled by Dandridge and the media into faulty analysis, but since I came by my outrage that the Dandridge’s credibility-destroying statements through a reaction to Bowen, I’ll post this comment here.


    The clearest way to put the problem with Dandridge’s credibility is this:

    She is using segregation in a way that has no relation to its actual meaning. In the BBC interview, she keeps saying that if women want to sit “where the hell they want” (a phrase of the interviewer taken up by Dandridge) they “should” have that right. But what if other women, women in a minority religion, want to sit separate from men/queers/blondes/whatever?

    Dandridge says we have to respect this right to self-determination and personal expression of conscience just as we would expect respect paid to our own rights to self-determination and personal expression of conscience.

    Along the way, she lies about the content and nature of the document and what it recommends.

    But all these statements are both wrong and deceptive, and very dangerously so.

    First, if this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.

    Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?

    All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:

    If women want to sit where the hell they want

    and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.

    Second, this bears no relation whatsoever to segregation. Does Dandridge imagine that Jews just happened to live in the Ghettos? That it’s some artifact of individual whim that Linda Carol Brown happened to cross a railroad switching yard and then catch a bus to go to a school when there was a safer 7 block walk from her house to a different school? That by minhag only men are counted in the prayer minyan, and women stand apart? That dalit seem to consistently live and eat separately? That South African “homelands” were simply a name for the random clusterings of people that idiosyncratically happened to choose to identify with one another?

    The word segregation has meaning. She’s being dishonest as F when she pretends that this is about choice.

    Third, even in their own scenario, this is done to accommodate a speaker, not an audience. There is nothing in the scenario that indicates that there has been a problem with muslim men or muslim women being denied the right to choose where they want to sit. Nor does it postulate the demand coming from the student group organizing the event. Rather, the group is the passive recipient of this “request” from the speaker who insists on not coming and not speaking if the hall isn’t organized according to the speaker’s segregationist demands. How can that possibly be about the free choice of individuals? That’s a speaker establishing a policy of segregation for the group.

    From the scenario:

    [An ultra-orthodox speaker] has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith in the modern world. The event is part of four different speeches … exploring different approaches to religion. The initial speaker request has been approved but the speaker has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be segregated according to gender. The event organiser has followed agreed processes and raised the issue with university management.

    To say that they are crafting responses to permit individuals to sit where they wish is a blatant lie. They might wish to craft such scenarios, but the particular scenario in question has nothing to do with individual rights to cliquishly sit with people with whom one feels most comfortable and everything to do with a religious authority figure insisting on segregation – segregation in the sense it is used in the real world to describe Jim Crow, Apartheid, Saudi Arabia’s policies on non-muslim foreigners, and, yes, in the sense of forcing women apart from men and forcing trans people to not exist at all.

    Fourth, and closely related to 2 and 3, they deny that they are discussing any policy of enforcement. But read the document:

    Consideration will also need to be given to whether imposing segregation on everyone attending the event is required (see below). If it is required, this may amount to less favourable treatment of other attendees because of a protected characteristic. On the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.
    However, one cannot rule out the possibility that discrimination claims will be made on other grounds. For example, it is arguable that ‘feminism’ (bearing in mind the views of the feminist society referred to in the case study), or some forms of belief in freedom of choice or freedom of association, could fall within the definition of ‘belief’ under the Equality Act.

    it couldn’t be clearer that they are contemplating the imposition – that is the forced or coerced compliance with – a policy of gender segregation. Moreover, they think that if they do it side-by-side there is no gender discrimination claim. Their concern is not for gender discrimination claims at all, but rather for “belief” claims. So when they propose their accommodations, keep in mind that they think “imposing” gender segregation is fine, but imposing ideological segregation isn’t. Therefor, only if you can show you aren’t malingering, only if you can show that your feminism is “genuinely held” might you have a real case for by passing the “imposition” of segregation. And even then, it does not appear to UUK that there’s a strong likelihood of winning such a case. Feminism “could fall” within the scope of the Equality Act 2010, but it may not.

    Therefore, and the takeaway here, they are explicitly arguing that gender segregation is not legally risky, so long as it is side-by-side. This is a “how to impose segregation on behalf of an outside agitator” case study, not a “how to respond when women students ask, “Can we sit anywhere we like while on campus even if that means a bunch of women sit together?” case study.

    Again, this is a serious blow to Dandridge’s credibility and the BBC interviewer doesn’t hit on this at all: he lets her assertions that this is about “voluntary segregation” (as if there was any such thing) pass by untouched. While he does appear displeased at her answers, and he does frame follow up questions, he doesn’t seem familiar with the study and entirely fails to mention the fact that she’s flat out lying.

    Fifth, in public relations, UUK as an institution and Dandridge as an individual rely on the imaginary “recommendation” that a gender non-segregated area also be provided. This is disingenuous in the extreme.
    From the report:

    if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely- held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully. Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues,

    They mention this unsegregated seating area as a possibility, but i the speaker – on the speaker’s own – insists that you will be segregated, then you will be segregated. You won’t be polled as to a seating preference. You will be subjects to steps “mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the … speaker”, but not of you. What can you do? Well if you don’t like being separated, you can “hold a separate debate”.

    Dandridge is speaking as if “segregation” and “I sit where I want” are exactly the same thing, pretends that the scenario is not about a speaker dictating a policy but about individual rights of conscience that must be respected, denies that there will be “policies” or “enforcement” when the scenario clearly says that universities can “impose” gender segregation and flat-out lies that the UUK document “recommends” non-segregated seating when their recommendation amounts to:

    Speaker: Please segregate your students.
    UUK: Well, students can sit with others of the same gender over here and over there, but what about a gender-free-for-all section?
    Speaker: No.
    UUK: Right then, we’ll impose segregation.

    In the event that the speaker says, “just kidding,” we don’t have the speaker from the scenario. In the event the speaker says, “Segregate your students by gender and make sure none of those filthy, disturbing trannies show up to mess up the system,” we do have the scenario from the materials, and the answer is to “impose” segregation, with dissenters entitled to “separate” times and places to sit where they want and talk about sitting where they want.

    Nicola Dandridge, I have loved the name Nicola for decades. I thought nothing could dilute my joy at such a beautiful name with such gender flexibility. Your ignorant, deceitful gender rigidity threatens to taint that. If I am invited to speak at an on-campus event in the UK, I request that you reserve the farthest seat to Stage Right for people named Nicola Dandridge so I don’t have to look at you all unwilling?

    You could always propose setting up a Nicola Dandridge-or-not-Nicola Dandridge seating area as well. I promise to tell you what I think of that proposal.

  3. stevebowen says

    [Dis]ingenuous/[dis]approbation Grrr! That’ll teach me to try and write blog posts at work between ‘phone calls…Thanks for the shout out Ophelia 🙂

    Crip Dyke – I agree entirely and one of the disappointing things about the interview was that Justin Webb didn’t seem to have read the document allowing Dandridge to strawman the whole thing.
    I have some sympathy with her though, she probably realises she’s defending the indefensible and talking out of her corporate ass.

  4. Minnow says

    Social norms will always compel people to follow the stated protocols and if you happen to be, for example, a Muslim woman in that situation there is zero chance that you will risk the [dis]approbation of your peers by bucking the system.

    This is a bit of a giveaway that Steve Bowen doesn’t know any Muslim women. Luckily I know lots and can happily inform him that if he said that sort of thing to their faces he would get a metaphorical (and maybe even literal) kick in the arse.

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


    one of the disappointing things about the interview was that Justin Webb didn’t seem to have read the document allowing Dandridge to strawman the whole thing.


    I got the feeling that Webb would have been willing to call attention to specific conflicts between what she said and the facts of the document and policy, but that he was simply unable due to being unfamiliar with the territory.
    of course it’s easy for me to say that I would have been ready, but I’m sure that there are other interviews where I would be less motivated in a busy life to do the background reading necessary to conduct the interview well.

    I don’t know Webb, but my standard of comparison is rather forgiving, having lived in the States until recently where “watchdog press” is non-existent as a major broadcast or even daily-paper phenomenon. “Lapdog press” doesn’t even describe it – they actively serve the interests of the powerful. While Glenn Greenwald isn’t right on everything, his criticisms of the US political and corporate media are spot on.

  6. John Morales says


    This reminds me of the concept of “admission by donation”.

    (Or: the marketing claim that “X is free iff you purchase Y”)

  7. eggmoidal says

    I posted this at Steve Bowen’s blog and I’ll post it here too because it can’t be emphasized enough:

    Whenever I read or hear the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson racist phrase “separate but equal”, I immediately remember the excellent Brown vs. Board of Education reply: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As it is with race, so it is with gender. Whether religionists acknowledge it or not, separate seating for women is inherently unequal.

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