Nick Cohen has posted round 2 of his disagreement with Universities UK over its guidance on gender segregation.
On the Today programme this morning Justin Webb covered the decision by Universities UK to allow fundamentalist speakers to segregate women from men at public meetings.
With a characteristic disdain for accepted standards of behaviour, Universities UK refused to go on air and answer his questions. Webb had to ‘put the other side of the story’ himself. He told a Palestinian woman demonstrating outside Universities UK headquarters in central London, [1hr 36mins in] ‘What Universities UK say is, if non segregated seating is also provided it could be all right.’
Put like that it can sound just about all right. Men and women who want to sit apart can do so. Meanwhile there will be mixed seating for students who find the notion of sexual apartheid as repellent as racial apartheid. A typically British compromise, you might say.
I am not having a go at Webb. He delivered a fine report. Nor do I blame him for not understanding the Universities UK report on segregation – the academics write as if they learned English as a foreign language in an understaffed Brussels business school. But Webb, like many others, underestimates the extremism of the leaders of our institutes of “higher” learning.
Hmm, I didn’t think Webb put that in a way sympathetic to UUK. He frankly sounded pretty repelled by the whole idea throughout the piece. I thought he was more feeding the Palestinian woman a line so that she could respond to it than arguing UUK’s case for them.
To all of this Universities UK say: oh we’re just acting on legal advice. But as you can find lawyers who will say that black is white and 2 + 2 = 5, the question remains: is its legal advice any good? No one knows. Universities UK has not published its advice, and thus deprived feminist lawyers of the chance to examine it.
It admitted to me, in the days when it was talking to journalists, that it was just acting on this mysterious advice. It accepted that no court had ruled on whether speakers can impose segregation. Even without judicial authority, however, it went ahead and upheld the supposed rights of speakers with a ‘genuinely held religious belief’.
If you read the whole report, you discover a glaring double standard. When Universities UK moves on to discuss the rights of women, far more stringent criteria apply. It speculates that ‘feminism’ might be a ‘belief protected by the Equalities Act’. If it were, then maybe feminists could stop segregation. A terrible prospect, indeed. But Universities UK finds reassurance in the knowledge that no judge has ruled on the status of feminism.
It’s so bizarre, isn’t it? The burden of proof isn’t on the people who want to stop segregation, it’s on the people who want to start it. Imagine some blowhard gets on a city bus and tells everyone, “men sit on the right, women on the left.” Would everyone jump to obey? Hardly! We don’t get to tell each other where to sit in public places, barring extreme situations such as someone who just fell into a pool of shit. People sitting wherever they damn well please is the default, and they don’t have to get a court ruling first. That’s not even feminism. It’s more just fuck off.