The gender separation rule and how to defeat it

All of us are so immersed in religious nonsense that even skeptics like me take these religious rules at face value and do not probe them enough to show how unsustainable they are in modern society. These rules were invented by people living in much more primitive times and they simply cannot be sustained today. A little thought will soon uncover ways to expose how ridiculous they are.

Even though I consciously know that many of the rules that religions have are silly and have no rational basis and are perpetuated purely because some ignorant people back in the dark ages, likely the most intolerant of their times and pursuing an agenda, happened to write them down in some manuscript that became part of a book that some other people later on decided was holy and the word of their god, it is the power of the religious culture that we live in that we do not realize exactly how extremely irrational and even unworkable they are. Those flaws become exposed only when one starts asking more penetrating questions.

For example, take the issue of the offense that some Muslim speakers have to speaking before audiences that have mixed gender seating that has become an issue in British universities. Of course, a request for seating separated by gender is absurd and should have been rejected out of hand.

But the group of university vice-chancellors that make up the body known as UUK have ruled that if an invited ‘ultra-orthodox’ speaker has ‘genuinely held’ religious beliefs that prevent him from speaking in front of audiences in which the genders are mixed, then his wishes must be accommodated as long as the method of separation does not disadvantage one gender. So an auditorium in which the separation line runs from front to back is fine but one that runs side-to-side is not allowed.

I kind of assumed that the gender-separation rule must have some kind of basis for the religious believer to be so concerned about enforcing it that they fear annoying their god over it. But even allowing for a religious lens to be applied, it makes no sense as soon as one starts looking more closely at it.

For example, what exactly is the problem with the act of sitting together? If the hall is packed and some have to stand, must the standing area also be segregated? I have been at meetings where, because of the crowd, some people sat in the aisles. Since this is now supposedly gender-neutral territory separating the two groups, who gets to sit there?

Also, how far before and after the program must the separation take effect? Must men and women enter by separate doors and walk along separate hallways and aisles to get to their separate seats? Must they arrive and leave in separate vehicles and sit separately in public transport?

Why can genders mix on the sidewalks and shops and workplaces and movie theaters and waiting rooms but it is only in the room where the religious speaker is holding forth that this becomes a big taboo? Is god only present at such occasions and does she/he/it only care about public talks?

Or is it the case that the speaker is not concerned about the spiritual purity of the audience members but about his own soul and that it is he who is in danger of eternal damnation if he speaks to mixed groups. But does that mean that his soul is safe as long as he does not see the audience? If so, then why can’t he talk with his back to the audience or from behind a screen or from another room or even off-site, given that modern technology allows for such things?

Or is it the case that even if he is not physically present in the room, the mere awareness that his words are being heard by mixed seated groups puts his soul in danger? In that case, does he forbid any recordings of his words since that enables him be heard by mixed groups without his physical presence?

Inquiring minds want to know.

And of course, the binary thinking of religious people now faces the conundrum of how to treat transgender people. Do they accept that the gender of a person can change or do they think it is fixed at birth? In which section should they sit?

It seems to me that people who think these accommodations are wrong have a way of exposing how silly they are without even causing a ruckus. What they should do is to encourage as many transvestite people as possible to attend, and encourage others who are not transvestites to join them in a fun evening of obvious cross-dressing so that the event organizers have the problem of deciding in which section they should be seated since in many cases they might not know who is a cross-dresser and who is not. It would be awkward to ask people what their ‘real’ gender is and even if they were given an answer or simply guessed, that would not solve their dilemma. If they are placed according to gender, then the speaker will see an audience that looks like it is mixed gender seating. If they are seated according to dress, then the audience will have mixed gender seating. This is the kind of stunt that Michael Moore is so good at organizing.

These kinds of discriminatory religious rules can survive overt hostility because such a reaction can serve to create a sense of aggrieved persecution, an emotion that religious people love to feel. Their Achilles heel is mockery.


  1. wilsim says

    I seriously love your last suggestion of cross dressing and hope to see it put into effect – soon.

  2. wtfwhateverd00d says

    A note: where you write transvestite, is it possible you transgender or transsexual would be more appropriate? As I am sure you know, a transvestite is “a person, typically a man, who derives pleasure from dressing in clothes appropriate to the opposite sex” but who, apart from dressing in clothes of the opposite sex, doesn’t necessarily identify as a member of the opposite sex.

    Now if there was a way to accommodate everyone, people who didn’t want gender segregation and people who did without disadvantaging anyone, would you be okay with it?

    I am just trying to understand if it’s gender segregation in and of itself that must be stopped, or just stopped when it’s discriminatory.

    I ask because in many hotel conference halls this can actually be fairly easily arranged with already pre built in room dividers the hotels use to carve one large room in several smaller rooms.

    I can imagine a speaker on a dais speaking to this crowd, men alone on the far left, women alone on the far right, men, women, other and otherkin in the center.

    Would such a room arrangement be agreeable?

  3. lanir says

    I keep wondering what the perceived difference is between a man and a woman listening to and thinking about a lecture. I think I may have finally puzzled it out. It’s obviously a physical difference and must have a religious angle as well. That last bit was the clue I needed.

    It seems obvious these speakers believe men are better at divination. When they are puzzled or uncertain during the discourse they can simply take their questions and “run them up the flagpole” so to speak. Of course the speakers are woefully behind the times – even taking this at face value there are prostheses available to equalize the situation.

    I must verify this the next time I encounter a proponent of gender-based segregation.

  4. machintelligence says

    I am inclined to think it would not. The gender segregation is not at the behest of the attending public, but rather the speaker or the sponsoring group. If it is truly so important, then they should hire a private venue or hold the meeting in an institution where gender segregation is already allowed (or mandatory.) We are talking about talks that are open to the public, at least in theory.

  5. AsqJames says

    Your mention of Michael Moore in connection with organising a protest immediately made me think the ideal person to do it over here would be Mark Thomas.

  6. colnago80 says

    If I were a university president and became aware that an invited speaker on campus was demanding a segregated audience, I would not so cordially inform him/her to take the proposed address elsewhere.

  7. Paul C says

    Why not just segregate the auditorium into a large number of individual areas. Everybody gets their own area, so segregation by gender/race/religion/etc is automatically taken care of.

    To make things more comfortable, supply each area with a single-occupancy seat.

    As long as men and women don’t share the same seat, it all should be OK.

  8. brianwestley says

    You could try to pull off a Victor/Victoria deal and go as a man pretending to be a women pretending to be a man (or the obverse), but my favorite would be to get a bunch of people doing the old vaudeville bit of the half-man, half-woman routine.

  9. John Hinkle says

    Having women separated from men in the audience is a safety issue: he wants to ensure men don’t step on the womens’ burkas while they make their way to the kitchen to serve the menfolk their coffee.

  10. hyphenman says

    Good afternoon Mano,

    Your comment about mockery reminds me of a paragraph written by George Orwell:

    One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

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