On freedom of speech, and the right to hold gender-critical beliefs

A statement from Swansea University Feminist Society

Swansea University Feminist Society would like to thank everyone who has reached out in support of us, our Society, and our right to free speech and the legal protection of philosophical beliefs. In particular, we want to thank Merched Cymru, Wales Women’s Rights Network, Dr Jane Clare Jones, Jo Phoenix, Swansea & Gower ReSisters, and many many others, including those who refuse to be bullied or harassed for merely stating their beliefs and political position on such ongoing and incredibly relevant issues as self-ID laws, and same sex prisons.

We want to reiterate that these are not fringe or irrelevant topics of debate, these are laws and policies being currently debated both here in the UK and many other countries around the world, ones that we believe are important to be considered from the position of protecting women’s sex-based rights, and addressing how misogyny is underpinned not by gender identity, but the result of biological sex.

It is disheartening to hear that the same people who are accusing us of failing to be intersectional, appear to be blind to the struggles of women around the world who are clearly oppressed, abused, and violated on the basis of their sex, including those in Texas currently facing a complete ban on their sex-based right to abortion and control of their reproduction. We are an intersectional Society that recognizes how sex-based oppression conflates and intersects with other axes of identity and oppression, including race, class, disability, and sexual orientation.

On this note, we find it ironic that BLMSwansea cited the post we shared of a Tweet by radical feminist Catia Freitas who writes for Radical Notion and Women’s Place UK on such pertinent topics as the intersection of culture, race and sex. Does BLMSwansea stand for the erasure of countless BME women, feminists, and womanists, such as Freitas herself, who do not share their views? What about Indigenous cultures that have been appropriated and co-opted to support imperialistic Western views of gender, thus relegated to an anecdotal talking-point completely divorced from their cultural context?

In the post they condemned as “transphobic”, Freitas is arguing for better government funding to ensure safe and adequate housing for gender-non conforming males. It is unclear how encouraging better government funding for prisons and the safety of inmates is transphobic.

The question should not be about whether women’s prisons should remain same-sex, but rather, what can we do to support and safeguard individuals who may be at risk in male prisons? We should also recognize why same-sex based rights for women came into existence (after a long and hard fought battle by earlier feminists), and why women need female sex-only spaces to begin with. Why do men harass, rape, assault, and abuse women at such disproportionate rates? Why have women been, and continue to be, treated as other, as object, or as public or private property across history, cultures, and religion, including in the contemporary West and even more pertinently, in many parts of the world today? Our position, and that of a long line of other Marxist, anarchist, and radical feminists, is that women are fundamentally oppressed on the basis of biological sex, and that biological sex matters for policy, law, medicine, and politics, and the protection of women’s rights.

These are complex philosophical, historical, sociological, and economic issues, that require nuanced consideration, critical engagement, and rational debate. Not name calling, bullying, threats, doxxing, and censorship, or somehow being labelled as “anti-scientific.”

In an open and democratic society, policy, legislation, and the consequences of such should always be available for transparent and critical engagement, and for this reason we also want to reiterate that the University does not have jurisdiction to interfere with, censor, or compel the lawful academic and political speech of its students, or their discussions around such pertinent social and political issues.

We find it repugnant that people seem to believe that Universities are somehow responsible for the political and religious beliefs of their students, or that Universities have authority, or should have the authority, to control, compel, or indoctrinate students into partisan or ideological beliefs.

As outlined in the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, Section 43(1) there is a duty on all Universities to ensure that “freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students, and employees of the establishment (…).” As reiterated, gender critical beliefs are protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010 and protected in the ruling of Forstater.

Likewise, the recent Law Commission Report on Hate Crime Laws from December 2021 have explicitly recommended additional provisions to ensure the protection for gender critical views (see paragraph 10.513), and have agreed that issues relating to biological sex and gender identity are “legitimate issues of debate” and “represent areas of political controversy where the European Court of Human Rights applies particular scrutiny towards any interference with the right to freedom of expression” (paragraph 10.511). It is curious to see that some students somehow believe that the University is above the law, sovereign from the law, and is not bound to uphold the law, including taking into account the Recommendations of the Law Commission, which likely will also, in due time, become law.

Swansea University also has its own Freedom of Speech Code of Practice which it is bound to uphold. In this regard we appreciate those who have sent letters to the Vice Chancellor , Student Union, and Registrar in support of us by reminding the University of its duty to uphold its Code and obey the law, and encourage others to do so.

We condemn the implied messaging of the Swansea University Student Union that academic freedom somehow makes other students feel harmed or unsafe, and wonder what precedent this sets for other University Societies and clubs that share their own religious, cultural, or political beliefs that other students may disagree with, or find subjectively and ambiguously “harmful.”

Where shall we draw the line if the University were to begin deplatforming its own students, including elected Student Union Officers, or providing through censorship, a list of banned books that students are not allowed to read, critically engage with, or discuss? We would like to know what exactly counts as harm when this Society has never denied the existence of trans or gender non-conforming people or denied their right to exist, live safely, and be who they want to be. Nor have we explicitly or implicitly harassed, encouraged harassment, or condoned harassment to individuals or groups, or lastly, banned or prevented individuals from being included or participating in Society events or debates.

Again, we welcome everyone to critically engage with our posts and explain their rationale and grounding for these accusations, just as we welcome everyone to engage with us. None of the posts shared demand that people agree with the author(s) or views, and no one is required to engage with, interact, or view them if they feel them to be that offensive to themselves. However, just because people may disagree with us (and disagreement especially should be a part of a healthy University education) does not mean that what we are saying is harmful or somehow not worthy of a platform just like the beliefs of every other student Society at Swansea.


Abigail
President of the Swansea University Feminist Society
Women’s Officer for the Swansea University Student Union