THE BLOG

Gender Segregation - Another Red Herring for Feminism

13/12/2013 15:17 GMT | Updated 12/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Gender segregation is the latest tactical error from the feminism movement - which, in conjunction with the embarrassing bans on the ambiguous pop song Blurred Lines at twenty student unions, as well as trivial matters like Jane Austen on the bank-note - indicates there is a wider strategic problem.

It is not acceptable to demand that a group of consenting adults cannot organise themselves by gender, if they see fit. It is of no business to feminists to be threatening to break up Islamic meetings - unless they are happy to be labelled religious persecutors.

Not everything is about sex, ladies, not everything is about your cause. Sometimes people just want to get on with their lives, comply with their own religious beliefs and not be interrupted by placard-bearing campaigners.

Worryingly, it is NUS "no-platform" approach that has provided the foundation to these campaigns. The moment we started censoring the far-right and Islamists - we opened the door for debate to be stifled and extremism to reign quixotically stronger.

The recent vilification of Barbara Hewson exemplifies this. Hewson is a leading civil liberties barrister, regularly ranked as a Leading Junior in the Legal 500, has won cases in the ECJ, European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court and High Court of the Republic of Ireland. The has a particular interest in reproductive rights, and was the first member of the Bar to receive the Lawyer's "Barrister of the Year" Award, for her work opposing court-ordered treatment of pregnant women. Her articles have been published in a wide range of legal and non-legal journals, and she is regularly invited to appear on radio and TV to discuss current legal issues.

She was invited to a debate at LSE in November at which she argued the following controversial views

Who is to blame for rape is binary in the eyes of the law - but shouldn't necessarily be, as in many other areas of criminal law - the role of the victim is taken into account when sentencing e.g. murder, manslaughter, aggravated manslaughter.

That academic research into the long-term psychological effects of rape is not conclusive.

Now, both of these arguments would have been extremely interesting to hear, in fact they were based on a paper that was effectively being presented at the event, by an LSE academic named Helen Preece.

However, in response, feminists@law issued a statement

We deplore LSE Law's decision to give a platform to Reece and Hewson's dangerous and unsupported views and its failure to engage responsibly with the public on such an important and sensitive issue as rape.

Feminist lawyers are denying free speech arbitrarily but even worse - denying the omnipotent power of debate.

A successful debate can silence critics, or allow new ideas to flourish and improve, or simply allow the best possible policy decisions be made in a Parliament.

In fact, debate is extremely potent in a democracy - it's what convinces people to do one thing or the other, how to vote, how to act, how to pay tax or not pay tax, how to go to the NHS casualty ward or call a private doctor, what to buy, where to go on holiday, whether to go to college or get an apprenticeship, which shops to avoid, whether to emigrate or whether to stay.

Debate is how we make decisions. Debate results in the progress and preservation of good ideas and bad ideas. Debate is essential and its power should be respected. Debate is the democratization of ideas, and feminists@law should know more of it themselves - in a profession that quite literally depends on debate.

I don't know whether I'd walk out the debate at LSE agreeing with Reece and Hewson, but given their views are contrarian (and therefore interesting) and seem to be based on some sort of evidence, I'd like at least to give them a hearing.

The power of debate is being ritually ignored in student unions. The "No platform" policy from the NUS bars extremist speakers - the far-right, Islamists, Zionists (or maybe not, maybe just Islamists) sexists, misogynists, full on feminists (oh wait, maybe exclude them too).

On the one hand, No Platform is designed to reduce hate and bullying. On the other hand, it seems an ultra-conservative censorship policy.

Now you might say that it's a very good thing that Holocaust deniers and white supremacists aren't given platforms in our universities full of fresh young minds eager to go out and change the world. I say it's a crying shame that we did not allow the power of debate to destroy these hollow ideas. Nothing discredits extremism more than the rational denouncement of its views. If we want to destroy extremism once and for all, to tackle tough issues, we need to entice them into the light and destroy them brilliantly.

It should be mentioned that technical victory in a debate is no guarantee of practical victory of your ideologies - that many irrational mantras and ideologies have flourished despite poor rationales, and that we should not assume that other economic or societal circumstances might not allow extreme ideas to flourish in spite of losing the relevant debate.

But in the context of a university, where, like the law, debate is the keystone of an institution - we should welcome extremism, radicalism and conservatism equally - if only to really understand what we think and why.

We could also place more trust in the individual students and academics to make up their own minds. feminists@law have the luxury of focusing professionally on the issues involved in sexual violence. Many do not - and might welcome the chance to hear why Preece and Hewson profess a different view, then to hear this debunked and subsequently move on to accept feminists@law's views. feminist@law won't afford you that luxury though - they want you just to accept their points without hearing the other side.

Gender segregation is the next issue where feminists are marching onto campus and throwing their collective weight around. Following a request from Islamic preachers to segregate their audience by gender, according to their religious beliefs, Universities UK issued guidance saying that this was lawful.

Systematically misinterpreted by feminist activists, left-wing media commentators and the Christian right as a "gender apartheid" - this simply isn't. I happen to think that segregating by gender is an awful idea, but I don't presume to impose my views on students who voluntarily attend these events. I'm also relatively confident that gender separation will never achieve a critical mass of acceptance in this country.

So now we have a state where attendees to Islamist lecturers are met by a horde of placard-bearing activists. Attendees then file into a lecture hall, where they are told by radical preachers that Western society does not value Islam. What further confirmation will lecture attendees need - than leaving the hall and seeing the same baying gaggle of activists waving banners at them heavily criticizing Islam? Around two hundred of these radical preacher events happen each year - and activists against so-called "gender segregation" should stay well away.

There should of course, be a strategy for dealing with any incitements to terror on campus - but we have a trained body of individuals (our Security Services), to deal with this. It should also be said that university societies might be wiser to invite these more extreme preachers onto campus in the context of debates rather than lectures, and perhaps speaker selection policies could reflect this.

Today, new data shows that the gender pay gap for women in full-time increased by half a point. That's cause for real concern. The work of feminists to make the workplace more equal is failing. I think it's time to take a more critical look at the methodologies employed by campaigners, and ask - are these actions in aid of women, or just in aid of the activists themselves?