In Defence Of Gender Studies

Hungary has announced it will no longer permit gender studies to be taught in its public universities - I’m here to tell you this would be a mistake
Erik Witsoe / EyeEm via Getty Images

I never thought I’d ever write that headline.

As a student, and a regularly insufferable and occasionally insightful centre-right media type one at that, I could always rely on gender studies for a cheap gag. At one point, I even took part in a debate in which I defended members of my university hockey team when they were captured on film singing a vulgar song on a public bus – purely because I thought it would infuriate the gender studies types with whom I shared a campus. Essentially, at Stirling University, between 2010-14, I was not popular with the gender studies crowd and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I’ve mellowed since then, as we all do when we leave the comfortable confines of a university campus, but I still retain a certain animosity towards gender studies as a discipline and have, what I consider to be, a healthy amount of opposition and criticism aimed at many of its key thinkers and ideas. We still find ourselves on opposite sides of many issues but the volume has been turned down significantly.

However, this article is not, at least not completely, about the advocates, students, or teachers of gender studies – this is one for my home team because I need to issue you with a very stark warning.

Amongst my fellow, usually, but not exclusively centre-right, travellers who have a bone to pick with gender studies there may be some of you who support, or at least had a good chuckle at, the news that Hungary has announced that it would no longer permit gender studies to be taught in its public universities, owing to its supposed lack of value to the Hungarian economy.

I’m here to tell you that this would be a mistake.

For this warning, I need to ask you two simple questions.

The first is easy – does the banning of gender studies in a Hungarian university sit well with your values, if you’re being honest about it?

Note here that I’m not asking about your opinions, but rather specifically your values. Don’t get me wrong, I have many issues with the ideas of intersectionality, Third Wave Feminism, and the other radical leftist politics espoused by many in the subject in terms of opinion… but that still doesn’t make it OK to ban them!

If you’re anywhere on the continuum of centre-right folks, conservatives, libertarians, social democrats, traditionalist left-wingers, and the rest of it that make up the usual opponents of the ideas contained in gender studies then one of your overriding convictions is to free speech and enquiry, surely?

I know many of you have been up in arms when the likes of Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, and others are treated unfairly by universities and governments – so was I. So why does the same not apply to the students and faculty of gender studies, in this case? You have two choices here - either get behind these persecuted students (there are only 12 – making it even more clear that this is a political attack) and defend them or accept that you don’t hold your commitment to liberty as highly as you think you do and are rather just a garden variety partisan opportunist. Please, just don’t be a hypocrite.

I said I had two questions for those who would, either enthusiastically or passively, support the Hungarian ban on teaching and learning gender studies, and I do. The second one is as simple as the first…

What if it was you? What if you, when you were aspiring to university, were told that not only was your chosen degree path of “no interest” but was useless to the point that you were prevented from studying it at all? What if your love of engineering, psychology, biology, accountancy, or, in my case, PPE, was dismissed because, rather than having your commitment to intellectual endeavour acknowledged and then judged for it’s worth afterwards, the door was slammed shut in your face and a note with a paltry excuse written on it was found slipped through the letterbox. How would you feel if whatever writers chimed with your academic sensibilities were suddenly considered persona non grata in the library of the institution at which you aspired to study? What if, what if, they came after you? The prosecution rests…

As I said in the opening line of this blog post, I never expected to defend gender studies. I suppose the truth is that I never thought I’d have to; but now, sadly, it seems that I, and everyone else, should. We should because of a basic human value that’s always been with us that tells us that the other person is important to! Let’s not let ourselves down.


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