James Kirkup

Even Oxford University can’t save Jenni Murray from the transgender activist mob

Even Oxford University can’t save Jenni Murray from the transgender activist mob
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Here we go again. Perhaps there should be a template for journalists writing about transgender issues and the treatment of women with the “wrong” opinions. The template would look something like this:

A small group of noisy, angry people, many of them male, have demanded that [Insert woman’s name] not be allowed to speak/ appear/ have a job/ do anything because [woman] once said things the small group of people didn’t like or agree with.

Really, we could use it for so many cases and so many women: Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel, Janice Turner, Posy Parker, Linda Bellos…

Quite a diverse list that: makes you wonder what it is they have in common, and if that common characteristic has something to do with the demands that they shut up in the name of “trans rights”. Anyway, here’s the template with the latest details filled out:

Some Oxford University students are demanding that Dame Jenni Murray, the BBC Woman’s Hour presenter, be prevented from speaking to a student society about feminism, accusing her of having “transphobic” views. You can read a fair summary of the case here at the Oxford student newspaper CherwellOr, if you have a taste for over-written, overwrought undergraduate prose, you can read the entire statement issued by the “OU SU LGBTQ+” group here

“The decision to offer Murray a platform is not apolitical or neutral, especially when her views cause tangible harm to vulnerable members of our society,” the group says

This comes about because last year, Murray said some things that some people didn’t like. You can read about them here but the gist was that someone who is born male and has lived as a man cannot truly become a woman by use of either surgery or makeup, because biology and socialisation are, well, real and cannot be magicked away by someone’s words or feelings.

For those remarks, Murray must, of course, be cast into the outer darkness forever; nothing should ever be heard from her again, on any subject. Never mind that the Oxford event in question is a broad one about “Powerful Women in History”. Never mind that it will see Murray be questioned about her positions and views, explaining and answering for them. The mere fact that she once said something some people didn’t like means that hosting her and allowing her to speak (about any topic) is a harmful and transphobic act, at least according to our excitable young friends at Oxford.

There’s nothing new or surprising about this, of course. It’s just part of the same old story that’s seen those women I mentioned above face attempts to make them shut up. It’s also grimly consistent with the anti-intellectual, anti-evidence approach taken by rather too many people at universities and which has been described eloquently by Prof Kathleen Stock and colleagues here.

Murray isn’t – at the time of writing anyway – being barred from Oxford. The event in question is going ahead. The history society says it stands by the invite, saying:

“Jenni Murray was invited for her prominent role as presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, as well as for her historical writings. As a society we condemn any transphobia and do not necessarily endorse the views of our speakers.”

And the university itself has said the event should happen, even though some people are upset about it: 

“Oxford is committed to supporting the University’s transgender students and staff and to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment that promotes equality and diversity. We are also committed to freedom of expression, and this event is entirely suitable for a student society.”

So while this is a familiar story, it has a different and surprisingly cheering ending. Oxford University has decided to stand up to the small, unrepresentative mob of “activists” who don’t like women who say things they don’t agree with. In this, Oxford is setting a good example. Others should follow.


It seems I spoke too soon. Shortly after this piece was written, the Daily Telegraph reported that Murray has decided to pull out of the event “for personal reasons.”  

I don’t know what those reasons are but I know the chronology of this tale goes like this: woman says things some people don’t like; woman gets invited to speak at a event; some people say woman shouldn’t get to speak at all; woman ends up not speaking.  

So it was the same old story, and the same old ending, after all. Sorry. 

Written byJames Kirkup

James Kirkup is the Director of the Social Market Foundation and a former political editor of The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph

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