Julie Bindel

Why liberals must stand with Kathleen Stock

Why liberals must stand with Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock. Credit: Sonali Fernando
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I know what it feels like to be bullied and vilified for expressing views with which, eventually, many right-minded people end up agreeing. I am talking, of course, about transgender ideology and the case of Professor Kathleen Stock which this week was belatedly picked up by the mainstream press.

In short, a group of University of Sussex students started a campaign for Stock to be sacked on the spot, claiming she was ‘espousing a bastardised version of radical feminism that excludes and endangers trans people’. The group – a collection of poundshop Antifas – said Stock was a danger to transgender people, arguing: ‘We're not up for debate. We cannot be reasoned out of existence.’ The leaflet accompanying the stickers and ‘Stock Out’ flag decorated with blue smoke reads: ‘Fire Kathleen Stock. Otherwise you’ll see us around.’

In response, her own union branch threw Stock under the bus. On Tuesday, UCU Sussex – which is meant to protect its employees – released a statement that failed to condone the bullying and intimidation she has faced, and instead called for an investigation into ‘institutional transphobia’. This shameful statement could effectively end Stock’s career at Sussex University, except that hundreds, probably even thousands of us that are disgusted with this witch hunt will loudly and persistently protest this latest atrocity.

What Kathleen Stock is enduring feels all too familiar. This is not being ‘cancelled’ and ‘no-platformed’ – although that does happen (despite rabid denials to the contrary). It's about waking up every day in dread about inevitable public humiliation. Going to an event or worse, a place of work, and knowing that the angry mob will be there. It would be easy to focus on the masked, combat-cladded maniacs setting off smoke bombs, but while these people are intimidating bullies, we must have an honest conversation about how it came to this.

How did a much loved and respected professor of philosophy, end up accused of hate crime, bigotry and worse? What led to the dreadful events in recent days that caused this treasured academic to have a panic attack in her place of work? How did this happen at an institution that is supposedly renowned for freethinking and open debate, where young students are supposed to be taught how to become critical thinkers?

The answer, as ever, is in the enablers and the bystanders. Let's take the enablers first. They create an environment in which outriders can go much further than they can, whilst the enablers get to keep hold of their jobs and reputations, spouting about integrity with one eye firmly on the ‘right side of history.’

Stock’s trouble began when she published a piece in 2018 on Medium entitled When Bindels Speak in which she pointed out the ‘progressive men’ have a habit of telling women such as myself to ‘watch your mouth’ on issues regarding trans ideology. Immediately, the wagons were circled and Stock was denounced by a number of colleagues. For example, in March 2021 Alison Phipps, then professor of Gender Studies (what else?) tweeted (since deleted) in response to yet another unfounded allegation against Stock:

A very well-known colleague of mine is deep into this of course – if anyone is wondering why I have largely withdrawn from my institution in the past few years, the absolute impunity with which this person behaves is a major part of it.

Astonishingly, Phipps then named Stock in the tweet, therefore directly blaming her.

In a later tweet, Phipps described gender critical feminism as, ‘a fringe group of bigots, grifters and wannabes that has no positive role to play in gender equality politics and is actually making things worse for all of us.’ Such tweets did not occur in a vacuum – another academic, Chris Bertram, emeritus professor of social and political philosophy at Bristol University has also attacked Kathleen Stock’s ‘appalling, hateful views which have seen her honoured by the Tory government with an OBE.’

After Stock was awarded that honour for services to higher education in January, some 600 academics signed an open letter entitled 'Open Letter Concerning Transphobia in Philosophy', criticising the award and calling it a show of support for 'harmful rhetoric' and 'transphobic views'.

While their conduct and beliefs may be atrocious, the students targeting Stock are merely just emulating their role models, the media coverage, peers and politicians.

Stock, like all of us who speak out about extreme transgender ideology and the threat to women's rights, will receive countless messages from people, including colleagues, who tell her that they agree with everything she says but that they are unable to go public. Why not? Decent liberals who consider themselves fair need to ask themselves if they have contributed to this climate of violence towards feminists who dare to speak the truth. 

Now is the time to stand up and be counted, or else be remembered as cowardly capitulators.