From a Guardian Editorial About Segregation at British Universities

In Britain, segregation of the sexes is viewed as a tool of the patriarchy. It traditionally reinforced a system in which women were deemed to be second best. For women to “voluntarily” opt to sit apart may be their religious right in a place of worship but in a public institution it undermines the hard-fought civic rights of women who, for generations, have battled for equality – and are still battling.

… [W]hat the controversy has again revealed is a profound concern about interpretations of Islam that conflict with a modern civil liberties agenda. Further, political correctness, sensitivity to charges of Islamophobia and commercial considerations (it has been suggested that segregated meetings appeal to overseas Muslim students vital for university finances) block discussions about what should and shouldn’t be inviolate in British society.

Well, thanks to the Orwellian language of separate but equal in the (now-withdrawn) Universities UK document, discussion is entirely unblocked. For years now, in a semi-underground way, women at some British universities have been treated like dogs. UUK, in seeking to normalize this treatment, instead made it very, very public. And when a practice as ugly as this one becomes public, that’s all it takes. Decent people will put a stop to it.

The poorest town in America…

adds another distinction: It has America’s first publicly-financed sex segregated park.

Oh, and even though your tax dollars built it, you can’t go there.

EVERYONE in England is weighing in on the gender apartheid at universities…

… issue. UD has read pretty much everything, and continues to read pretty much everything, that’s being published. So far, the best bit of writing about it is by Matthew d’Ancona in the Telegraph.

d’Ancona rightly begins and ends his piece by recalling Christopher Hitchens, because if Hitchens were alive he’d be writing the best bit. In this enlightenment-warrior’s absence, it’s right to recall him and imagine what he would say.

d’Ancona writes:

[T]his is a test case about much more than fringe events on provincial campuses. It is about the very basis of a pluralist society and what philosophers call “value incommensurability” – the clash between principles, and the dilemmas that such conflicts pose. As a ferocious opponent of theocratic creep, Hitchens argued that secular society was becoming far too emollient and unwilling to defend Enlightenment values against attack. Diplomatic immunity, equality before the law, the right of the novelist to free expression: all are now weighed against the risk of upsetting the theological apple cart.

The segregation row has forced us to confront the friction between religious sensitivities and core aspects of our common citizenship. The heart of the matter is the word “freedom” and its abuse. The original [UUK] guidance claimed that forbidding segregation by gender on campus might infringe “the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker”. This is babble, but it is dangerous babble. It implies that upsetting the religious sensibilities of an individual or congregation – and it is possible to take offence at anything – is a form of censorship.

… Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of UUK, has said that “where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear”. Voluntary segregation? Pull the other one. Hobbes teaches us that fear and liberty are consistent – but only in the sense that “as when a man throweth his goods into the Sea for Feare the ship should sink, he doth it neverthelesse very willingly, and may refuse to doe it if he will.”

I do not believe that the gender segregation under discussion is freely practised in any meaningful sense. It is an expression of theocratic patriarchy that a free society leaves alone in the home and the place of worship – as long as the law is observed – but cannot possibly countenance in the public square.

The crucial thing here is d’Ancona’s disbelief that “the gender segregation under discussion is freely practised in any meaningful sense.”

****************

When you see an eight-year-old girl in full burqa, do you think her behavior is freely practised? I don’t. When you see an eighteen-year-old woman in full burqa – what about that? In what sense is this physically self-destructive behavior (studies show what is obvious: depriving your body of sunlight does irreparable harm) which radically diminishes a person’s capacity for speech, touch, unrestricted movement, and the fundamental human experience of being recognized as fully and equally human by other human beings, of being identified as an individual – in what sense is this freely practiced in any meaningful sense? I have no trouble understanding it in Hobbes’s terms – throwing your human goods into the sea because if you don’t your husband will drown you. I can also make it sort of meaningful in psychological terms, as a subset of masochism. But in social terms I can never make it anything other than a nihilistic challenge to “core aspects of our common citizenship.”

UD’s British Friend Howell Reminds her to Feature…

… the Labour Party’s spokesperson, Chuka Umunna, who was way out in front on the UUK gender segregation scandal. Before any other politician went on record, Umunna spoke very strongly on BBC Radio.

Go here and start listening at 2:45:17.

“I was horrified by what I heard in that report. Let me be absolutely clear. A future Labour government would not tolerate or allow … segregation in our universities. It offends basic norms in our society. Universities are public funded places of research and teaching… There is no place for state-sponsored segregation… We won’t have it.”

It’s all over except for the commentary.

But the commentary is important. The heads of England’s universities just issued an apartheid document. That is stunning. It shocked and outraged the nation, and within hours of this document’s appearance the Prime Minister called it for what it was: A disgraceful expression of separate-but-equal coming from the very custodians of British culture.

When something this twisted happens, you don’t merely wipe out the document (this was done quickly and briskly); you settle in for a review of the circumstances that might have made possible, in the heart of one of the world’s great liberal democratic cultures, this grotesquerie.

And so, in the Telegraph, Graeme Archer begins.

… “Universities UK” … has given succour to injustice-merchants whose politics are just as wicked as those who devised race-based apartheid.

… [Gender apartheid] is alien to the British way of life, and intolerable. … “We’re just promoting tolerance of those who wish to be segregated.” My response to that is unprintable in The Daily Telegraph… [I] despair that creatures exist in British public life capable of writing such moronic “guidance” in the first place.

Oh, never mind.

GENDER SEGREGATION ADVICE WITHDRAWN.

The Prime Minister Says No to Sexual Apartheid.

His office has entered the fray because of the “massive public backlash” against the original segregationist document.

And how do the original segregationists dig themselves a deeper hole? They say things like this:

“It is very hard to see any university agreeing to a request for segregation that was not voluntary and did not have the broad support of those attending.”

Broad support, you see.

I mean, ol’ UD walks in and sees that friendly little SISTERS MAY ONLY ENTER BY THIS DOOR AND MAY ONLY SIT HERE sign, and let’s say she sees several burqas in her mandated section and you know she’s actually strongly opposed to full veiling; she actively supports the French law banning it…

So how awkward. Really, how awkward to find herself in a setting forcing her to identify, to sit only, with this particular group of people who turn out to be her sisters…! Most events of this sort just have people in them – fellow students, faculty, interested locals – but this event turns out to be a family event, and UD is enjoined to regard her fellow segregated women as her sisters.

Yet these women are not her sisters; she is in fact appalled at the way the organizers of the event have forced her into a profound lie about her deepest familial as well as social identity.

Finding it totally unthinkable that she would ever sit in a room and accede to these constraints and manipulations, UD flees.

Still, there’s broad support for the segregation, you see…

Education Secretary: It’s a “disgrace…

… for Universities UK to support the policy of separating men from women at lectures and debates.”

From an editorial in the Telegraph.

Speaking on the Today programme, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, had the gall to insist that gender segregation is “not something which is so alien to our culture that it has to be regarded like race segregation”. But requesting that women in a public place sit separately away from men is entirely alien to 21st-century British culture, and something that should be condemned as strongly as Islamophobia. Universities UK needs to review its guidelines, urgently.

That review has been done for it (see post just below this one).

This is getting kind of exciting.

Official guidelines which endorse sex segregation at British universities have been declared potentially unlawful by Britain’s equality watchdog, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it will help re-write guidance, published by Universities UK (UUK) last month, which said Muslim societies and other groups were entitled to practice gender segregation at public meetings on campus.

Mark Hammond, the EHRC’s chief executive, said gender segregation was “not permissible” under equalities laws, adding that UUK’s guidance required clarification.

Fuck clarification. It requires getting its butt kicked.

Bravo to everyone who signed the petition, gathered in front of the offices of the yucky UUK, and just kept this thing at the front of the news in England.

“[I]n an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission is also reviewing the legal position of University UK’s guidelines to establish whether they break the law.”

Yes, well, the Telegraph just a few minutes ago reported that the “backlash” against sanctioned sex segregation in British universities is getting rather intense. Opponents to enforced segregation (which turns out to be almost everyone who has weighed in, except, of course, the suddenly very very quiet people at Universities UK) are going to

send … teams to meetings and use the kind of techniques that were pioneered in countries like the US and South Africa in terms of black segregation.

…The prospect of groups deliberately provoking the organisers of gender segregated events, raising the prospect of tempers flaring, will be a matter of concern for vice-chancellors whose guidelines were intended to defuse tensions rather than enflame them.

It’s easy for the vice-chancellors to get a glimpse of what fun awaits. They need only Google Beit Shemesh.

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More commentary.

Universities UK Goes Deep-Burqa.

On the Today programme this morning Justin Webb covered the decision by Universities UK to allow fundamentalist speakers to segregate women from men at public meetings.

With a characteristic disdain for accepted standards of behaviour, Universities UK refused to go on air and answer his questions.

“We are organising gender apartheid busters to challenge universities that breach the equality legislation.”

This should get interesting. Making a fuss about enforced separate but equal seating at British university events will have one important side effect: It will draw attention to the social views of separatist speakers, some of whom call not merely for the separation, silencing, and total veiling of women, but also for the death of homosexuals.

England’s Channel Four Covers the Anti-Apartheid Demonstration…

… in front of the offices of hapless Universities UK, the organization that, in a recent document, told that country’s universities that they can enforce segregation of men and women at public, university-sponsored events.

The news clip starts with invited speaker Laurence Krauss [scroll down] expressing disgust, and leaving the room, when he scans his audience at a recent university-sponsored forum on religion and realizes he’s been tricked into appearing at a separate but equal event. The clip continues with coverage of yesterday’s well-attended demonstration in front of UUK’s offices.

Krauss’s disgust and exit were spontaneous, the instinctive reactions of a decent human being to indecency. The various forms of protest at sanctioned gender apartheid in British universities – a petition, the demonstration – are planned, organized responses. As long as both forms of response continue to be expressed – instinctive disgust on which one is willing to act, and considered political strategies – democracy will win through.

“[A] significant and shameful moment in contemporary history.”

Nick Cohen, in the Spectator, is as shocked and embarrassed as the rest of us that leaders at British universities have officially condoned separate but equal.

Universities UK is taking a momentous step, which goes against 150 years of struggle for women’s emancipation… They want to allow segregation at public meetings in publicly financed institutions. Or to put it another way, obscurantist clerics are trying to take over public spaces, and the universities are going along with them… . Rosa Parks … fought back. Naively, I assumed that her battle had been won. Now it looks like we must fight it all over again.

And once again let UD note that the very momentousness of this step, its outrageous offense to universities and to free societies, seems to have been a healthy shock to many people’s systems.

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