Making women sit in the back of public lectures and telling them to shut up… It’s become this adorable British university custom, right up there with punting on the Thames and afternoon tea at the cricket ground.
This post’s headline describes a 2009 event at City University London; University College London’s recent eagerness to share in the tradition has caused a bit of static, but UD is sure the university will work it out. The university surely doesn’t want a repeat of the unseemly events of March 9, when invited speaker Lawrence Krauss found people refusing segregation getting thrown out of the room altogether (they don’t yet understand the tradition – these things take time) upsetting (Krauss too needs time).
[He] said he would not speak at an event that was segregated and walked out to cheers and boos from the audience. An organiser pursued him and said segregation would be abandoned.
And they did abandon it! They suddenly let people sit where they wanted to.
When people cave that easily – some American atheist waltzes in and gets pissed off, and the organizers act, well, like a bunch of women – they make it harder for everyone else to make the case that stashing females in the backs of rooms and making them shut their faces is an affirmation of their dignity.
Either you hold your ground, or you make the world safer for infidels like Richard Dawkins.
“University College London is celebrated as an early haven of enlightened free thinking, the first university college in England to have a secular foundation, and the first to admit men and women on equal terms. Heads should roll,” [Dawkins] wrote on his website.
They won’t roll. UD is sure, given what’s going on at other British universities, that this one will find ways to sustain gender apartheid on its grounds.
UD thanks Howell.
Update: A letter an attendee wrote to the university:
I am writing to inform you that I was shocked about the manner in which the event was carried out yesterday.
1) The organisers clearly and repeatedly violated UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy. Not only did they enforce gender segregation, but five security guards of the organiser intimidated and attempted to physically remove audience members who refused to comply, falsely claiming that these attendees had been disruptive. Both male and female audience members felt intimidated by the actions of the organiser’s security guards.
Only after Professor Krauss threatened trice to leave the debate if the organisers should continue to enforce gender segregation (follow this link), the organisers cleared one row of the women’s area and allowed the male attendees to sit there, thereby maintaining forced gender segregation. Notably, the women who were sitting in that row were not asked by the security guards whether they would feel comfortable with a man sitting next to them, or whether they would be willing to move. Forced gender segregation was thus maintained.
2) Separate entrances were in place for women and men, although ‘couples’ were allowed to enter via the men’s door. Several members of the organiser’s security team directed people to stand in either the male or female queue based on their sex, both at the entrance to the building and the lecture theatre. Signs pointing to “men” and “women” areas were in place. There were no signs for a mixed seating area, and attendees were guided by the guards to either the “female” or “male” area. Only attendees who insisted not to be separated were guided towards a “mixed” area, which only comprised two rows.
A woman who identified herself as a Chemistry teacher at UCL said the segregation had been agreed with UCL. She also stated, that “I’m actually booking this room on behalf of UCL Chemistry, I’m Dr Aisha Rahman”. Dr Rahman repeatedly refused two male attendees access to the “women’s” seating area. When asked if the event was segregated another security guard said: “It’s slightly segregated.”
4) There were only two UCL security guards on site and they at first declined to help two audience members who were being denied access to the “women’s” seating area. They said that the only instructions they had received were to follow the instructions of the organisers. They specifically told the attendees who wanted to sit in the woman’s area to comply with the instructions of the organiser. Only after pointing the UCL security guards to that fact that they might be complicit in a breach of UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy, they reluctantly agreed to “look into the issue”.
I cannot tell you how disappointed I and many other attendees are that UCL did not live up to its promise to make sure that its Equality and Diversity policy was enforced and that the event was inclusive for all attendees.
Overall, the atmosphere of the event was intimidating for both male and female attendees. Attendees were shocked to see that although concerns about the plans to enforce gender segregation had been raised before with UCL, the organisers were able to violate UCL’s Equality and Diversity policy, discriminating attendees by their apparent gender and creating a threatening and divisive atmosphere that was not inclusive to all attendees.
I would urge to look into the matter and come back to me as soon as possible.
Another attendee. I was wrong, up there, about organizers desegregating the event.
Christopher Roche said: “It was clear that the segregation was still in effect [after organizers said they would stop segregating] as when I sat in the same aisle as female attendees I was immediately instructed by security to exit the theatre. I was taken to a small room with IERA security staff and an organiser named Mohammad who told me that the policy was actually given to IERA by UCL.
“Shocked, I said that I would like to return to my seat but was told that security would now remove me from the premises for refusing to comply with the gender segregation.”
The organisers’ security staff then tried to physically remove Mr Roche and Adam Barnett, a journalism student and friend of Mr Roche, from the theatre.
Professor Krauss intervened and threatened to leave to stop the removal of the two audience members. The organisers then prepared a row near the women’s section at the back of the room where the two men sat quietly for the event. Professor Kraus said he had been told in advance that there would be no segregation, and that people could sit wherever they wanted.
Adam Barnett said: “What happened on Saturday is a scandal. UCL and the organisers owe an apology to me, my friend, the audience and the general public. For a London University to allow forced segregation by sex in 2013 is disgraceful.
“The organisers should also apologise for their appalling behaviour if they want to hold any more events on campuses in the future.”