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The Trans Debate: Oxford Students Protest Against Kathleen Stock

Trans Rights

Hundreds of students gathered in protest yesterday outside the Oxford Union against an event being held with the ‘gender-critical’ academic, Professor Kathleen Stock. 

Kathleen Stock has been under fire particularly since the publication of her book “Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism” in 2021. From the perspective of protecting women’s sex-based rights, this book challenges current notions that understandings of gender are more significant than biological sex. Many trans rights advocates have labelled her views as transphobic. 

Definitions: sex vs gender

Kathleen Stock is no stranger to student protests – in 2021, she resigned from her position at the University of Sussex, following outrage from her students over the sex-based framings of womanhood promoted in her book. 

The sex vs gender debate is longstanding – the idea of a ‘Gender War’ has been established with those who prioritise biological understandings of what makes a man or a woman in one camp, and those who take a more fluid approach, perceiving gender as socially constructed, in the other. 

Professor Stock holds views which align with biological sex-based definitions. Her ‘gender-critical’ feminism questions whether trans women can properly represent those born female, given their different biologies and social histories. 

Typically, those who perceive biological sex as binary and fixed see allowing trans women to identify as ‘women’ as problematic, with particular emphasis on resisting giving ‘men’ attendance rights to enter women-only spaces such as changing rooms, toilets, refuges and rape crisis centres. 

Kathleen’s talk at Oxford 

Professor Stock remained “very determined” to proceed with her talk at Oxford University and said it was important that people listen to what she has to say. This was despite the protest organised by the LGBTQ+ Society who labelled the event as part of a campaign of hate against transgender people. Protesters said they were not opposed to Prof Stock’s right to freedom of speech, but that they were concerned over Oxford Union’s platforming of anti-trans expression. 

Even Prime Minister Rishi Sunak involved himself in the dispute, arguing that “students should be allowed to hear and debate her views”. Sunak also stated that discussions must not be shut down by a loud minority and that Stock is a significant figure within the debate on sex and gender. 

Moreover, JK Rowling, who has been called out for transphobia since 2020 as she has made various statements aligning with the gender-critical sphere, along with opposition to Scotland’s Gender Recognition Bill, expressed her support for Stock on Twitter.

The talk, which lasted half an hour, involved Stock asserting that she was not anti-trans and wanted trans people to be protected from violence and discrimination. However, she argued that it is “not fair on females” to share women-only spaces with trans women due to the potential threat of violence. Instead, she calls for the construction of “third spaces” to protect trans people.

“Why should females take this burden on?” Stock questioned. “We are supposed to care about women. It is a risk of a man saying he is a woman and going into a space and taking advantage of that.”

The talk was interrupted by two trans rights protesters who were removed by security, and another protester, wearing a t-shirt stating “no more dead trans kids” glued themselves to the floor. Moreover, outside the Oxford union, protestors chanted “out of the closet into the street” and held various banners protesting against Stock’s invitation to speak, including ones reading “our existence is not a debate”, “take Stock of trans joy” and “trans power”.

Final thought

Kathleen Stock’s gender critical feminism is clearly problematic – Stock’s ideas appear outdated to many young people, along with some of her terminology. Referring to women as ‘females’ and playing into the ‘Gender War’ narrative that trans women are really men who are changing their genders for the purpose of harming women in women-only spaces, needs to be deconstructed. 

Stock’s belief that trans rights infringe on women’s sex-based rights often come across as if she is ‘gatekeeping’ women’s oppression – intersectionality is crucial to feminism as women are not a homogenous group. Women have different experiences based on their class, sexuality, race, religion and location to name a few. The idea that trans women cannot be women as they have not had the ‘universal’ experiences women have is a weak argument and can be easily interpreted as transphobic.

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