News & Politics

Feminist Oxford Prof. Given Bodyguards After Threats From Transgender Activists

Oxford University All Souls College photo credit: Bill Tyne, accessed on Wikimedia Commons.

Oxford University has reportedly assigned two security guards to a female feminist professor following threats from transgender activists over statements she made on her website.

Selina Todd, a historian who focuses on the lives of working-class women, received threats after writing that transgender people can “harm the rights of women,” The Telegraph reported.

“I get frightened by the threats in lectures,” she said. “You can’t help but worry. It’s had a huge impact on me. You don’t expect to be defending yourself the whole time from complaints or threats of violence.”

Oxford verified the threats and assigned what Todd described as “two big burly guys” to protect her during lectures. Some of the professor’s students began showing up in pro-transgender t-shirts and started calling her “transphobic.”

Todd identified herself as a gender-critical feminist on her website. “By ‘gender critical,’ I mean that I believe that men and women are defined by their sex, not by culturally constructed gender norms. You can’t change sex – biologically, that is impossible,” she explains.

The professor opposes pro-transgender alterations to British law for three reasons: women need female-only spaces, women need accurate data on sex-based participation in education and employment, and the notion of transgender identity is regressive.

“History shows that women are more likely to experience violence at the hands of natal born males,” she writes. She also warns that “Historically and today, women have experienced, and continue to experience, lower rates of pay and poorer job opportunities than men. In many parts of the world they have lower levels of education. We need to be able to measure this, identify the reasons for it, and hopefully remedy the sex discrimination it testifies to.”

Transgender activism undermines the feminist objectives of protecting women and fighting discrimination against females by muddying the definition of who is and who is not a woman. Yet Todd’s final argument against transgender identity is even stronger.

“The notion that people can ‘feel’ like a woman or like a man is highly socially conservative, implying as it does that being a woman rests on dressing or behaving in a ‘feminine’ way,” she argues. “Being a woman rests both on certain biological facts and on the experience of living in the world as a woman, from birth, an experience that is shaped by particular kinds of oppressions. A movement that claims to be advocating a liberating kind of ‘fluidity’  is in fact reinforcing and promoting highly conservative gendered stereotypes.”

The history professor also speaks with some authority when she critiques transgenderism as ahistorical: “The claim that some people ‘naturally’ feel feminine is ahistorical, since it overlooks that what is understood as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ has changed over time.”

After some students discovered Todd’s statement, faculty members began receiving “daily” complaints from activists demanding she be fired.

The professor said students first tipped her off to potential danger. “Two students came to see me and said they were very worried that threats had been made to me on email networks they were part of,” she told The Telegraph. “The university investigated the threats and came back to me to say their intelligence on them is such that they are providing me security for all of my lecturers for the rest of this year. They said, ‘You’re having two men in the rest of your lectures.’”

It seems ironic that a feminist professor would need “two big burly guys” to protect her from threats because she claims men cannot be women.

The threat is very real, however. Gender-critical feminists have faced terrifying threats from transgender activists. A man who identifies as a woman and goes by the name Tara Wolf assaulted 60-year-old Maria MacLachlan for the crime of disagreeing with transgender identity. One male writer for Teen Vogue, Rewire, and Vice who identifies as a woman tweeted his desire to eat “transphobes,” in order to provide nutrients for his “starving” baby — when he is eight months pregnant (yes, this would require a womb transplant).

Even police have cracked down on dissent when it comes to this issue. Last February, British police called 74-year-old atheist feminist Margaret Nelson, telling her that her messages on Twitter offended transgender people. She said many others have been contacted by the police, “as there appears to be a campaign to exploit the definition of hate in British law, which is too wide and woolly, by reporting people for causing ‘distress,’ and the police really don’t know how to handle it.”

Activists also hounded Roman Catholic mother Caroline Farrow for her stance on the issue. They did not just attack her, but also her husband, her children, and even her ex-husband. Transgender activists have threatened to pour acid on her face and on the faces of her children and to beat her with a golf club. They even published the identity and contact information of her ex-husband. Yet when Farrow went to the police about this harassment, the cops said it wasn’t a high enough priority. Then a few months later, they investigated her for potential hate speech.

Transgender activists believe that the high suicide rate among people who identify as transgender is primarily due to a lack of social acceptance for these people. Yet the suicide rate remains high even in countries where transgender acceptance is the norm. Rather than civilly engaging with those who believe biological sex is immutable, these activists demonize those who disagree — be they conservatives or feminists — and occasionally engage in violence against them.

It is tragic that a feminist professor at one of the oldest universities in the world needs bodyguards at her lectures because her views are unpopular. Transgender activists should see this as a wakeup call.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.