Gender segregation on campus – “taken over” by the far right?

Bob From Brockley has a recent piece on Mandela as a mirror. It’s about how disparate movements can opportunistically hitch up to a campaign, a cause, or sometimes a person. To add another example, we have Southall Black Sisters invoking Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle at an event protesting gender segregation, and then we get Spiked with a piece on the hyperbole of calling segregation ‘apartheid’ and the event explodes into a kaleidoscope of different angles on angles on angles. This here is mine, but on gender segregation, Sally Feldman and Laurie Penny.

Last week mainstream politicians finally found their voice and came out against religious gender segregation on campus. Predictably this functioned as a bright green go light to anti-establishment types. Here’s Times Higher columnist Sally Feldman’s weak satire on the opponents of gender segregation. I couldn’t have guessed the piece would end up defending the platforming hate preachers at the University of Westminster where she works – Haitham ‘apes and pigs’ al-Haddad and gender segregation in the same article – wow. She’s more worried about the calibre of the opponents of misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia than she’s worried about the views themselves. So, for the record, al-Haddad does preach hatred. And Sally Feldman should know that events that are carefully convened to ensure hateful views are likely be countered by other invited speakers tend to escape the kind of alarmed response she objects to – mainly because they are obviously ‘championing free speech’, rather than simply connecting haters with free premises and audiences and leaving it to the objects of their hatred to do the hard work of speaking against them.

How did we get here from gender segregation? Maybe the quality of the objections to gender segregation – the passion, the outrage, the hyperbolic exchanges – reminded Sally Feldman of the upset about al-Haddad and reminded her of her University of Westminster agenda. That’s my best guess. It’s also the most charitable account.

Which brings me to Laurie Penny’s recent Guardian piece, ‘This isn’t feminism. It’s Islamophobia‘. It’s about the pressure she has come under from ‘white men’ to condemn gender segregation. At its crux,

“…demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.””

But at the bottom you’ll find a note, ‘This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests.’ This amendment only came about because Twitter users like the Ex-Muslims Forum, Lejla Kuric, Alya, Ophelia Benson, One Law For All, Sarah Brown and others civilly alerted her to Asian and Muslim feminists defending secular space and pointed out the stark inaccuracy of claiming that the protest on December 10th was led by right wing men. By mid morning Laurie Penny had recognised the problem and was making efforts to correct it.

Which is typically big of her but I was interested in what had happened, which is this. A self-styled feminist found the ‘white patriarchy’ so much more interesting than all the feminists of Muslim or Asian background that she completely omitted them from consideration. In this she is no better than most of the other reporters party to the silencing of non-white voices, as This Is The End puts it. Or as Lejla puts it, “White western feminist ignore us and dismiss our struggle”. Or as Alya puts it, “The very idea that this debate has been “taken over” by the far right is both naive and insulting”. As such Laurie Penny gives us a classic example of reductio ad absurdum filtering an event through an existing agenda. It’s also a particularly self-absorbed piece; the poor feminist is not the woman affected by gender segregation – it’s Laurie Penny herself beset by ‘white men’ asking her to condemn something. This is a maddening change of subject.

A united front is needed to fight religious authoritarians on campus. They are not yet strong but they would like to be and they have a small foothold already. So congratulations any ‘white men’ of any political stripe who based your arguments against gender segregation on feminist principles and not culturally racist ones. Sadly for me I think it may be true that you are mostly to the political centre and right – but you got it right this time. Please carry on doing it, as often as possible, and don’t be put off by people telling you you’re the wrong sex or colour.

Finally, Laurie Penny is right that there is certainly anti-Muslim sentiment lurking within the debate about gender segregation, as Soupy explains – people with these views are also subtly changing the subject to further their own agenda.

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7 thoughts on “Gender segregation on campus – “taken over” by the far right?

  1. I’m just another white male getting in on the act! It’s a pity my colour and sex are a consideration when debating gender segregation. I must also admit to having deep reservations about other aspects of Islam too. Does that make my arguments invalid? For what it’s worth, I’m a socialist.

    Here’s my blog:

    realleet.wordpress.com

    • I am vegan – vegans tend to be discounted as a lunatic fringe, but if our numbers grew I can imagine us becoming perceived as challenging the ‘British way of life’ – in which case I’d anticipate a lot of acrimony and possibly violence. And if that ever happened, I’d hope that commentators on veganism would talk responsibly and sympathetically and engage with our best arguments, so as not to casually inflame anti-vegan feeling. For the same reason, I think that saying you have “deep reservations about other aspects of Islam too” and leaving it at that is a bit irresponsible. Why? Because there is no analysis, no discussion of which aspects you aren’t uncomfortable with, no recognition of diversity of interpretation of Islam. All things being equal that wouldn’t be terribly offensive in itself – but in view of the current climate of deepening anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK which includes attacks on Muslim people and property, I think critics of religious authoritarianism need to be very careful indeed – even in blog comments.

  2. You’re right that I should have explained more about my deep reservations. I don’t know why I forgot to link to my blog, which does exactly that. Oh, hold on……

    • Yes – and I only published your comment after I sampled your blog. But this is the web – we can’t take it for granted that readers will dutifully pore over a body of work. Every fragment we write needs to stand alone in what ever climate we’re writing it in. That’s what I think, anyway.

  3. Which is why I posted a link to my blog. I’ll do it again as you must have missed it the first time:

    realleet.wordpress.com

    I have begun the process of highlighting those aspects of Islam which trouble me. I will be adding to it in the coming weeks and months, so feel free to follow.

    Kind regards.

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