‘Good’ gender segregation and ‘bad’ gender segregation?

universities_uk logoI’ve just heard the Chief Executive of Universities UK be put through the mill on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme following its decision to publish advice that gender segregation might not necessarily be discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”. The guidance – which you can read here – is specific to invited external speakers at meetings on university premises.

I do not like gender segregation. At all. Maybe it’s the result of having gone to a boys-only CofE secondary school. It is an entirely artificial construct and I’d much rather everyone, including kids, learned how to operate in a real world environment.

However, I was struck by the outrage of my Twitter timeline this morning at the very idea of gender segregation at university. Why? After all, it already exists. There are three women-only colleges at Cambridge (all Oxford’s former women’s colleges have now become co-educational). Is that gender segregation wrong? If so, when are the heads of Murray Edwards, Newnham and Lucy Cavendish colleges going to be hauled over the coals for promoting gender segregation?

Or what about schools? Many parents decide to educate their children in single-sex schools. Those with daughters may well point to the (admittedly limited) evidence that girls do better, particularly in subjects like Maths, in a single-sex environment. Is that wrong? The analogy to race was used frequently this morning: “would a university ever agree to an external speaker requesting an audience be segregated according to race?” It’s a fair question to ask: but only if we apply it to all walks of life, and not just this one isolated piece of guidance by Universities UK.

In fact, it’s arguable that Universities UK’s guidance is preferable to single-sex schooling. After all, their guidance applies only to external speaker meetings – not to lectures or any other requirements of the curriculum. In other words, the audience gets to choose whether to attend the meeting. They can attend and will probably have the chance to question directly why the meeting is gender segregated. Or they can boycott it, peaceably protest, and shame the organisers for their out-dated view of life. Not many kids get the chance to exercise that right at their single-sex school.

By all means condemn gender segregation – I’ll certainly continue to argue against it. But if you do, follow the logic of that position and recognise there isn’t ‘good’ gender segregation and ‘bad’ gender segregation.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Stephen Tall says – ” By all means condemn gender segregation – I’ll certainly continue to argue against it. ”
    He has examples of gender segregation about which he is not too unhappy and says ” In fact, it’s arguable that Universities UK’s guidance is preferable to single-sex schooling. ”
    He then goes on to say – ” My point is a simple one: if we believe in equality there should be no barriers at all on the basis of gender. ”

    I guess this is the problem of rushing off and writing something having listened to Radio 4’s Today Programme.
    Is this an example of ‘radio rage’ ?
    A bit like ‘road rage’ and just as unhelpful?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Dec '13 - 11:03am


    I’m going to take the opposite view to you. I think that the Universities UK guidance is bizarre and that single sex education is ok, although not something I think is particularly desirable. I agree with you that kids should ideally grow up around a good mix of people.

    When people send their kids to single sex schools, in this country at least, they generally do so not on the basis that one gender is better than the other, but because they think that provides the best education for their child. The Cambridge colleges you mention played a crucial role in giving women access to higher education. They also belong to an institution which admits men, so it’s not quite the same thing.

    Nor is it the same thing to have support groups and the like open to one gender – that’s necessary at times and recognised under the Equality Act as being so.

    What’s different with today’s issue is that the guidance deals with a situation where a Speaker wants a segregated audience because he, and let’s face it, it’s going to be he, does not believe that women are or should ever be equal citizens. The legal advice obtained by Universities UK points to this being a potential problem under the Equality Act.

    I don’t see why it should be. It’s not an integral part of practising anyone’s religion that they should enforce their world view on someone else. If they don’t think that men and women are equal and should be segregated, that’s their right, but they don’t have the right to inflict it on others. If they won’t come to speak because they have to face a mixed, integrated audience, then that, frankly, is their problem.

    Had I been running Universities UK, I would have waited until someone took me to court over it. Free association is an important principle that they shouldn’t compromise. I know that none of their guidance covers lectures or the day to day life of the university and is only relevant in a small handful of cases, but it would have been a big red line for me.

    I’d also point out that a room with three seating areas, one for men, one for women and one mixed area, men and women are not being treated equally. Not when the rules are made by and for men.

    If I ever got wind of such an event being staged near me, I’d be down there like a shot and I’d go and sit, perfectly peacefully, in the “men only” area and wait to be dragged out. Good luck to whoever tried that one.Especially if I were handcuffed to Sarah at the time:-).

  • “The guidance – which you can read here – is specific to invited external speakers at meetings on university premises.”

    Surely the point that you have failed to highlight, is that UUK, is by this measure, pandering to a theoretical situation, whereby a Moslem speaker requests segregation of men and women, as a condition of giving that lecture.
    And you think that is OK? And if it is OK, which other speakers are OK to request segregation of some other sort?

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Dec '13 - 11:36am

    I don’t like the idea of gender segregation, but if the price of having a multicultural society is to tolerate a few customs that we don’t agree with, then surely the best option is to allow it? It should not be for the state to interpret religious books for people. Clearly there should be limits on what we tolerate in the name of tolerance.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Dec '13 - 12:26pm

    Eddie, how would you feel if it were you who were being treated as the second class citizen. Women have fought long and hard to be treated equally.

  • If the (presumably male) speaker was speaking in a room with geography somewhat like the Oxford or Cambridge unions, then it would be amusing to put the women’s area at the bottom surrounding the speaker and put the men up in the gallery.
    I tend to think though that if this is something being organised by some kind of a club within a university then it is really for that club to make a judgement based on what is best for its members. If it is part of the actually course then it wouldn’t be acceptable.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 12:52pm

    @ Eddie Sammon
    I couldn’t disagree more.

    I watched Yasmin Alibhai -Brown , a practising Muslim arguing with A member of the Islamic society. who was taking the opposing view. She was strongly opposed to the decision. She was arguing that the beliefs were based on a particular Wahhabi strand of thinking that was not accepted as mainstream Muslim thinking. It was a manifestation of a mysogynistic culture.

    She made the important point that what people who follow religions choose to do in their mosques or their churches or their synagogues etc, was entirely their choice , but universities were secular public places where all should be able to interact on an equal basis.

    I agree with her entirely, and I have long realised that I am not a true multiculturalist. I have been arguing that more needs to be done to fight female genital mutilation for a couple of decades now, and yet the practice continues in this country without one prosecution having taken place.

    If you believe we should allow a cultural practice to continue to the extent that you seem to, I suggest that you contact the ‘Daughters of Eve’ campaign group. One of the main campaigners did a mock survey in a town centre, saying, untruthfully that she was collecting signatures to ensure that people should be allowed to continue the cultural ( again not religious ) practice of Female GenitalMutilation. She was left in tears because within half an hour, she had collected so many signatures from passers by who felt that we had no right to interfere culture’.

    The most important point she made was that this form of child abuse would not have continued of a) the victims were not women, and b) they were not black. She has since been threatened with death, but has bravely started an e- petition and goes into schools to give talks.

    FMG may not be the same as segregation of women in universities but, in my opinion, it is motivated by the same prejudice. A prejudice that we would not tolerate if a homophobic group argued for segregation of gays , or people of another religion or colour in our lecture theatres.

    I shall join the protesters of all colours creeds and genders outside our universities if University UK does not show some moral courage and state quite categorically that this segregation has no place in our universities and will not be tolerated.

  • The author’s comments are absurd, which is a shame given his normal stuff. The advice from Universities UK is ludicrous and should be opposed, whatever other issues of gender segregation exist. This is not a bigger issue, it is a single issue of universities losing the plot.

  • Caron is spot on. Stephen hasn’t got this right and I hope that he may see that when he reflects on it. It is the context which is causing outrage – an external speaker asks for the audience to be segregated and the University considers that it is obliged to enforce it…. that is obviously illiberal and wrong not to mention a very dubious legal view.

    It is has nothing to do with single-sex education or other single-sex spaces for which there may be very valid reasons. (The existence of women’s colleges at Cambridge helps nudge that institution towards equal numbers of men and women as well as offering an environment which is certainly beneficial for some women studying).

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Dec '13 - 1:20pm

    Caron and Jayne, I am just making a general point that we need to tolerate other cultures within limits. I am not saying this out of lack of concern for the consequences of tolerance, but because I fear the consequences of not doing so are worse. I do not tolerate extreme and violent practices such as FGM.

  • Sadie Smith 12th Dec '13 - 2:28pm

    Fear that the spokesman on Today was talking nonsense.
    This has nothing to do with multiculturism, but with an offensive suggestion/demand made by outside speakers at some events held within Universities.

  • Eddie
    Maybe you have set your toleration of cultures threshold, too low.?
    “It’s our culture”, is used constantly as a way to circumvent societies rules on everything from FGM, to planning laws for gypsy caravan settlements on greenbelt land.
    Sometimes you have to stand up, and say NO, and maybe ask those ‘cultures’, to re-calibrate their thinking.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 3:20pm

    @ Eddie Sammon
    Yes, I appreciate that anyone on here is unlikely to be an ideological fanatic and I hope that you didn’t think that I had formed that opinion about you.

    What bugs me, is the way some use ‘equality’ as a justification for allowing some individuals or groups to treat people unequally.

    I don’t want to live in a society where my grand daughters can be segregated on any part of a university campus. Segregation into areas where different genders are sitting separated into blocks that are side by side, and where there is an allotted area where there is no gender segregation, is still segregation, and in my view wrong and regressive.

    Those who argue that it is hypocrisy for those who oppose University UK’s solution, when gender segregated
    colleges exist are just plain wrong. These colleges were very much of their time, they came into being to redress gender inequality not to foster it. I look forward to all colleges becoming mixed gender. For me there is absolutely no ideological conflict

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 3:34pm

    @Richard S,
    Do you mean in the same way that golf clubs, rotary clubs etc., were in the recent past, able to make judgements i and rules n the best interests of their members, the result being the exclusion of women as members?

    Clearly you have never been allocated the role of ‘Good Lady Wife”.

  • Question: “There are three women-only colleges at Cambridge (all Oxford’s former women’s colleges have now become co-educational). Is that gender segregation wrong?”

    Answer: Yes, it is.

  • Tubby Isaacs 12th Dec '13 - 4:46pm

    ” All supervisions are done in the colleges”

    No they aren’t. Do you think every college has the expertise to teach every part of a specialised degree course?

    In 90s Oxford, I was sent from my mixed college to St Hilda’s (then single sex) for what must be about 60 tutorials during my 4 year course, as well as to LMH, St Johns and Exeter (just off the top of my head).

  • Tubby Isaacs 12th Dec '13 - 4:51pm

    What Sarah Brown said.

  • Joe – the point you are trying to make might be worth debating if it was remotely correct, but it isn’t. Most people are aware that girls outperform boys strongly at A-level, and it isn’t that much of a surprise therefore that girls schools therefore dominate the top levels of school results tables. In 2012, the top 10 performing 6th forms of schools were:

    6 girls schools
    3 co-ed
    1 boys school

    Eton, incidentally, doesn’t even make it into the top 10.


  • @Jayne Mansfield

    As I understand it there are more female-only gyms and clubs than male-only ones.

    But in the case of the university club I mean that the executive, elected by members of both sexes and subject at any time to a vote of no confidence by its members would have to decide if the circumstances justified seating women on one side of an aisle and men on another side. I am not saying such circumstances even exist (maybe a debate on pornography or abortion or feminism with a vote afterwards, in order to get a gender-breakdown of the results?), merely that it is not a matter for a national level decision.

    I am interested in the actual examples this is based on though, does anyone know? The only incidence of segregation I saw was when I visited Birmingham in the late 90s, the student’s union had a prayer room with a brothers’ entrance and a sisters’ entrance. Actually sports teams were also segregated.

    I don’t know about the Cambridge colleges but at Durham (where one must primarily be accepted by a department and if one is unsuccessful getting into a college one is reassigned elsewhere), The last one, St. Mary’s, eventually went mixed because few of the students actually wanted to go to an all-female college and had mostly just been assigned there. Are the women’s colleges at Cambridge actually in high demand (i.e. are they typically the first choice of the applicants who end up there)?

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 10:11pm

    @ Sarah Brown
    Actually, Sarah, I think that I read that Newnham and New Hall, single sex colleges at Cambridge take a higher proportion of students from the pool because their are fewer female applicants putting them as a first choice. Check it out, but I do remember reading something to that effect not so long ago.

    I can understand why women might have wanted to be in a single- sex college rather than being within what was until relatively recently , a male dominated environment, but it seems that attitudes are changing with more women clearly feeling that they can confidently compete on an equal level with men in mixed gender colleges. So some good news there.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 10:21pm

    There not their.

    I usually do not correct my poor grammar and malapropisms because the corrections would be as long as the original posts, and probably contain as many errors.

    I cant read the post on dementia, my husband and I are aware that we are displaying all the symptoms of cognitive impairment that are suggestive of the condition.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Dec '13 - 10:32pm

    @ Richard S
    I believe that UniversityUK has given its guidance as a response to an incident that took place at UCL earlier this year.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '13 - 2:22am

    John Dunn, people can argue that I have set my tolerance level too high, but this is really an ideological commitment and people don’t change their ideologies often! 🙂

    Jayne Mansfield, yes I’m not an extremist, I think I largely agree with you that equality should mainly be about treating people equally, rather than pushing through equality of outcome. Although this is a difficult topic. I agree with you on not liking gender segregation, it is just what we do about it where we probably disagree (and the extent to which we don’t like it).

    I find viewing things as absolutely always right or wrong just creates anger, so I try to be a bit more laid back about things, although I understand the argument against this approach is that it doesn’t achieve as much.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '13 - 2:32am

    I also don’t think it is fair to bring up the fact I am a man to discredit my opinion. I don’t bring up people’s class to discredit their opinion and even if I was sat on top of a pile of privilege, I don’t think it helps to avoid arguing against the issues raised by pointing out someone’s biology or background.

  • @Sarah Brown ‘Perhaps the number of men explaining to women that we shouldn’t have our own spaces when we feel the need for them here is an indication of precisely why these spaces are still so valuable.’

    Would you take a similar view of women trying to explain to men why men-only spaces are bad?

  • Graham Martin-Royle 13th Dec '13 - 8:33am

    I went to the anti gender apartheid demo in London and rather than give my opinions, I’ll let some of the speakers give theirs (they’re much more erudite than myself anyway).


    I apologise for the darkness of the videos, the flash on my camera just wasn’t up to the challenge.

  • jenny barnes 13th Dec '13 - 8:56am

    eddie “even if I was sat on top of a pile of privilege,”
    Would you by any chance be a white, cis, hetero, non-disabled, middle class male resident in the UK?
    I rest my case.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '13 - 9:16am

    Depends what you count as middle class. Education yes, pretty much everything else, no.

    Regardless, this whole privilege debate is childish, there are privileges to being a woman such as not being expected to fight on the front line. I don’t agree that it is better to be born a man than a woman and I certainly don’t agree that white men are oppressing everybody else. It’s the same old extremist narrative – find someone to blame and put all your hate into them.

    If people don’t think it is better to be born a man than a woman then I don’t see what all the aggravation is about, just enjoy your life a bit more rather than attacking other people so much.

  • The guidance can be found here:


    To download click on the image of the report’s cover.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '13 - 10:23am

    Jenny, sorry I was too harsh then. I don’t mind people pointing out my privileges (although I’m not sure if privilege is the right word for all of them), all I ask is that if people are to do this then can they also tackle the issue I raised. Although, I’m not asking you to do that in this instance!

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec ’13 – 9:16am
    “… there are privileges to being a woman such as not being expected to fight on the front line. ”

    Wake up Eddie, have you been snoozing in the ranks?
    You need to update yourself – we are now in the 21st century.

    In the age of nuclear weapons, international terrorism, drones, chemical warfare, biological warfare etc WE AE ALL IN THE FRONT LINE !

  • @Jenny Barnes

    Are males more privileged than females then? Where is the evidence for that?

    It’s true that males are over-represented in parliament and FTSE 100 boardrooms, which we may consider to be the top of society, a few hundred people. I have to ask then where the bottom of our society is? Is it prison? Is it standing about to kill oneself? Is it losing custody of ones children in the family court? About to blown up by an IED in Afghanistan? Failing ones exams? Long-term unemployed? Murdered?
    Men are also over-represented in all those places and we are talking about far more than hundreds of people. Of course you may say that men bring many of the failures I list upon themselves, but that cuts both ways, we also bring our successes upon ourselves too.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Dec '13 - 12:44pm

    Graham Martin-Royle
    Thank you for uploading the videos.
    The number of participants was shockingly small. I put that down to several things. 1) There really are people still out there who believe that ‘Biology is destiny’ 2) People like me who were unaware of the meeting. People who agreed with the message but able to attend for various reasons.

    It was very very stirring stuff and given the electronic age, I hope that the speeches reach a much, much more wider audience. Couldn’t you send copies to institutions, university debating societies etc?

    I want to show my support. I am not on twitter or facebook. Tapping out the odd e-mail and posting on LIb Dem Voice is about my limit. Who do I contact to show this support and how?

    The women are very brave. We all know how dangerous it is to stick our heads above the parapet when dealing with extremists fanatics.

    I have just watched ‘Sophie Scholl: the Final days ‘ on you tube.’ The suggestion that those who oppose extremism are themselves extremist who are cast from the same mould is disgraceful.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Dec '13 - 1:15pm

    @ Eddie Sammon
    I believe that there is a moral absolute and I believe that people should get angry or make other people angry in fighting for it.

    My moral absolute, and in my view a moral imperative , is that no child should be born into this world , or grow up in a world where the odds are stacked against them, whether that be because of the colour of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, a disability or the class they are born into.

    That is my red line . Old age when ones thoughts turn more to death, has just meant that I wish I had got angrier and made more people angry.

  • I think Stephen and other have missed the key point of the UUK ‘guidance’:

    “Drawing on existing practice within the sector, this
    guidance seeks to map out the different factors that
    universities may wish to consider when drawing up
    policies and protocols for external speakers, reflecting
    both their legal obligations and their practical
    application. There is no one simple solution to the
    issues that emerge, and this guidance does not seek to
    prescribe a single model. … Recognising that every institution is
    different, this guidance instead provides a framework for
    reviewing and enhancing existing processes.”

    So this guidance isn’t for Universities to adopt wholesale, but to help them develop and write their own policies on this matter…

    Whilst many may object to audience segregation by gender, we should remember that we are talking about Universities – unless students have become more docile and compliant since my university days, I would be surprised to find any external speaker getting away with a request for a student audience to be segregated and the (student) audience meekly accepting it and behaving as if it were perfectly normal and acceptable.

    My real concern isn’t so much what external speakers may request provided they understand that this is just them expressing a preference, since the audience is free to stick two fingers up and ignore the request; but what those who organise the meeting seek to impose on the audience. By way of example, several of the student societies dedicated to particular BAME groups at my university, were very xenophobic, not only barring access to their meetings and events to those not from their group but also barring access to those from the ‘wrong’ ethnic group (the Islamic society was disbanded/disowned by the student union when it actively took sides in the Iranian Revolution when Khomeini became Supreme Leader and the police had to patrol campus…).

    After saying all this, I can accept that there may be occasions where audience segregation (on gender) may be appropriate and acceptable – although even then it is probably only advisory rather than prescriptive and strictly enforced, the real issue is ensuring that the reason isn’t one based on prejudice and discrimination.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Dec '13 - 3:08pm

    @ Roland
    UCL students were segregated, one of the visiting professors threatened to leave.

    The segregation of women from men on University grounds was based on discrimination and prejudice. The discrimination and prejudice of men who will dress up that discrimination and prejudice against women using every tool at their disposal whether it be hijacking religion or twisting the English language and abstract concepts to suit their aims.

    When we use abstract concepts like freedom and liberty, we tend to have a shared idea of what they symbolise, I didn’t realise that they encapsulated the right to oppress and I don’t accept that they do.

    University UK can waffle all they like but there is a fundamental principle at stake here.

  • jenny barnes 13th Dec '13 - 4:50pm

    Richard S “Are males more privileged than females then? Where is the evidence for that?”
    I suspect you don’t understand the concept. Privilege in this sense is about things that are easy for men, and not so easy for women.
    Let’s take a couple of examples.
    Men are forceful, women are bossy/shrill.
    Women’s average earnings are about 3/4 of men’s
    Women are generally expected to do the childcare and still on average do more housework.
    Women on marriage are expected to take the man’s name – the number of men taking their wifes former name is tiny.
    It’s rather ridiculous to point to higher numbers of men in the front line of battle when until recently women were not allowed to be there.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Dec '13 - 6:29pm

    John, 🙂 I suppose we are all on the front line! It was just a general point.

    Jayne, interesting, I love debating ethics, you should get involved in the party more!

  • Graham Martin-Royle 13th Dec '13 - 7:33pm

    Latest from the NSS, following intervention by the PM, UUK has withdrawn it’s advice.


  • @Graham
    No the UUK hasn’t withdrawn it’s advice. It has removed the case study that triggered the debate, namely Case Study 2 concerning an ultra-orthodox religious speaker’s request for gender segregation. In which the idea of side-by-side seating is proposed as a solution, without really taking into account how the intended audience could meaningfully consent to this.

    What is unfortunate is that the UUK have totally removed Case Study 2 from the report rather than mark it for deletion (ie. draw a line through the text) as it prevents full public discussion of that particular case study and the faulty logic used to support the idea’s offered.

  • @Jayne
    I think the UCL case being referred to is described here: http://www.secularism.org.uk/news/2013/03/sexual-segregation-at-a-ucl-event-a-scandal-say-students

    Whilst there are other reports, the case does raise many questions from where were the UCL security and representative who would of had full authority to impose UCL’s decision of no segregation or to terminate the event, to what were the student’s doing – why weren’t they opening fire doors to circumvent ‘security’ and generally giving the organisers and their main speaker a hard time.

    As for a fundamental principle, that isn’t quite so clear as this blog points out http://niaccurshi.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/uuk-and-that-segregation-guideline.html
    So I think that UUK have been a little too hasty in totally removing Case Study 2 from their guidance, leaving no real room for discussion of the issues it raises.

    The question I would ask is would it have been acceptable for an event to ask participates to respect gender segregated seating as being part of the experience? I ask because back in my university day’s I attended a presentation by a prominent feminist and all the men (a minority) were sat as a group in the middle of the room, surrounded by women (audience three sides, presenter and committee on the fourth) – a very uncomfortable evening was had, but a highly educational experience.

  • It’s dead easy for me/. Religion is a belief system, The arguments surrounding religious beliefs about gender are no different to political beliefs about race or sexuality. If you want a secular modernist society you accept that all kinds of people have all sorts of frankly nutty beliefs. You allow them to express these nutty beliefs, but you do not pander to them. I do not like single sex schools and think they are a victorian anachronism that should not be funded by the state. Small blows against irrational nonsense should always be welcomed coz they lead to bigger blows. So good on Cameron.

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Dec '13 - 12:27pm

    @ Roland
    Thank you for the links.

    I don’t sew why I a should give pay too much attention to the opinion of the man who wrote the blog. He is not a Human Rights Lawyer so his opinion only carries as much weight as the opinions of any other non-lawyer who takes an interest in what was allowed to happen at UCL.

    We get our information from newspapers which are not always reliable but the report that I read stated that the men was invited as part of a series of lectures on religion. After he had been invited he made the request for segregated seating areas.

    What is of interest to me, is whether the request really did come from him, rather than Muslim women who intended to attend. They must spend most of their lives unsegregated and even have travelled to the venue in unsegregated transport. Why was it suddenly necessary to sit in segregated seating whilst in his lecture?

    The law is quite clear on places of worship, segregation on gender is allowed in places of worship, or places put aside for worship e,g he prayer facilities that Richard S mentioned at the university that he intended. Believers are entitled to segregate in these designated places of worship.

    The debate was between a man arguing on behalf of beliefs that he calls his religion and a man arguing for secular beliefs. Perhaps members of the Secular society should ask for Secularism to be categorised as a religion. inspired by the God of Rationalism. It would make the argument of whose rights trump whose even more interesting. I say this as a lapsed Catholic who is taking a great interest in the leadership of Pope Francis.

  • @Jenny Barnes
    to go through your examples in order
    1) How the rest of society sees assertiveness depends a lot on social class and geography. If you have the wrong accent then it can be seen as aggressiveness (and threatened violence) when it appears in men whereas particularly in the North where I am from people are more used to seeing women stand their ground. Men can be seen as bossy too.
    2) I pay my male and female employees the same. I disbelieve that every company like mine is balanced by another one paying female employees half for the same work. I also don’t see why business-people would be unnecessarily paying men more if there are women waiting to do the same work for less.
    3) I don’t think that is at all a mainstream view. It’s kind of against the rules of the site, but some time you should try posting under a male name the idea in this forum that you expect you wife to be responsible for childcare and most of the housework and see what happens.
    4) Plenty of women choose not to so I don’t see there is pressure in this area.

    Number 3) and 4) are both about marriage. This is outside the scope of politics, but the simple solution is for women not to get married if they feel the balance of expected rights and responsibilities that go with marriage are not a good deal for them as they stand in current society. That is pretty much the conclusion men have come to already.

  • @Jayne
    Yes whilst I would tend to agree with you, we should remember that UUK did post their legal advice on Case Study 2, which didn’t really try to discuss the relevant legal points – the article was at least an attempt to dig a little deeper in to why the UUK legal advice could say everything is okay and above board – though it has taken a bit of a media storm for people to step back and realise what the real implications of the legal advice may mean…

    A concern must be that in the rush to close what seems to be a legal loophole to prevent gender segregation – just because a speaker requests it (the ultra-religious background to the case study is largely an irrelevance), that we don’t also outlaw rational gender segregation eg. public toilets, changing rooms etc.

  • Also, I’m wary about the focus that people are making on Islamic student society events. In my experience, Christian student societies are much more awful at this sort of stuff. When I ran for a sabbatical position at Leeds last year, one of my opponents, who was on I-Soc’s committee, asked her fellow society members to give me, an out trans lesbian, a second preference vote. I wouldn’t expect that from the Christian society, which promotes abstinence-only sex education, homophobia, and rape culture in one of its courses.

    And that said, I obviously agree with Dave, Sarah, and Caron. As a trans woman myself, I find certain women-only/LGBT-only spaces very useful in giving me a space relatively free of harassment. While the Equality Act is rather deficient on this matter — the previous government deliberately allowed sheltered accomodations to evict trans rape survivors — I wouldn’t want the fix to be one that got rid of these spaces. They’re often a very useful tool to allow oppressed people to organise.

  • Sarah Noble 15th Dec ’13 – 11:17pm
    Also, I’m wary about the focus that people are making on Islamic student society events. In my experience, Christian student societies are much more awful at this sort of stuff.

    Well said, Sarah Noble. There has been some casual Islam-bashing informing this discussion in the wider media – if not in LDV.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Dec '13 - 8:26am

    Sarah, what about poor only spaces? I hate to say this, but I find the idea that rich women are more oppressed than poor men so need their own space offensive. Any spaces for anyone feeling attacked should be open to everyone.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Dec '13 - 8:33am

    I don’t even understand this safe space stuff, or spaces just for individual groups, I’ll just say that it seems to never include the poor.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Dec '13 - 9:17am

    I don’t want to be intimidating, I really am a fan of moderate feminism, I just get worried about the radicals who I fear don’t care enough about the effect of policies on men. I don’t want a society where everyone just fights for themselves out of fear that nobody else will.

  • I am not a fan of Wahhabism, but I do think one of the arguments I heard in the speeches that were linked to by an earlier poster is deficient. The basic point is that Wahhabism is not mainstream Islam thought. Would we say that Methodist objections to alcohol or Mormon objections to coffee (for example if workplace started using its employee benefit fund to give free coffee) were not legitimate because they were outside of mainstream Christianity? Rather than using that easy way out, we should say what our real problem is, namely that Wahhabism is outside mainstream European thought.

    Interestingly, the Saudi government tells its students and their wives not to wear face covering (they still cover their hair) and not to request all-female groups when studying in some countries in central Europe (certainly including Slovakia), because of the need to adapt to local conditions. The UK up to this point is more of a crossroads though so there is perhaps less perceived need to adapt.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Dec '13 - 12:56pm

    I believe that there is a misogyny that runs through all the Abrahamic religions. As a lapsed Catholic, I don’t need to be told what is meant by ‘ men and women being equal but different ‘. I can sense bigotry a mile off.

    Why should we allow men from a particular , they would say, Orthodox strand of Islam , dictate who should sit with whom in a public space? I wouldn’t sit back and take this from the religion that I was brought up in and I would argue that is not Islamophobia when we apply the same standard to all men who try to justify gender inequality.

    If it upsets the sensitivities of a religious group tough!, I believe that the the universal principles of racial, gay and gender equality take precedence over the rights of a religious group to use religion as an excuse for bigotry. And lets be clear who are the bigots are here.

    I got frequent e- mails from the coalition from marriage re:- gay marriage . I got them even when I took the trouble to send messages saying that I did not agree with them and to desist from pestering me. Any veteran of the anti-apartheid movement, will remember the affront when the Dutch Reformed Church and their members used religion to justify racial apartheid. I rememember the sheer evil There’s a good religious concept) of mixed -race children being labelled ‘God’s step- children’. Therefore, I ask, why, is it OK to be vociferous in one’s opposition to certain religious groups when they affront our belief in certain universal principles and not others?

    I take John Tilley’s point, about the Islamophobia that has been allowed to seep into even ‘ polite ‘society, and one has to be careful not to reinforce this Islamophobia, I could cry for my children’s Muslim friends when this sort of thing hits the headlines, they don’t agree with it, but they suffer because of it. But when one believes that something is wrong in principle, especially when previous generations have fought so hard to establish that principle , I think that people have a right to say. No, we won’t let this happen. I know that my children’s friends would rather people like myself and Yasmin Alibahai Brown took up the cudgels on their behalf, than some raving bigot for whom any stick is welcome to beat Muslims as a whole.

    Men and women can choose to join private members clubs, go to separate lavatories. Parent’s can send their children to single sex schools, etc, but they are not doing so because they believe that one sex is inferior to another, it is personal preference. That for me is the difference and I see all the counter arguments to stopping segregation in universities on gender lines as an attempt to reason away bigotry.

    There is a demonstration on 8th March next year. I shall be one of the ‘Monstrous Regiment of Women’ who attends.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Dec '13 - 1:35pm

    Another highly educational experience that you could try at home. Sit on the floor whilst another adult stands next to you telling you off for some wrongdoing or even just engaging you in conversation. It is helpful for an understanding of the importance of positioning when speaking to a child so that the child dos not feel intimidated. Power is exercised in many ways.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Dec '13 - 1:48pm

    You wouldn’t catch me going to a talk where women are barred, but I think the solution to this like most things is “if you don’t like it don’t buy it”.

  • @Jayne
    Re: importance of positioning
    Good point! However, as you indicate sometimes there is no substitute for real-world practice and experience to reinforce the learning…

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Dec '13 - 4:38pm

    Grr, I’m sounding like a tory and I don’t like sounding like a tory. I wish no religion had sexist or homophobic teachings, but considering they do my thoughts are that we have to give a pass to non violent controversial religious practices.

  • @Eddie: to be honest, I’m not a fan of the middle classes dictating what poverty is (from us to Labour to the SWP) either.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Dec ’13 – 12:56pm
    Jayne Mansfield makes convincing case when she writes –
    I know that my children’s friends would rather people like myself and Yasmin Alibahai Brown took up the cudgels on their behalf, than some raving bigot for whom any stick is welcome to beat Muslims as a whole.
    … .. I see all the counter arguments to stopping segregation in universities on gender lines as an attempt to reason away bigotry.

    Further to Jayne”s earlier point on all the Abrahamic religions, I wonder if this thread would even have been allowed if the attacks in some comments had been directed at the segregation of women by various fanatics in the world of Judaism? We recently had in the news the Israeli government ban on young women conscripts fraternising with young male Palestinians. Not much mention condemnation of that n the UK. We are allowed to condemn some bigots whilst being required to turn a blind eye to others.

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