Gender studies professor has freedom of speech chilled for “transphobia”

March 26, 2021 • 10:15 am

This instance of free-speech suppression has a twist, as the victim is an endowed professor of gender and women’s studies at a public university. She’s Donna M. Hughes, who holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Endowed Chair of Gender and Women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island (URI).  She’s known for her work on human trafficking and sex work, but has now ventured into the minefield of transgender analysis. As Inside Higher Ed (IHE) reports, her university has, while grudgingly affirming her freedom of speech (always guaranteed at state schools), nevertheless done everything it can to demonize her and distance itself from her. Why? Because she feels—as do I—that there are some limits to the rights and privileges of transgender women considered as “women”. That makes Hughes, of course, a “transphobe”.

Click the screenshot to read the piece by Coleen Flaherty.

Hughes was somewhat out of mainstream feminist ideology when she wrote in the past that “there’s a fine line between sex work and sex trafficking and that legalizing prostitution helps only pimps and johns, not sex workers.” But that didn’t get her in nearly as much trouble as her February essay in 4W (a “fourth wave feminist” site), in which she not only called out QAnon, but made an analogy with that group and some of the proponents of the “transsexual women are fully women” view:

The political left is quick to denounce the campaign of disinformation that led to the Capitol riot on January 6. But fake news and harmful politicized beliefs leading to real harm are not solely a right-wing phenomenon. The American political left is increasingly diving headfirst into their own world of lies and fantasy and, unlike in the imaginary world of QAnon, real children are becoming actual victims.

The trans-sex fantasy, the belief that a person can change his or her sex, either from male to female or from female to male, is spreading largely unquestioned among the political left.

The trans-sex fantasy returns us to the question: “What is a woman?”. . .

. . .The trans-sex/“gender identity” ideology challenges same-sex rights, particularly those of women and girls. Interestingly, men and boys have had no attack on their rights. The biological category of sex, particularly women’s sex, is being smashed. Women and girls are expected to give up their places of privacy such as restrooms, locker rooms, and even prison cells. When biological males identify as trans-women, they can compete in women’s and girls’ sports. There are now cases of women being injured, some severely, by biologically larger and stronger biological men competing as “transwomen.” In the most well-known case in 2014, a transgender competitor broke the skull (linked video is graphic) of a female during a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition. In Fall 2020, World Rugby banned the participation of transwomen (biological males) in rugby citing the high risk of injury. Even Title IX, which granted women equal access to educational opportunities, such as those provided by sports and scholarships, are being taken away. It used to be when someone took unfair advantage, we’d call it cheating, but that is no longer recognized in this fantasy world.

The dystopian trans-sex/“gender identity” world claims that female mammalian characteristics should be redefined and disappeared from the female body to satisfy the feelings of biological males who identify as women. Basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced by misogynistic, trans-sex/trans-gender language so that a female has a “front hole” instead of a vagina; females “chest feed” instead of breastfeed. All references to women disappear into terms such: “people who menstruate,” “people with uteruses,” “a pregnant person,” or “a birthing parent.” No such changes in terms are proposed for men’s bodies and anatomy. These redefinitions are hatred targeted at women’s bodies and their rights.

Strong stuff, but not irrational or hateful stuff. Nevertheless, that can’t be allowed to stand in a liberal university! And so, as IHE reports, the University of Rhode Island has issued the usual statement that criticizes the views of a faculty member while at the same time saying that it “honors and respects” her right of freedom of speech. That’s a form of hypocrisy. A good free-speech university, like the University of Chicago is at present, affirms that it will make no official statement supporting political, ideological, or moral views, and in response to the mob that’s descending on Hughes, would have said something like “Professor Hughes has the right to say whatever she wants, and the University supports that right.”

But URI has to flaunt its virtue, and so issued the statement below:

I find this statement weaselly to the extreme. While it’s entirely proper for the URI to have a page of resources and policies for supporting transgender students, faculty, or staff, it should not issue statements criticizing individual faculty members’ political views. (They even name Hughes!). What that does, as Hughes claims in the article, is to chill the speech of those who hold similar views, and it’s not at all “transphobic” to want a rational discussion about the extent to which transgender women (or men) are identical to biological women (or men). In other words, URI’s statement acts to squelch the speech of others—and they are many—who want a public discussion of the issue, and a discussion without being demonized as a “transphobe.”  This is why the University of Chicago enshrined in the Kalven Report the principle of not officially endorsing political/ideological/moral views. (Faculty members and others, of course, are free to issue their own personal statements on the issue.) Imagine how brave you’d have to be to risk being named as a public enemy by your own university!

It’s no wonder that Hughes takes this as an affront. It’s a blatant attempt to stifle the speech of URI members who have views different from those of extreme pro-trans-rights people.  The statement below says, in effect, that “Hughes can say what she wants, but she really shouldn’t have said this stuff”:

A faculty member’s First Amendment and academic freedom rights are not boundless, however, and should be exercised responsibly with due regard for the faculty member’s other obligations, including their obligations to the University’s students and the University community. As stated in the above referenced documents, faculty have a special obligation to show due respect for the opinions of others and to “exercise critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint” in transmitting their personal opinions.

In other words, her own University is calling Hughes irresponsible and disrespectful of the opinions of others, lacking “critical self-discipline and judgment” and “appropriate restraint”. If that’s not an attempt to stifle speech that’s not ideologically approved, I don’t know what is.

I could go on, but you can read the articles for yourself. Let me just add that Hughes has a lawyer, which means that a free-speech/academic freedom lawsuit may be in the offing. While the University may have had the right to publicly criticize Hughes’s views, and even name her, any respectable institution wouldn’t have done that, nor implied in the statement that there are limitations to freedom of speech and academic freedom. I have no respect for what URI has done to Hughes.

And here’s a statement she gave to IHE:

Via email, Hughes said it’s “just sad that we have reached a point in society where difficult issues cannot be freely and openly discussed without resort to personal attacks and calls for censorship.”

The marketplace of ideas, she added, “has broken down and increasingly, university faculty are terrified to speak out on a wide range of important issues for fear that — as seems to be happening here — they will draw criticism from their students and their institution will throw them under the bus.”

Bingo. No academic institution should make its members afraid to express views on political issues, nor try to enforce a political orthodoxy, no matter what it is. They can affirm that they won’t discriminate against various targeted groups (after all, that creates a climate for free discussion), but that’s as far as it should go.

h/t: William

49 thoughts on “Gender studies professor has freedom of speech chilled for “transphobia”

  1. Wouldn’t a simple; ” The opinions expressed by so and so are his/hers personal views and are not those of the whatever,” suffice?

    1. But that would leave us with no heretics to burn. And you can’t have your pudding until you’ve burned a heretic.
      How can you have pudding if you’ve got no heretics to burn?

      I’m mis-quoting Pink rex or T.Floyd, or someone of that era, but TBH I was never less than mildly stoned when listening to that track, so I’m not entirely sure I’ve rendered the lyrics correctly. I think that was the state desired by the writer(s).

        1. Ummm – same album?
          [Skates 12in album cover littered with skins, snout and lump across carpet in your direction. You know what to do.]

  2. I think it’s useful to contrast this statement to the Lehigh Department of Biology statement on Michael Behe’s support for ID. While both are ‘we do not agree with the professor’ statements, look how much more professional and objective the Lehigh one is. Look how it focuses overwhelmingly on a positive message (i.e. support for evolution) rather than attacking or dwelling on the professor’s position (opposition to ID – this gets a mere one sentence, at the end). It puts academic freedom front and center, as the main message, rather than as an afterthought.

    My point is, there are professional and above-board ways a Department or University can signal to the outside world that they disagree with the positions of one of their faculty, without heavy-handedly deriding their view or attacking the person themselves. URI’s statement is not one of them.

  3. Note how none of her specific points are challenged in the statement. I would love to see someone try to defend breaking women’s bones in the name of trans rights.

  4. Note how none of her specific point are addressed in the statement. I would love to hear someone defend breaking women’s bones in support of trans rights.

  5. … the professor, Donna Hughes, wrote in a recent essay for 4W, a “fourth-wave” feminist website.

    It took the better part of a century (or even longer, if you trace its sources as far back as Simone de Beauvoir did in The Second Sex) for first-wave feminism to evolve into second-wave feminism. It then took somewhere around 30 years for second-wave feminism to give way to the third wave, and something less than 20 years for the third wave to give way to the fourth. Whereas the first two waves were pro-free speech, the last two have afforded it evermore cramped space.

    For someone such as myself whose always been simpatico to feminist goals, it’d be a cryin’ shame if this keeps up to where it finds itself going the route of the mythological, one-winged oozlum bird, flying in ever-tightening circles until it disappears up its own fundament.

  6. At what point is the institution itself responsible for actively making students feel “unsafe” by calling loud attention to some rather unremarkable comments that students would not otherwise have been aware of?

  7. The University statement contains the now mandatory lament about “pain and discomfort” that might be suffered by the transgendered because Professor Hughes dared to state simple facts . One of these days, faculty and students in such institutions should assert that stereotyped, virtue-signaling bullshit from their administration causes them pain and discomfort.

  8. I find it interesting that articles like the original cause of complaint are generally sober and well written, sympathetic to people with gender dysphoria but pointing out that there are problems with sport, prisons, transitioning of children and so forth which merit discussion. It is perfectly reasonable to consider the discomfort that some women, possibly victims of sexual assault, will feel if forced to share intimate spaces with male-bodied people. On the other hand the pro-trans lobby seems to have no real response other than to scream “transphobe” or posit ill-defined “harm” or even “violence” to transgendered individuals if they are not “validated” in every respect.

    However, there does seem to be an ugly streak of hatred of men in some feminist critics of the transgendered. Consistently referring to those who have convincingly transitioned as “he” is unreasonable and unkind. It seems that transgendered males are particularly the subject of opprobrium because they are seen as illegitimately invading “womanspace”.

    1. I don’t see what you mean by “hatred of men” in your last paragraph?

      I presume that you are referring to people like J.K. Rowling who are traditional feminists but criticize the “trans women are women, full stop” trope. How does she hate men? Or do you mean something different? Yes, she is rightly critical of the trans men in the same way that Jerry is, but that is not hatred of men per se.

      1. JK Rowling’s contribution was actually an excellent example of the sort of reasoned comment to which I was referring. The anti-male prejudice tends to be exhibited in comments rather than major contributions.

    2. “On the other hand the pro-trans lobby seems to have no real response other than to scream “transphobe” or posit ill-defined “harm” or even “violence” to transgendered individuals if they are not “validated” in every respect.”

      A related tactic is to label the critics racist. See the latest by the NYT former sports reporter and now Opinion writer Lindsay Crouse, where she conflates professional women’s sport funding with support for trans women in amateur athletics, and throws in a charge of racism because Caster Semenya can’t run the Olympic 800 m.

      The reader comments are scathing as usual: plenty of support for trans people in general, but thoughtful pushback specifically against trans women in athletics. And lots of comments calling out Crouse for hypocrisy and obfuscation. On this issue at least the NYT readership is far less woke and far more sensible than its Opinion writers.

  9. The appalling feature of the URI pronouncement is that it means the University is administered by
    ignoramuses whose beliefs make Lysenkoism seem fairly rational by contrast. If the phenotype determined by the X and Y chromosomes can be over-ruled by simply making an announcement, there is no reason the phenotype encoded in all the other chromosomes cannot be similarly ignored,
    and any individual born as Homo sapiens cannot announce that it is really a Golden Bamboo
    Lemur or a Feathery Cassia shrub. If rejection of Biology is now fashionable in the administariat, we ought to look carefully at the kinds of drivel they pick up in their training. Perhaps faculties should start demanding administrators who do not come from School of Ed backgrounds, and are not trained in Critical Flat Earth Theory, Post-Lysenkoism, and D/E/I Astrology.

  10. This reminds me of transubstantiation. The external accident of having a penis is irrelevant to the “substance” of being female. And here I thought that Aristotelian metaphysics was dead.

  11. Sad that the science is ignored. The WHO has stipulated that after 50 yrs of robust peer reviewed research it stated that being transgender is a biologic/genetic normal variant and has changed the ICD as of 2022 to reflect this and that mental health issues are the result of hate, discrimination and minority stress as voiced by people like this professor. The people at most risk for being attacked including in bathrooms are trans individuals.

    1. You have dodged the issues in question to be able to make a point not in anyway related to this discussion.

  12. Oh I was reading that defense of the 1st Ammd…and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and then it did: “violence” and “harm” and all the bs of the 3rd (?) para.
    How…. as prof rightly put it: “Weaselly”. And disappointing. How are these administrators so terrified? Are spines so rare these days? Are facts dead or am i talking out of my “front hole”? Jesus.

    There’ll be more of this in future I’m sure. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in that tube.

  13. As ever the most intensely selfish spotlight is being shone on the issue.
    How does this bright light of virtue seem to be able to miss noticing the causing of pain and discomfort to any number of non trans women. Dare I say real women for the sake of the argument
    How is the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against transgender people acceptable if it comes hand in hand with discriminations and violence against non trans women.
    And the fact that you can’t even try and espouse alternative viewpoints without being cast straight into ‘violent transphobe’, as that is the language always used means it becomes impossible to question.

    I have never seen a more misogynistic position.

  14. I think it would be much better if we all just stopped playing the game on their terms. The fact is that there is no such thing as “transgender” because people do not have A gender. Much like creationist like to muddy the waters by using the terms theory and hypothesis interchangeably, as they often are in regular discourse, the left likes to conflate the terms sex and gender and treat them as the same when they are two different things.

    The one things the left gets right is that gender is a spectrum. It goes from masculine to feminine. But much like strength goes from strong to weak, it makes no sense to say a person has A strength (aside from talking about personal skills). In the same sense, a person doesn’t have A gender. Most men are masculine, but they aren’t as masculine as Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Predator chewing a cigar and ripping rounds with a gatlin gun. And we have effeminate men and masculine women, but no man can become feminine enough to become a woman.

    And when we separate things in society, we do so on the basis of sex. I can’t misgender someone by using the wrong pronouns because we don’t use pronouns based on gender. If I call a woman “he,” I’m getting her sex wrong. We all know this because we do it every day. If i’m talking to someone and make reference to another person on the other side of the room, I don’t need to go ask that person their gender before I know what pronoun to refer to them as. I know their pronoun because we are a sexually dimorphic species and we can tell women and men apart just by looking.

    If a man wants to dress up like a woman, that’s fine. If a man wants to cut off his penis to become a woman, then that person has a mental illness and should get treatment. If a man wants to dress up like a woman and try to force me to call him a woman, then I refuse to do so. If a man wants to dress like a woman to gain entrance to the women’s locker room or play women’s sports, then we should tell him no.

    1. “If a man wants to cut off his penis to become a woman” – you seem to be ignorant about how sex reassignent surgery works. “That person has a mental illness and should get treatment” – ah, so just like gay conversion therapy. You are also tying yourself up in knots – you claim that men and women are men, and that men and women can be easily told apart, but these are contradictory claims as some trans women are indistinguishable from cis women. Determining access to gendered spaces based completely on birth sex is stupid, because then you will get trans men in women’s spaces, some of whom look very manly, have phalluses, and possess the higher sex drive, strength and aggression that comes with taking testosterone. Not many women are going to want that – it’s a lose-lose.

      1. My penis cut off point was a simplification. I don’t need to know the details of the surgery to be aware that the person undergoing it is mentally ill. And I said they need treatment. I said nothing about “conversion therapy” of any kind. If a man cutting his penis off is the most effective treatment for this particular mental illness, then so be it. Let’s just not pretend that it’s not a mental illness.

        And nowhere did I “claim that men and women are men.” Could you point out where I said or implied such a thing.

        1. Sorry, that was a typo. I meant it to read “claim that trans women are men”. And if someone changes their physiology so much that it resembles a typical female physiology, I don’t know why you would still insist they are male. Maybe you are the one with a mental illness.

            1. Ah yes, because when a baby comes out and the doctor says “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl”, they definitely do a genetics test first.

              1. They don’t have to do a genetics test to know the genetics. Again, we are a sexually dimorphic species.

          1. I insist they are male because they are. A man who tries hard to look like a woman is still a man. There are numerous physiological differences between the sexes that a dress and some snips aren’t going to change.

            1. You say “they don’t have to do a genetics test to know the genetics” – this is wrong. To know with certainty, you do. It is possibly to be born with a vagina and XY chromosomes, with a penis and XX chromosmes, or with a different set of sex chromosomes.

              1. I understand that some people have developmental problems, but the vast majority of people have a physiology that follows their genetics. Pointing out the exceptions doesn’t change the rule.

              2. But trans people are another exception, where after transitioning their physiology doesn’t follow their genetics.

            2. “Again, we are a sexually dimorphic species.” I read that the first time. You still haven’t resolved your contradiction. You claim you can know someone is a woman if they look like a woman, but also that trans women are men – yet some trans women look very much like typical women.

              1. There is no contradiction. Men and women look differently. That’s why a man has to “transition” to look like a woman. If men and women didn’t look differently, then no transition would be necessary.

                You seem to think I’m saying that no man can ever look like a woman, and that’s not what I’m saying.

            3. “There are numerous physiological differences between the sexes that a dress and some snips aren’t going to change.” If you think that is all there is to medically transitioning, you are just ignorant. Are you seriously claiming that someone can have a vagina that resembles a natal vagina enough for gynaecologists to tell the difference, breasts, an inability to grow facial hair, resistance to male-pattern balding, and feminine skin oiliness, muscle mass, sex drive, fat distribution, and in some cases even bone structure – yet still be a man?

              1. Fixing a typo: “a vagina that resembles a natal vagina enough for gynaecologists to sometimes be unable to tell the difference”

              2. Yes. I am claiming that. A person can change their appearance, mannerisms, and even anatomy, but they can’t change their genetics. And genetics is the fundamental difference from which the other differences follow.

              3. Are you going to go around telling women with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome that they are really men then?

  15. The point here is that you have a reputable academic who is bringing up questions about a social phenomena and the university is apparently demonizing her for it. Academia was one of the few places left where raising uncomfortable questions to further understanding of the human experience was allowed, even if others disagreed with it. If she ignored the science, then allow other academics to debate with her in a reasonable, civil forum, don’t demonize her for it.

    I support the right to identify with whatever sex you want. Yet as a women, if the biological definition of what it means to be a woman as someone who can give birth, nurse a baby, have breasts, a vagina, menustrate, etc. is now being changed to acomodate biological men who identify as women than that is reason for reasonable debate and discussion. Why fear that? Why be insulted by it? Why shut it down? Why teach students to fear academic debate? It does everyone a disservice and frankly is driving people away from a university education.

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