A misguided but abject apology from an Oxford Union student

December 2, 2022 • 9:45 am

Reader Cora sent me an archived link to this paper from the Times of London, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below.

The skinny is that the Oxford Union, the group that officially represents students at the University, has one president and five vice-presidents. One of the latter was a “dedicated woman’s officer”, devoted to promoting an protecting women’s issues at the University. But as we know, the word “woman” has taken on a new meaning, including transsexual women, and that got the woman’s officer, Ellie Greaves, into trouble. Click to read:

Because transsexual women are considered by activists to be identical in every respect to biological women, including their issues and concerns, they had to change the name and the mission of the position. But Greaves had defended her position’s original mission, which espoused some concerns of biological women but not transsexual women. For defending that notion, she got huge backlash, the position was changed, and Greaves issued about as embarrassing a statement of contrition as you can imagine. Excerpts:

Greaves is a point of contact for students with issues relating to women’s health, sexual consent and night-time safety. She said last month: “I really hope the issues I’ve been talking about this year don’t fall into the background. I think there’s a risk that the removal of [the post] will send the message that ‘sexism is solved’, when it really isn’t.

“We’re not where we need to be in terms of women’s representation and I think there’s a risk of moves to tackle sexual violence being left behind. There’s a reason the role has been around for so long. I will continue to prioritise women.”

Sharon Udott, president of the Oxford Feminist Society, said: “It’s incredibly important to have a women-focused role in 2022. To say that it is redundant in this day and age is an incredibly privileged position to hold. From violence against women to advocating for increased support and funding for women’s health, these issues don’t change when the year does.”

Greaves also told the student newspaper Cherwell that “provision for conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome are not accommodated in the way I would like to see”.

Well, you can’t go saying things like that, especially about biological-woman-limited medical conditions. And so the mob went into action, the position’s name was changed, and Oggsford (Gatsby’s term for the University) gave the “inclusion” reason:

Students took issue with some of her comments, The Oxford Student website said on Tuesday. She was asked at a student council meeting last week: “What do you have to say to the hundreds of students who were consulted regarding [the role review] . . . who agreed that this would be a good change for inclusivity, equality and the priority of intersectionality?”

Intersectionality is the theory that various forms of discrimination centred on race, gender, class, disability, sexuality, and other identities, do not work independently but interact to produce particularised forms of social oppression.

Thanks for the explanation, Times! goes on:

The union is replacing its women’s officer with a liberation and equalities representative from next year. The reorganisation of union leadership will keep the same number of roles — one president and five vice-presidents — but female students will lose a dedicated women’s officer. The union said this was because the role was created at a time when women could not get full degrees and colleges were segregated, and that the position prioritised one protected group over others.

Oxford Student Union said of changes to the women’s officer position: “The role has not been replaced but augmented to include more underrepresented and marginalised communities who currently do not have sufficient representation.”

Well, maybe, but the real reason is one we all know. And the new officer is going to have his/her hands full enforcing social justice as a whole: it’s a “liberation and equalities representative”.

And even if the position is redundant now (I’ll let the women be the judge of that), the worst part is Greaves’s abject and cringe-making apology. It’s like the Cultural Revolution in China, when those who transgressed accepted dogma had to wear signs around their necks and don paper hats shaped like cones. (Some were beaten and even killed, too.)

THE APOLOGY, with an explanatory note by the Times:

Greaves issued a statement on Tuesday, saying: “The comments I made in the article contribute to a bio-essentialist, narrow-minded narrative of what being a woman is, including the prioritisation of women over minorities. I cannot apologise enough for the damage and hurt I have caused the trans community.”

Bio-essentialism is the philosophy that biology plays a larger role in determining human psychology or development than social, economic, or environmental factors.

“My knowledge of the trans experience is very limited at the moment, and I will endeavour to educate myself further on trans inclusivity through more open engagement with LGBTQ+ Campaign and personal research,” she said.

Note the criticism of “bioessentialism”, which makes an unsupported claim. It’s not true that for all aspects of human development or psychology, social/economic/environmental factors play a larger role than do biological ones. It depends on which aspect of development you’re talking about. For example, biology plays nearly the entire role of determining whether you’re a male or female in the first place, and that affects secondary sexual traits like genitals, body hair, and vocal pitch.

But forget that. What’s reprehensible here is the way Greaves bowed and truckled to the trans activists with her statement about her ignorance and determination to “educate herself.” And I doubt that she really caused a lot of “damage and hurt” to the trans community. They will of course claim that, but what she said above could damage or hurt only those so easily triggered that they may need professional help. The dignified thing for her to have done was either resign the position, or accept it, do what the new position requires, and move on. As we all know, apologies like Greaves’s never work—they just further inflame the extreme progressives.

A metaphorical analogy to Greaves

16 thoughts on “A misguided but abject apology from an Oxford Union student

    1. What I wanted to say is, when generally occupied somehow with science, math, or computing, is it just me, or is the basic shop language newly energized such that ordinary language like “binary”, “intersection”, or even “bio—” stimulate some sort of adrenal fight-or-flight pathway of some sort?

      E.g. I see a file to open with a program. Ah, I see it is a “binary” file, e.g. not plain text.

      Something happens at that moment that didn’t used to happen.

      You don’t need to answer that!

  1. Two decades ago, Pinker’s classic The Blank Slate (2002) ought to have demolished the assumption (all too common amongst social scientists) that biology (genes, heredity, etc) plays no important role in explaining human behavior. A recent and very fine book by Alexander Riley (Bucknell, Sociology) addresses this issue (Toward a Biosocial Science: Evolutionary Theory, Human Nature, and Social Life, Routledge, 2021).

  2. > “We’re not where we need to be in terms of women’s representation…”

    I look forward to the day when people realize that we no more need to worry about segregated/specific men’s / women’s / white / black / atheist / Jewish / Christian / Muslim / etc., representation than we do about right-handed/left-handed representation.

    For people who think we need it now, do you think it will be desirable to reach a point where we no longer need it?

    There was a post here maybe a year ago about a Ontario Teachers’ Federation requiring equally-weighted voting representation from each of the numerically-unequal demographics.

    1. I think it would be great, ideally, to live in a colorblind, sexblind, etc. world. But I also think it will never happen, and that its prospects diminish every year. To a close approximation, this is something only a subset of white people want. By large majorities, “Woke” whites don’t want it. “Racist” whites don’t want it. Blacks don’t want it. Hispanics don’t want it. Jews and Muslims don’t want it. And overall their share of the population is growing, both locally and globally, while the colorblind share of the population is shrinking.

      Building a colorblind world was the deal struck during the civil rights movement, but not all parties held to that deal, and so, it seems, it is foundering.

      1. Ok but some of these things are not like the others. There are few or v. small differences between mean traits for different religious or ethnic or language or racial groups. But there are large permanent differences between mean values for many (not all) traits of men and women. We should aspire to reach a point where we can ignore most of those group mean differences, but we won’t ever reach a point where we can ignore all sex differences. Linguist has sometimes argued here that we should ignore sex (e.g., in sport), and I think that specific part of the argument is wrong.

        1. I know it contradicts part of my initial sentence, but I do agree about sex differences. It would be great insofar as we don’t deny reality.

          I would even say there are some substantial differences between the races. (E.g. the violent crime differential between the races is bigger than the differential between the sexes.) Whether those differences are biological and thus intractable, I don’t know. But we should be as egalitarian as we can without denying the facts.

      2. The intended interpretation of “colorblind” and “sexblind” needs to be made clear. The whole point is that the rights, privileges and protections society extends to people should not be determined by morally-irrelevant differences between groups, even if those differences are substantial. Just like a 6′ tall person who drives drunk is no more nor less legally culpable than a 5′ person would be, since height is not a morally relevant difference, so the statistical differences between sexes, genders, races, and ethnicities should make no difference in the rights and protections afforded to each person, because those differences are not morally relevant. People who insist on treating the differences as relevant but non-existent are only muddying the waters. Of course we can see the differences- we aren’t blind after all. But the only thing that matters most is the characteristic common to us all- our shared humanity.

        It’s also important to note that statistical differences between groups are not the same thing as differences between members of those groups. This is a fallacy that lies at the heart of Wokism- treating individuals as though they were nothing more than points on an intersectionality diagram. Wokists are guilty of “individual-blindness”.

        An example of a morally relevant difference is age, since age correlates with the maturity level of the brain, which in turn correlates with the capacity for judgment and self-control. So for instance if an 25 year old male drives drunk, he is treated as an adult offender. If a 14 year old drives drunk, he is treated as juvenile offender, with different consequences that take his youth into account. If a 3 year old takes off in the family car, the parents are held accountable for their negligence allowing that to happen.

  3. Bio-essentialism is the philosophy that biology plays a larger role in determining human psychology or development than social, economic, or environmental factors.

    There’s currently a fight between Gender Critical Feminists and Trans Activists on the meaning and application of the term “bio-essentialism.” They both agree that it’s bad, but they’re both calling the other side bio-essentialist.

    In feminism, “bio-essentialism” usually referred specifically to the belief that men and women were destined by biology to fulfill different roles. Men were natural leaders and fit for bread-winning; women are natural followers and fit for home-making. Feminists didn’t necessarily deny biological tendencies in sex differences, just the idea that they were definitive. Gender Identity Theory, with its reliance on an innate sense of gender leading people to think and behave like the opposite sex, seems to support bio-essentialism.

    Trans Activists, on the other hand, not only deny that their use of gender has anything to do with bio-essentialist gender stereotypes but argue that linking the concepts of male and female to different reproductive systems is similarly bio-essentialist. Believe women are phenotypically structured around the production of large gametes and you also support the belief that a woman isn’t a real woman unless she’s a mother. Therefore it’s the GC who are “narrow-minded” bio-essentialists.

  4. Sidenote: When Jerry posted recently about a U of Michigan kerfuffle, he noted and wondered in passing why the UM had two seemingly overlapping Equity/DEI bureaucracies. I wondered, too, and wandered through the bowels (?) of the UM website(s). As suggested by this Oxford article, the older UM Equity group’s mission, in US terms, is Title IX investigation and enforcement; the newer DEI bureaucracy seems to be a post-Floyd, BLM, Crenshaw-hooks-Kendi outfit, with which type we are increasingly becoming familiar. Someone noted in the UM comments that the school had about 300,000 admin staff devoted to DEI issues; I suspect this is an exaggeration, but the DEI organizational chart did show over 35 pictures IIRC, and that didn’t include mere grunt staffers. One can imagine there may be some tension between the older and newer groups.

  5. Not that it matters (since the whole business of this women’s contemptible truckling to passing fashion is ridiculous anyway), the “Union” referred to in the Times article is NOT the historically famous Oxford Union: https://oxford-union.org

    The “Union ” that is the subject of this juvenile kerfuffle is a totally different organization, of much more recent origin.

  6. Forced apologies are a cheap way to win an argument when one’s case is weak. Apologizing is an admission of having lost the argument, regardless of the merits of your position. Like John McWhorter advises, it’s best not to play that game.

    There are other Woke techniques for shutting down debate, for instance claiming that your interlocutor lacks standing (e.g. “You’re not a woman, therefore your opinions about abortion are worthless”, “your views on racism are invalid because you aren’t Black”); ad hominem attacks (“the only reason you fail to use proper pronouns is that you are an unregenerate sexist”), etc.

    My preferred response is to ask follow up questions (“If a man’s argument has merit, why would it be irrelevant to the abortion debate?” “What if one woman is pro-choice and the other is anti-choice- how to judge who is right?”) One follow up question I personally love is “How can one tell if a comment *isn’t* racist?”, highlighting the fact that in Wokism there is no working concept of a Type 1 error, no way to misclassify non-racism as racism. This is clear in the view that intentions don’t matter- if a POC believes he is the victim of racism, he is. (A good follow up question here might be “but what if two PsOC perceive the same behavior on the part of a white person, and one takes that behavior to be racist and the other does not, who’s right? And why?”)

    Playing the Wokists’ games is dishonest in its own way, e.g. apologizing to people whose outrage is purely performative and when you are in fact right about the issue at hand. Realizing that fact, then having the courage not to play the game, may get you cancelled, but at least you won’t lose your mind or your integrity. And you may find yourself part of a much larger group of people quietly resisting tyranny; learning that you are not as alone as you may feel.

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