University of Edinburgh academics demand cancellation of book on sex and gender

October 12, 2023 • 11:45 am

One thing that seems clear, at least to me, is that Scotland is woker than England, for you see more stuff like this happening to the North of Blighty than from its south. But even if you disagree with my assessment, it’s hard to approve of the bad behavior of academics from the University of Edinburgh who are calling for the banning of a book on sex and gender. The article below comes is from the Times of London; click below to read, and if it’s paywalled you can find it archived here.

It’s a simple matter of ignorance and censoriousness, with the excuse that the book promotes “transphobia”—which means it has an honest discussion of trans issues.   An excerpt from the Times:

Academics at the University of Edinburgh have been accused of an “horrific” and “nonsensical attack” on free speech after calling for the launch of a book about gender politics to be cancelled.

Members of the University and College Union have written to an estimated 2,000 staff and research students calling for a protest at the event on Wednesday and told Sir Peter Mathieson, the university principal, it should be scrapped.

The union branch said essays in the book, Sex and Gender: A Contemporary Reader, reduce “trans people to an abstract anomaly or sinister cabal” and breached the Equality Act.

It told union members in a mass mailing of its “concerns about the launch of a transphobic book on campus” and said it would be holding a protest at the event. The claims were rejected out of hand by contributors to the book and by other academics.

UCU Edinburgh was previously criticised for preventing free speech after it twice supported demonstrations and stopped the screening of the documentary Adult Human Female, billed as a critique of “transgender ideology”.

Shereen Benjamin, a senior lecturer in primary education, and a contributor to the book, said the UCU’s claims were “outrageous”, adding that she was horrified by the email to academic colleagues.

Benjamin said: “The individuals in charge of the branch have used their position to try to suppress legitimate academic discussion where it challenges views they personally hold, by exploiting policies intended to make the university a decent, fair environment, and smearing anyone who disagrees with them.”

. . .In its letter to Mathieson, the UCU accused Benjamin, a founder of the Edinburgh branch of Academics for Academic Freedom, of “debunking” the rights of trans people.

I haven’t found the email from the Union, which is a student group, but the UCU Edinburgh is clearly deeply Pecksniffian, having stopped the screening of a movie that, while you may disagree with it, makes some good points and certainly doesn’t deserve banning. (You can see the whole movie free on Youtube.)

Of course if you say anything that’s not 100% in agreement with the assertions of trans activists, you’re going to get labeled a “transphobe”, even if you  simply disagree with the right of trans women to compete in women’s athletics. The way the ideologues control discourse is to make their opponents so fearful of being called names that the opponents shut up (it’s worked with critics of “indigenous ways of knowing” in New Zealand). If that fails, try to ban their books.

A form of this banning is the refusal of scientific journals to publish criticism of weak papers.  One example occurred when Colin Wright wrote to the editors of  Integrative and Comparative Biology asking if several of us could submit a critique of a dreadful paper they published, “Multimodal models of animal sex: breaking binaries leads to a better understanding of ecology and evolution” (see here and here for some criticisms).  Colin never got a response after writing the editors several times. This is reprehensible behavior on their part, and, worse, it’s their attempt to promulgate dubious science by simply censoring its opponents.  They want to avoid social media criticism: what a great excuse for suppressing scientific discourse!

But I digress. Edinburgh Uni has issued a statement saying what’s below, which is a bit self-contradictory:

Edinburgh University said it attached great importance to freedom of expression and academic freedom and “would not seek to influence any lawful events held on our campus”.

A spokeswoman added: “Given the size of our community, it is inevitable that there will be differing views and opinions. We always encourage respectful debate and discussion, and we remain steadfast in our determination to facilitate a safe environment where challenging topics can be explored. We also firmly uphold the right of people to take part in peaceful and lawful protest.

But an environment that explores challenging topics will be perforce deemed UNSAFE, so how do they deal with that? But I do trust that Edinburgh Uni will take no steps to censor or ban this book. It’s always the students who make all the noise.

But is the book “transphobic”? Have a look at the description of the book and title page here:

The title page:

I don’t see anything obviously transphobic here, but of course the Pecksniffs can find something in this lineup of sex and gender criminals to foster banning the book. Where is ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio when we need him?  Sadly, he can’t stop the circulation of this book, because the kerfuffle is in the U.K.

17 thoughts on “University of Edinburgh academics demand cancellation of book on sex and gender

  1. I haven’t found the email from the Union, which is a student group, …

    Jerry, the UCU is not a student group, it’s the UK’s trade union for university lecturers. It is indeed uber-woke.

    1. UCU is indeed the trade union for lecturers, and I used to be a member. A couple of years ago, Jo Phoenix, a criminologist at the Open University where I work, was harassed, persecuted and compared to a racist for her gender critical views (she had the temerity to argue that male-bodied offenders should not be housed in women’s prisons), and eventually forced to resign. The UCU offered her no support whatsoever. In protest I left the UCU. Some time later they sent me an email asking if I would consider rejoining. I said that I might rejoin if they told me what they had done to support Jo Phoenix. I received no reply.

      Phoenix (who is one of the contributors to the Sex and Gender book) is currently bringing an employment tribunal claim against the Open University. I hope she wins.

      1. There have been some jaw-dropping moments in Jo Phoenix’s tribunal so far. Yesterday, we found out that the Open University’s head of HR has never read Jo’s grievance document despite being on a working group dealing with the fallout from it and now appearing as a witness in a three-week legal proceeding. We also learned that at least two extremely similar grievances were dealt with but not disclosed by the OU and the employment judge was not at all happy!

  2. If I may :

    The earliest use I can find so far for “gender” outside of language/linguistics is in the 1908 publication – or rather occult (by their own definition) doctrine – The Kybalion – A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of
    Ancient Egypt and
    by The Three Initiates:

    See Chapters:

    XII. Gender
    XIV. Mental Gender

    Two short excerpts I think are useful:

    “At this point we think it well to call your attention to the fact that Gender, in its Hermetic sense, and Sex in the ordinarily accepted use of the term, are not the same.
    The word “Gender” is derived from the Latin root meaning “to beget; to procreate; to generate; to create; to produce.” ​A moment’s consideration will show you that the word has a much broader and more general meaning than the term “Sex,” the latter referring to the physical distinctions between male and female living things. Sex is merely a manifestation of Gender on a certain plane of the Great Physical Plane—the plane of organic life.”

    “The “I” represents the Masculine Principle of Mental Gender—the “Me” represents the Female Principle. The “I” represents the Aspect of Being; the “Me” the Aspect of Becoming. You will notice that the Principle of Correspondence operates on this plane just as it does upon the great plane upon which the creation of Universes is performed. The two are similar in kind, although vastly different in degree. “As above, so below; as below, so above.”


    To compare, other extant Hermetic cult symbolism includes The Caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius in medicine. But they are not used in any specific way I know of.

    I’m not arguing here (trying not to), just making a record of this word and concept “gender”.

    1. Useful, though. I think the early definition aligns with how we’d use these terms today, although it reads more than a bit convoluted.

      1. “we’d”

        There’s that word again – “we”.

        If that “we” Includes Gayle Rubin, count me out.

    2. Modern Genderists, who believe that “sex” should be replaced with “gender” in law and society, would no doubt try to argue strenuously against this interpretation of the term. It leans too heavily on Spirituality and is too firmly anchored in the concepts of masculinity and femininity. Gender Identity is different.

      How it’s different is seldom spelled out, however, which means they wouldn’t be able to argue too strenuously. More objection than argument, really.

      You have to feel a bit sorry for people in a University setting who want the “lived experience” of an extraordinary claim to replace all academic analysis and skeptical discussion of that extraordinary claim. It’s like showing up for an in-depth exploration of the history of music with a kazoo, and trying to drown it out.

      1. “Gender Identity is different.”

        I need to get the literature in which Stoller and Money conjure “gender identity”, and the references therein.

        Somehow, I find it hard to imagine they, nor Judith Butler, never having read The Kybalion. Since it is a secret mystical cult, they wouldn’t ever have to cite it – as “gender” is simply “common knowledge”.

        But as we know, we should never underestimate any given word in post-anythingism. They use the “motte” to achieve their “bailey”. See the “Motte and Bailey fallacy”.

        1. I haven’t studied The Kybalian but this way of carving reality up into a Masculine Principle and Feminine Principle has very ancient roots in both Western and Eastern religions/philosophies. I don’t think the similarities are necessarily a smoking gun that it’s the source.

          Jane Claire Jones calls the hierarchical conceptual binary of masculine/feminine the “ur-binary”

          …to the extent that ALL of the binary pairs which structure Western thought (mind/body, reason/emotion, thought/sensation, universal/particular, one/many etc.) are gendered, and without exception, the ‘positive’ pole of the binary is masculine. Male and female is not a binary, it is a natural difference.

          Failure to distinguish between philosophical binaries and natural differences is what she considers a clumsy and dramatic conceptual mistake. She wrote one of the “transphobic” chapters. Here’s a bit more on the topic:

          1. Yes, from my readings, the connection back to the Greeks is there – I just have not gotten a crystal clear view. I’ll of course fill in as I read.

            I would draw attention to the “the same in kind – just different in degree” in the passage above (if I included it) – this is a core idea of alchemy. This idea occurs all over the place once one is trained on the pattern (I only recognized it a few years ago).

            Of course, this predates empirical understanding of life. So there is good reason to scrutinize such notions, as discernment is the key to understanding anything.

          2. This essay is excellent.

            To connect to that, I’d point out chapter X of The Kybalion is “Polarity”… which also shows “excellence”, but of a VERY different kind (if I may attempt some alchemy myself!).

      2. “It’s like showing up for an in-depth exploration of the history of music with a kazoo, and trying to drown it out.”
        Oh, Sastra. That’s good. The hammer of your humorous metaphor has hit the nail of their silliness square on the head.

  3. Perhaps slightly off topic here, but once again I am aghast at the ACLU’s continuing betrayal of what used to be their guiding principles. But the woke faction has prevailed and debased the organization’s mission, which now works to suppress speech that it doesn’t like. I have hoped that the organization could regain its vision, but obviously that has not yet happened and now it seems as if it never will. Deeply saddening.

  4. Meanwhile in Glasgow, Europe’s biggest conference for feminists, FiLiA, begins today. (One thousand women from more than thirty countries are attending, including the UN Special Reporter on Violence against Women and Girls. Another 800 women were unable to get tickets because the event is fully booked.)

    The venue was initially bullied by trans activists into cancelling the booking at extremely short notice, but changed its mind when FiLiA threatened to bring legal action. But, of course, women can’t be allowed to meet and discuss things in peace, so this happened:

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