The panel, which will include speakers such as Oxford Professor Selina Todd, is described as focusing on “academic freedom and the current issues being faced by women”.
A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) are one of a growing number of groups many Oxford students and beyond describe as “TERFs” – trans-exclusionary radical feminists. ‘TERF’ groups argue that they have reasonable concerns about women’s safety and trans self-identification.
Media outlet Vox argues that a common theory in ‘TERF’ groups remains that all trans women are really men “who are the ultimate oppressors of women. Most of their ideas — like that trans women are a threat to cisgender women’s safety — are based on cherry-picked cases of horrific behavior [sic] by a small number of trans people.”
WPUK’s most recent interview “No child is born in the wrong body” argues against the existence of transgender or non-binary people, stating that Britain has “had very powerful lobby groups whose tactics have been threats, intimidation [and] distorting language”, allowing the incorrect view that children can be born in “the wrong body”.
Many worry that giving ‘TERF’ groups a larger platform is dangerous to the trans community and may promote transphobic sentiment. Earlier this year, a number of transphobic stickers were discovered around Oxford city centre. Though many of the stickers have now been replaced with pro-trans messages, there is concern that a publicised panel chaired by WPUK and featuring a number of well-known academics will do little to dissuade transphobic reactions across Oxford. Trans Action Oxford have released an open letter condemning the panel for making trans lives “harder, more precarious, and more dangerous”.
The group will be holding a “demonstration of solidarity” rather than directly protesting the event, which would “play into [WPUK’s] narrative of false victimhood” and their hope “to spread transphobic ideology in our city”. Current signatories include Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign, Oxford University Labour Club, and Oxford Feminist Society.
Oxford Feminist Society expressed disappointment at the event, stating: “At FemSoc we believe in equality for all, regardless of gender identity. We are extremely disappointed that Professor Todd will be on the panel and give full support and solidarity to Trans-Action Oxford and their demonstration against the event. “We hope that through this experience Professor Todd and others will learn that trans and non-binary people are just as valid in their gender identity and that groups like WPUK are not feminist if they are not intersectional.”
Todd is currently a professor of modern history at St Hilda’s whose research focuses on women’s lives, and won the Women’s History Network annual book prize for her first book. On her website, she describes herself as a “gender critical feminist [who] encountered the current debate about whether transgender people should be able to self-identify as such (without fulfilling other legal and medical requirements) from the instinctive standpoint that I wanted to support transpeople’s rights. But after months of research, I concluded that this position would harm the rights of women, because so often what is being asked for is free access to women-only spaces.
“I then began to question the whole premise that someone can ‘transition’ from being a man to a woman or vice versa. She adds: “You can’t change sex – biologically, that is impossible. And the notion that people can ‘feel’ like a woman or like a man seems socially conservative, implying as it does that being a woman rests on dressing or behaving in a ‘feminine’ way. Being a woman rests both on certain biological facts and on the experience of living in the world as a woman, from birth, an experience that is shaped by particular kinds of oppressions.”
Professor Todd has been approached for comment.