Elsa Field has resigned as the Magdalen JCR’s LGBTQ representative after an article written for the St. John’s Gender Equality Festival zine attracted criticism from prominent figures around the University.
The article, entitled ‘What is a woman?’, has been described as “incredibly transphobic” by Rowan Davis, the trans rep for the University’s LGBTQ society, whilst OUSU VP for Women Anna Bradshaw tweeted that she was “saddened by St John’s Gender Equality Festival zine. I strongly disagree w TERF [Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist] article “What Is a Woman?” & am upset to be published near it”.
Field’s resignation comes after the committee behind St John’s Gender Equality Festival were forced to apologise for the offensive article. The apology — which was signed by the majority of the committee, but notably not the zine’s Editor Ruth Maclean and two others, who have since been asked to step down — read, “We, the members of the Gender Equality Festival Committee, unreservedly apologise for the inclusion of the piece ‘What is a woman?’ in the Gender Equality Festival Zine. We do not agree with platforming views in our zine that contribute to a culture of oppression and fear, even in a situation where the publication was trying to remain neutral.” When asked by Cherwell, Ruth Maclean declined to comment.
In a statement circulated to the Magdalen JCR by President Fabian Apel, Elsa Field commented, “I have decided to step down because my position as welfare representative for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students at Magdalen is compromised by my own personal political views. I believe that it is too much for one student to understand and encompass all of the welfare issues that these different groups may face. The position of LGBTQ officer necessitates one to possess an entirely neutral political perspective, which is not a position I am prepared to take.”
She continued, “I see this as a structural problem and will not apologise for the views expressed in my article ‘What is a Woman?’ published by St John’s College JCR. I feel my views have been massively misinterpreted by opponents of the article, but I apologise for any hurt or offence my views have caused. That was never my intention. I realise that as a welfare representative it was unwise of me to express these views in a student publication and I apologise for that misjudgement on my part. Although I will no longer be in an official welfare position, I would like all LGBTQ students at Magdalen to know that I still offer my support and I will always be willing to discuss any issues they may face.”
Commenting further to Cherwell, Field said, “I feel I have been personally victimised by members of the Oxford trans community and by the organisers of the St John’s Gender Equality Festival. My views have been silenced purely because they are perceived to be offensive by some people. In my mind, that is not a good enough reason to silence someone.”
Saddened by StJohn’s Gender Equality Festival zine. I strongly disagree w TERF article “What Is a Woman?” & am upset to be published near it
— Anna Bradshaw (@OUSU_Women) October 18, 2014
Former Wadham SU Vice-President Adam Roberts disagreed with Field’s complaint about being refused a platform. Speaking in an article for Cherwell, he argued, “No-one seriously believes that refusing a platform to transphobes or fascists will extinguish their views or make those who want to know about them unable to find out about them. This is, after all, the age of the Internet.”
Meanwhile Apel himself told Cherwell, “Her article does not represent the views of Magdalen JCR. Unrelatedly, I am very grateful for the work she has done over the first two terms in office, especially with regards to convincing the Governing Body of flying the rainbow flag for the first time in the College’s history. It should go without saying Magdalen JCR takes the welfare of all its members extremely seriously, obviously including all trans* students at Magdalen.”
St John’s Gender Equality Week has begun as planned this evening and although copies of the festival’s zine are remain available, attempts have been made to censor the article in question.