An Oxford professor has been provided security by the University over fears she may face physical violence and intimidation from trans rights activists.
Selina Todd, a Professor in Modern History as St Hilda’s, has been criticised for a number of transphobic statements and her involvement with trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) groups.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Todd stated she requested the new security arrangements after she was informed by two students of threats made against her on email threads. The threats, as well as previous hostility to her views, left her feeling “vulnerable.”
Todd addressed the developments on Twitter, writing: “I understand those sceptical [about] how serious threats made towards me were/are. As a historian, I like robust evidence. But on basis of limited info me and my employer could get, we decided not to wait and see if I’d get hit in the face … before taking action.”
Threats to Todd have come from trans rights campaigners who take issue with her stances, such as keeping those who self-identify as women but are anatomically male, out of single sex refuges.
Todd added on Today: “When I first heard about the threats the thing that worried me was that I knew from my experience of speaking at women’s rights meetings that sometimes there had been attempts to disrupt those meetings.
“I was also struck that the University rightly I think did its own quick investigation and was convinced there was enough evidence to provide protection in the lectures.
“In the world today, democracy is under threat and therefore we all have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of debate.”
In a statement, the University said: “When staff raise concerns with us, the university will always review the circumstances and offer appropriate support to ensure their safety and their freedom of expression.”
Security for Todd comes after a row erupted over trans rights and academic freedom at Merton last week, regarding an event ‘Perspectives on trans intersectionality’.
The College withdrew a code of conduct which asked all participants to “refrain from using language or putting forward views intended to undermine the validity of trans and gender diverse identities,” in favour of a statement saying that “The University and College prioritise the protection both of academic freedom and of their members from unlawful discrimination.”
Todd described the original code of conduct as a “dangerous precedent” that had left her “stunned”.
She went on to say “I’m delighted that Merton College has upheld freedom of speech and the right to debate in accordance with College and University policy.”
Todd has a history of transphobic remarks and associations with TERF groups. She has previously retweeted transphobic groups on Twitter including the parody twitter account ‘British Gay Eugenics’. She retweeted a tweet from the group which joked: “Please join our MASSIVE thanks to @stonewalluk, @ruth_hunt, Gendered Intelligence, & Mermaids UK for helping #transawaythegay.
“Parents, there is an alternative to having an embarrassing gay son or lesbian daughter! All it takes is timely intervention!”
Todd also mocked a trans man who said he was happy after transitioning. She tweeted: “Here are lots of success stories as we #transawaythegay. Emmett wasn’t allowed to be a lesbian and had to wear skirts and makeup. But when he realised he was supposed to be a boy and started taking testosterone, his church accepted him. All better now!”
Outlining her perspective on trans rights, Todd wrote on her website: “As a gender critical feminist, I have seen my views misrepresented on social media and elsewhere. So here, I explain my views. By ‘gender critical’, I mean that I believe that men and women are defined by their sex, not by culturally constructed gender norms. You can’t change sex – biologically, that is impossible.
“I believe that UK law should remain as it is, with sex a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, against the claim of some trans activists that people should be able to define themselves as men or as women simply by describing themselves as such. The notion that people can ‘feel’ like a woman or like a man is highly 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. A movement that claims to be advocating a liberating kind of ‘fluidity’ is in fact reinforcing and promoting highly conservative gendered stereotypes.
“The claim that some people ‘naturally’ feel feminine is ahistorical, since it overlooks that what is understood as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ has changed over time.”
The protection accorded to Todd comes after attacks on other TERF academics. Julie Bindel attacked by a protestor after giving a talk on violence against women at the University of Edinburgh last year.
Bindel told The Independent in June that the attacker had screamed at her “saying that I was scum, I was a c***, I was filth,” before attempting “to punch me in the face but was dragged away by security.”
St Hilda’s have asserted their support for Todd. Claire Harvey, Communications Manager at St Hilda’s, said: “Security arrangements are a matter for the University. St Hilda’s College is committed to defending all college members’ rights to express their views.”
Harvey reiterated the college’s code on freedom of expression, as noted on the St Hilda’s website states: “It [freedom of expression] enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. It allows students, teachers, and researchers to become better acquainted with the variety of beliefs, theories, and opinions in the world. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful.
“Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive. The University must therefore foster freedom of expression within a framework of robust civility.”
Todd is a specialist in the history of the British working class, as well as women and feminism in modern Britain.