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Oxford professor disinvited from conference

Selina Todd, who teaches modern history St Hilda’s college, had her invitation rescinded from a feminist conference where she was due to speak on Saturday 29th February.

The event, which took place at Exeter College as part of Oxford International Women’s Festival, marks 50 years since the first Women’s Liberation meeting was held at Ruskin College, Oxford. Todd, whose work specialises in the history of feminism and class relations in Britain, had helped to organise the event and was due to give a brief introductory address.

The 1970 Women’s Liberation meeting is regarded as an important landmark in feminist history, which kickstarted the second wave of feminism. 

Selina Todd has attracted controversy for her involvement with Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), an organisation set up in 2017 to highlight women’s concerns about proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. These changes would make any person’s legally recognised sex a matter of self-declaration, and some feminists are concerned that this would undermine legal protections based on sex as a protected characteristic.

However, trans rights organisations as well as many others regard this concern as transphobic and WPUK as a transphobic group.

The event organisers did not respond to our request for comment.

In a statement for Cherwell, Todd said “ I am shocked to have been no-platformed by this event, organised by Oxford International Women’s Festival and hosted at Exeter College. I was asked to participate in October 2019, and I explained to the organisers that some trans activists may object to my being there. In fact, trans activists had already tried to shut the conference down because they claimed second-wave feminism was inherently trans-exclusionary.”

“However, the organisers decided that as a historian of feminism and working-class women, they would like to invite me, and were open to many different points of view being expressed at their event. I was delighted. I am deeply interested in the history of the WLM [Women’s Liberation Movement]— my first academic article focused on it— and my parents met at Ruskin shortly before the first conference was held there.” 

“Between October 2019 and February 2020 I helped the organisers to get support from Oxford History Faculty and to find media contacts. I was stunned to receive a phone call at 6pm on the evening before the conference telling me that I had been no-platformed because of pressure from trans activists and Feminist Fightback.” 

“I refute the allegation that I am transphobic.”  

The student advocacy group Trans Action Oxford told Cherwell: “Trans Action Oxford had no role in the decision to disinvite Selina Todd, and did not call for it. Our stance on giving platforms to bigots like Todd is clear: at a time when trans people are under vicious attack in the press, it is dangerous and irresponsible. Todd is a transphobe, and she is regularly given a platform by the press to spread her hatred. To claim she is being ‘silenced’ is laughable, and we call for trans voices to be uplifted and our oppression highlighted in place of her hatred.”

Neither Oxford International Women’s Festival nor the conference appears to have issued any public statement on Todd’s disinvitation, and she is still listed as a speaker on the programme published online. A photograph circulated online seems to show a programme used at the event with Todd’s name covered by tape.

In footage of the event posted anonymously on YouTube, one of the event organisers is seen explaining that they were forced to disinvite Selina Todd due to threats from other speakers to pull out if she was involved.

Lola Olufemi, a feminist writer, had posted on Twitter on the previous afternoon that she was withdrawing from the conference “because of their clear links with Woman’s Place UK […] They have no place in my vision or understanding of the political possibilities that feminism offers us.” A statement from Olufemi was read at the event, which said that she had withdrawn because “the organisers had clearly not done enough to investigate speakers’ links to Woman’s Place UK— a clearly transphobic organisation— or to ensure that members of this group would not be in attendance.”

In this same footage, audience members including prominent feminist Julie Bindel are seen questioning the decision to de-platform Selina Todd, and asking for a show of hands to gauge support for her.

The event organisers explain themselves first by arguing that Selina Todd’s talk wasn’t important anyway, and then saying that they had proposed a “compromise”: Todd was “welcome” to attend the event as an audience member but not to give her scheduled address.

After around fifteen minutes of heckling from the audience, one of the event organisers ends up saying that she would invite Todd back to the conference, except that “I don’t have her phone number.”

Prior to this, the organisers are seen reading out a statement from John Watts, Chair of the History Faculty Board, in response to Todd’s disinvitation. He said: “We cannot accept the exclusion of our respected colleague Selina Todd from speaking at this event. As an academic department we simply cannot accept the no platforming of people who hold and express lawful views.”

Samira Ahmed, the presenter who recently won a pay discrimination case against the BBC, also reportedly criticised the decision to no-platform Todd during her scheduled talk at the same event.

Cherwell has previously reported on remarks made by Todd that were criticised for being transphobic. She has previously retweeted a parody account called ‘British Gay Eugenics’, which claims that young people are being pushed towards transgender identities as an alternative to being gay or gender non-conforming. She retweeted a tweet from the account 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!”

In another tweet, referencing a trans man who said he was happy after transitioning, Todd wrote: “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.”

In January this year, Cherwell and other news outlets reported that the University had issued Selina Todd with security personnel at her lectures, after she received a tip off from two students that threats had been made against her. 

The protection accorded to Todd comes after attacks on other feminists who oppose the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Julie Bindel was 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.”

In December 2018, Rosa Freedman, a law professor at the University of Reading, said that she had received phone calls making death and rape threats and had urine poured under the door of her office, in retaliation for her public views on gender issues.

A spokesperson for Exeter College wrote in a statement on Saturday “In May 2019, Exeter College, Oxford, agreed to provide the venue for the Women’s Liberation at Fifty conference, in enthusiastic celebration of all that the feminist movement stands for, and in recognition of the symbolic importance of the former Ruskin College site, which now houses Exeter College Cohen Quad. Exeter College has played no role at any stage in the taking of decisions about the programme or its speakers.”

“Exeter College is committed to the open and respectful discussion of ideas and to providing a supportive and inclusive environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected and valued, and in which people can work and study, without fear of discrimination or harassment.”

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