The Oxford Martin School has appointed the Professor of Modern History Selina Todd to lead the new programme ‘Women’s Equality and Inequality’. Along with co-lead Professor Senia Paseta, she will “identify drivers of individual upward mobility and of generational uplift that can help to eradicate educational and economic inequality for women around the world”, according to a statement from St Hilda’s College.
Professor Todd, whose writing includes research on working-class history, feminism, and inequality, has previously been accused of transphobia due to her self-described ‘gender-critical’ beliefs and is a “strong supporter” of Women’s Place UK, an organisation criticised by trans-rights groups.
Professor Todd and Professor Paseta both co-signed a 2018 letter to the Labour Party regarding the Party’s inclusion of transgender women within their all-women shortlists. The letter claimed that this stance was “asserting gender identity over sex-based exemptions” and did not uphold women’s rights to “sex-segregated spaces”. The letter continued that “we will not tolerate women being slurred with the misogynist insult TERF [Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist] or being called ‘cis’ against their will”.
An open letter to the University, signed by 400 students in its first 48 hours, speaks out against “two professors with a history of transphobia” leading the Oxford Martin School programme. It asks Todd and Paseta to “publicly commit to including trans women in their research.”
The open letter states: “We also fear the beliefs of these professors will negatively affect the scope and quality of research with which they are associated, resulting in the minimisation or neglecting of trans related issues.”
It further states that the appointment of Todd and Paseta “reinforce the feeling amongst trans students that the University does not care about their wellbeing”.
A spokesperson for the Oxford SU LGBTQ Campaign told Cherwell: “Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign of course welcomes the foundation of this programme, but finds the involvement of Selina Todd, whose anti-trans beliefs and activism is well-known, to a project that aims to help ‘eradicate educational and economic inequality for women around the world’ very troubling.
“When trans women of colour and those in the global south experience vastly higher levels of unemployment and poverty, this raises serious questions about the project’s commitment to uplifting all women rather than a select few.”
Selina Todd was disinvited from the Oxford International Women’s Festival in March on the basis of her views of gender identity. The Oxford University History Faculty criticised the decision, saying they could not “accepted the exclusion” of Selina Todd and that “it is not always straightforward to balance the rights of women with the rights of trans people”. Prior to Todd’s invitation being withdrawn, feminist writer Lola Olufemi dropped out of the event, mentioning Todd’s views on transgender women as a reason.
Todd has also supported Woman’s Place UK, an organisation which campaigns for sex-segregated spaces and promotes discussion about the impact of the Gender Recognition Act on cis women. The group has been criticised by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights, who called the group a “trans-exclusionary hate group”. The campaign’s pledges labelling WPUK as such were signed by politicians including Lisa Nandy, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dawn Butler, and Emily Thornberry.
The Oxford LGBTQ Student Union Campaign have previously described Woman’s Place UK as “transphobic”, arguing that they are “threatening trans people’s rights and safety”.
In a statement published by St Hilda’s College, Professor Todd said about the Oxford Martin School research: “We’re very proud that Oxford will be home to this new research programme on women’s equality and inequality. The idea for this initiative grew in part from a St Hilda’s research initiative called ‘Mind the Gap’, which brought together academics at all levels, including students, to discuss shared concerns in the research of inequality. That cross-disciplinary focus will also characterise this new research programme in Oxford’s Martin School.”
Professor Paseta said: “We are delighted to launch the Oxford Martin Programme on Women’s Equality and Inequality. We agree with Hilary Rodham Clinton that ‘women’s rights is the unfinished business of the 21st century’. Our research on women’s social mobility aims to contribute to the eradication of educational and economic inequality for women around the world.”
Neither Professor Todd or Professor Paseta responded to requests for comment.
Image Credit: David Levene and Eyevine.