A professor who disagrees with her university on gender identity

The University of Rhode Island is distancing itself from a professor with gender and women’s studies who recently wrote about what it calls the “transsexual fantasy.”

“The ‘gender identity’ movement nullifies the freedom of expression and academic freedom of all those who do not conform to the rule, speak in opposition or even call for the right to debate,” said writes Professor Donna Hughes in a press release. recent test for 4W, a “fourth wave” feminist site. “People are losing their social media accounts or to be fired for “cheating on someone” or for failing to “assert” a person’s claimed “gender identity”.

In the meantime, said Hughes, “a growing number of adolescents are signing up for harmful treatment without anyone, not even parents, being allowed to intervene.”

Responding to criticism of the trial, URI this week posted a declaration saying that he “does not support the statements and publications of Professor Donna Hughes which espouse anti-transgender perspectives and recognize that such talk can cause pain and discomfort to many transgender people. The university is committed to transgender rights and the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against transgender people and the LGBTQIA + community.

At the same time, URI said, faculty members have the “same rights, obligations and responsibilities as other US citizens. The university honors and respects the First Amendment right to free speech for all citizens, including our professors, without censorship or retaliation. “

The URI said it also recognizes that its teachers “have the general right to” academic freedom “in their teaching and scholarship.” These rights are, however, “not unlimited,” the university said, “and should be exercised in a responsible manner with due regard to the faculty member’s other obligations, including his or her obligations to the students of the university and to the university community “.

Hughes said by email that the university’s statement is a “flagrant affront to my freedom of speech and my rights to academic freedom.” It is “clearly established that a public employee has the right to speak out as a private citizen on matters of public interest, and that is precisely what I have done.”

Samantha Harris, Hughes’ lawyer, said that “like professors across the country expressing views at odds with the mainstream orthodoxy on campus, Professor Hughes has become the target of an online lobbying campaign.” It involves an effort to get students to file complaints about her with the university and “pull her out,” Harris explained, citing a Twitter user.

The URI said its administration, College of Arts and Sciences and Department of Gender and Women Studies “now strive to support our students and the community as we go through – and learn – from this. situation ”.

Hughes, Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Chair in Gender and Women Studies at URI, has long written on controversial issues such as prostitution and has at times taken controversial positions about them: while some experts in gender studies believe that sex work is legitimate. a job that women can choose freely, Hughes believes there is a fine line between sex work and sex trafficking and that legalizing prostitution only helps pimps and clients, not sex workers.

Although divisive, most of Hughes’ arguments fell within accepted areas of academic debate. This foray into gender identity discourse is onerous, as many trans activists, allies and gender researchers say that asking to what extent trans women are women is transphobic and fanatic. Other researchers have dismissed this notion as censorship.

The most controversial academic arguments tend to focus on trans women, not trans men, as trans women and people – but not cisgender men – have been historically marginalized. Critics such as Hughes, who are sometimes ridiculed as radical trans-exclusionist feminists, or TERF, fear that the biological category of women will be erased, while trans women worry about further marginalization through exclusion from female spaces.

A “dystopia”

Hughes wrote in his essay, for example, that “the biological category of sex, especially female sex, is being broken. Women and girls are expected to abandon their private places such as toilets, changing rooms and even prison cells. When biological men identify as trans women, they can compete in both women’s and women’s sports.

In this “dystopia,” Hughes continued, “basic biological words like breast and vagina are replaced using misogynistic, transsexual / transgender language so that a woman has a “front hole” instead of a vagina; females “feed the breast” instead of nursing. All references to women disappear in terms such as: “people who are menstruating”, “people with uteri”, “a pregnant person” or “a parent who gives birth”.

These “redefinitions are a hatred directed at women’s bodies and their rights,” said Hughes, noting that there is no comparable pressure to rename men’s body parts.

Perhaps most controversial, Hughes wrote that young people are now “guided through hormonal and surgical horrors that deexual them.” Thanks to these interventions, “the female bodies of girls are permanently marked and destroyed”. On Twitter, Hughes retweeted content on women regretting having undergone “cutting-edge” surgery to assert a male gender identity from which they had since de-transitioned.

British academics have arguably become even more engaged on these topics in recent years, with the government considering a plan for such self-recognition. Some British feminist academics, including Kathleen Stock, opposite the plan on the grounds that it would cause unintentional damage. One of these commonly cited unintentional harms is that abandoning gender spaces would expose women to male violence. Trans activists stress that trans people face disproportionate levels of violence.

The British government recently abandoned the self-recognition plan. President Biden, meanwhile, has already signed an executive decree on preventing and combating discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. Many applauded this action. But Hughes wrote that it means that “the transsexual fantasy has imagined – and is implementing – a world in which what a man feels is more real than his actual reality.”

This makes the political left not all that different from conspiratorial and disinformation junkies on the far right, she said.

On Twitter, Hughes also shared critical of the Federal Equality Bill, which would redefine sex to include gender identity and sexual orientation.

By email, Hughes said it was “just sad that we have reached a point in society where difficult issues cannot be discussed freely and openly without resorting to personal attacks and calls for censorship.” .

The market for ideas, she added, “has collapsed and more and more university professors are terrified of speaking out on a wide range of important issues for fear that – as it seems to be happening here – they draw criticism from their students and their institution will throw them under the bus.

Hughes is a founding member of the Alliance for Academic Freedom, which was recently launched to defend the academic freedom of professors against attacks from the political left and right. Her case, she said, the protesters “precisely why the AFA was founded and is so necessary”.

Harris, Hughes ‘attorney, said URI is “obviously within its right to criticize” Hughes’ views, but the university’s statement appears to imply that the article may not be protected by the First Amendment “because she somehow failed to exercise proper restraint in expressing her opinion. That just isn’t the case.

The article is indeed protected speech, “outside of matters of academic freedom,” because Hughes was expressing her views as a citizen on an issue of public interest, Harris said. Hughes’ article did not mention her URI affiliation, and the fact that she is “well versed in the subject by virtue of her work does not turn that into a speech given in the course of her job.”

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