A “burn the witch” ideology

Gwyneth Rees at the Telegraph talks to Jo Phoenix:

She explains how the gender critical research network, which launched in June 2021 with just a handful of people, initially had the backing of OU. Prof Phoenix and her fellow lead, Prof Jon Pike, promoted it with a podcast and interest poured in from academics across the world. It was, she says, one of the proudest moments of her life

But then, less than 24 hours after its launch, trans activists got wind of the project and the “onslaught began”. She admits now that she was terribly naive: “I thought I was protected because I was a senior professor.”

I don’t call that naïve. The level of bullying and backstabbing that goes with being a “trans ally” is astounding. Remember when feminism was reawakened back in the 1970s and everyone who resisted was hounded out of careers and friendships? No, of course you don’t, because it didn’t happen. Why has it happened, and with such intensity, over the nonsense of trans ideology? I have no idea; I’ll never understand it. It’s not naïve to find it incomprehensible.

She had, in fact, already been drawing attention to herself for her views. In October 2018, she was one of 54 academics who signed an open letter to the Guardian voicing concern over the stifling of gender-critical research at universities.

Five months later, in March 2019, Prof Phoenix gave a talk for Woman’s Place UK where she said she did not believe trans women were women.

Both of these incidents led to fierce backlash – online and in person – from colleagues, students and trans activists. A criminology talk she had been scheduled to give at Essex University in December 2019 was cancelled at the last minute, after protesters labelled her a transphobe and the university said it couldn’t guarantee her safety.

“I spent two years being silenced, ostracised and isolated,” she says. “Colleagues and trans activists were sending emails to my dean asking for me to be removed.”

All because she knows that men are not women.

I suppose that’s why the bullying is so off the charts. It’s because the thing the bullying is defending is so utterly stupid. The bullies compensate for the childish belief system by pouring on the venom and acid.

Prof Phoenix was particularly hurt when 368 of her OU colleagues signed an open letter against her, accusing the network – and by association, her – of being transphobic. One colleague likened her to a “racist uncle”, another compared to a holocaust denier.

Pointedly, she tells me that the university never protected her, not once putting out a statement to clarify her work was valid research. “I always wanted to work for OU. They were set up to break down barriers, and with women in mind. I took a huge pay cut to move there. I have been heartbroken that it came to this.”

The Open University stopped being Open.

Fast forward to today, and she has been almost totally vindicated. This week, the tribunal judgment upheld 20 out of 22 claims against the university. It also made it clear that their discrimination against Prof Phoenix was motivated by a “fear of the pro-gender-identity section” of the university.

So not belief in the ideology, but fear of the ideologues. What an excellent situation for a university to be in.

She feels the attacks on her and other academics are nothing other than “good old-fashioned sexism” – a “burn the witch” ideology against women speaking up for female rights.

That’s exactly what it is, and it’s women carrying some of the torches. “Burn her, not me.”

Her life has, thankfully, moved on. She is now deputy head of the school of law at Reading University, which she credits for being her “safe harbour”.

As for the network, “It’s limping on,” she says, adding: “There is a chance I will set up a new gender critical research network… so watch this space.

“But that’s what this ruling does – allows researchers to know they can go about their work freely, and if they are attacked or harassed, the universities have to protect them or face the consequences.


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