A Melbourne academic believes women are not standing up for their rights to have female-only spaces—like single-gender changing rooms—because they will be targeted as transphobic.
Alongside this, she believes that the increasing encroachment of gender-neutral language, such as “chest-feeding” and “gestational carrier,” is impacting the rights of women; who are allowing it for the sake of being “progressive,” without pausing to consider whether it is in the interests of women.
“I think women’s feminine socialisation makes them very considerate about other people’s feelings, and about protecting anyone perceived to be vulnerable, and there’s a lot of rhetoric around about how vulnerable people with gender identities are,” Holly Lawford-Smith told The Epoch Times.
For this reason, Lawford-Smith thinks women feel a tension between speaking up about keeping women’s spaces gendered and being inclusive or kind. Even if that means saying no to allowing men who identify as women, or as no gender, in women’s-only spaces.
“I also think many women are frightened to speak up even when they know that they want to stand for women, because of the social costs of doing so,” Lawford-Smith said.
Lawford-Smith, an associate professor in political philosophy at the University Of Melbourne, has experienced this cost.
She has been banned from Twitter for speaking on the issue and is currently at the centre of a growing backlash from fellow academics after she launched a website to collect data on the experiences of women in women-only spaces that they feel has been invaded by individuals who identify as women.
The website, called “No Conflict, They Said,” was launched on Feb. 23 to open up the discussions on transgender rights legislation that seeks to “replace sex with gender identity” in Australia and globally. It also provides anecdotal evidence on the impacts of the legislation on women and their environments.
The website, which has amassed nearly 900 anonymous submissions from Australia, America, the UK, and Canada, is filled with accounts of women who have experienced increasing difficulties in their work or social environments.
Lawford-Smith told The Sydney Morning Herald, “No governments are gathering data on this, there’s no place in the world for people to report where creepy things are happening in women’s bathrooms or women’s changing rooms or rape support groups.
“I’d prefer the data, but in lieu of that, we can at least have the stories, and maybe then that will give us what we need to go to governments and say, ‘Let’s have a more nuanced conversation,'” she said.
Since the website’s launch, over 300 academics and students globally have signed an open letter directed to the university’s Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Arts condemning Lawford-Smith and her website over “the promotion of academic materials that encourage transphobia.”
“We strongly question the ethics of this website which appears ripe for promoting misinformation about trans people that may lead to further vilification,” the open letter by Hannah McCann, a senior lecturer in cultural studies, said.
“[T]he content produced and promoted by this staff member contravenes the university’s Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Policy and raises serious questions about research integrity at the university,” the letter continued.
McCann believes the website is in conflict with the “values of the university as a safe and inclusive space.”
However, in response, a spokesperson for the University of Melbourne told The Sydney Morning Herald that academics are “encouraged to engage in public debate.”
“The views they express are personal, not those of the university,” said the spokesperson. “The university is committed to principles of academic freedom of expression and to fostering a diverse, respectful and inclusive community.”
The attacks are not just from the academic community, with cyberattacks also targeting the website in an attempt to stop submissions.
Lawford-Smith told The Epoch Times that the aggressive backlash against any discussion around the issue of gender was often due to the misunderstanding of the issue. She said that many people think “gender identity is just a new word for an old idea, something like being transsexual or having severe bodily dysphoria.”
“It isn’t. It’s a whole new thing, and it’s a vague, nebulous, unscientific thing that nonetheless activists are fighting to replace sex with. But sex matters,” Lawford-Smith said.
However, the growing number of submissions to Lawford-Smith’s website suggests a broader issue in the community.
One published submission from a woman in America claimed that signs were put up in all bathrooms on her college campus asking occupants not to stare or question the transgender women—whose biological sex were male—who used the bathroom during the woman’s freshman year.
She wrote that a man who identified as a woman would knock on the shower doors on some occasions and would then “immediately open it before listening for a response.”
“However, unfortunately, the other female students still treated him as a woman, even though he walked in on them showering,” the submission stated.
Another submission from Melbourne, in Australia, spoke about how her women’s football team were pushed into accepting biological men who identified as women, by the gender non-conforming team members. The author explained her sadness and concern that biological men would be allowed into female change rooms.
“The culture of ‘inclusion’ meant that no one felt like they could speak against this policy,” the anecdote’s author wrote.
“So many women just left the team without saying anything. I didn’t bother joining another team in the hope that it remained women-only because I know it will be the same everywhere, eventually,” she said. “I loved being part of a women-only team, there was something special about being around other women without men, and I’m sad that it’s not possible anymore.”
However, McCann told The Sydney Morning Herald that the published stories amount to nothing more than “fear-mongering” and added that since writing about it on Twitter on Feb. 24, she had received submissions from 50 people who posted stories of positive encounters with transwomen.