Cambridge University ‘Terf-spotting’ guide condemned as a ‘witch-finder’s charter’

·4-min read
The guide was fronted by the Cambridge SU women's officer, who uses he/him and they/them pronouns - iStockphoto
The guide was fronted by the Cambridge SU women's officer, who uses he/him and they/them pronouns - iStockphoto

The women’s officer of Cambridge University’s Students Union has been condemned after issuing a guide on how to spot "Terfs".

Students have been advised to "keep an eye out" for those who think biological sex is binary and that only women can experience misogyny.

"Terf", which stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist, is generally used as a derogatory term for those who argue biological sex cannot be changed and that women-only spaces should not be opened to male-born trans women.

The document, published among resources on housing and exams advice, was drawn up by Milo Eyre-Morgan, the elected women’s officer, who goes by the pronouns he/him or they/them and vows to represent "marginalised genders".

The new Cambridge guide, promoted by the women’s officer on Monday, lists several "signs of a Terf".

The guide goes on to say that "some people who experience misogyny are not women", and urges students to be "allies" by "keeping an eye out for this way of thinking" in any feminist works they study.

'Terf ideology is a specific form of transphobia'

It claims "Terf ideology is a specific form of transphobia" and gives tips for "talking to Terfs" in-person and online.

It adds: "The core characteristics of Terfs are a conservative, binary, essentialist conception of sex as the be-all-end-all, and a deep hatred for trans women, couched in the language of feminism and feminist theory."

James Orr, assistant professor in philosophy of religion at Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity, compared the document to a guide on "how to spot a witch".

"It’s an attempt to set out a witch-finder's charter and it's driven by ideology not reason," he said. "This is an extremely sinister development and is effectively incentivising behaviour among students that is wholly opposed to the flourishing of any serious intellectual culture.

"These are perfectly plausible and defensible positions to hold, not immoral and not even close to being unlawful, and should be able to be expressed freely - especially if you think they are wrong. How long before people wake up to this crisis?"

'Trans rights and women’s rights should both be protected'

A third-year Cambridge philosophy student at Clare College, who wished to stay anonymous, said: "There is not enough transparency from the SU; gender identity is grounded in biological sex.

"Trans rights and women’s rights and both should be protected. To ensure healthy discussion, you should have a separate elected women’s officer and an elected trans officer."

The issue was further highlighted this week after anonymous trans activists at Sussex University launched a campaign to fire Professor Kathleen Stock.

Prof Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, recently published a book questioning the idea that gender identity is more "socially significant" than biological sex.

She has also previously questioned the idea that men who feel like women should have automatic access to women-only facilities such as changing rooms, or be allowed to appear on women-only shortlists or sports teams.

Amid threats of violence and death, police advised Prof Stock to teach classes online and install CCTV outside her home, with possible bodyguards when she does return to campus.

'I do worry there are pressures towards restricting free speech'

Dr Arif Ahmed, a reader in philosophy at Cambridge, said: "The current persecution of Kathleen Stock has contributed to an atmosphere in higher education where one side of a very important public policy debate feels unable to speak out and in some cases probably is.

"I do worry that at Cambridge, as at any other university, there are pressures towards restricting free speech on this issue and my greatest fear is that these will be translated into disciplinary policy and official guidance from the top.

"Freedom is not a natural state of humanity, it is something we always have to protect."

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has made clear that gender-critical viewpoints on the trans debate are lawful and deserve to be heard.

The University of Cambridge said it "supports lawful debate and freedom of expression for all members of its community, including the discussion of controversial or unpopular opinions and ideas".

A spokesman added: "The Students’ Union is contributing to an active social debate. We do not tolerate intimidation or harassment of people for their lawful views on any subject."

Cambridge SU was approached for comment.

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