No Segregation in the Marketplace of Ideas

Last month, Universities UK, an umbrella organization representing institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom, published guidelines for how colleges could host controversial speakers on campus in a way that respects both free-speech and anti-discrimination laws. Among their case studies was the hypothetical example of a fundamentalist religious speaker who wanted his audience to be segregated by gender. Shockingly, Universities UK concluded that such a demand can and should be agreed to, as long as the men-only and women-only seating areas were side-by-side and one wasn’t in back:

On the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.

…Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues, but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief.

Yes, you read that right. Universities UK really did make the “separate but equal” argument that’s long been used as to prop up all kinds of vile bigotry – for example, the Jim Crow-era racists who argued that laws against interracial marriage were fair because they restricted the freedom of whites and blacks in the same way. They even hinted, none too subtly, that preventing a religious group from imposing gender segregation at a public event might be considered an infringement on their free speech rights. Polly Toynbee said that the policy “give[s] the sexist eccentricities of some religions priority over women’s rights”.

And this isn’t a hypothetical problem. In the U.K., there have been a few well-publicized examples of religious zealots trying to enforce gender apartheid at their events, including one case in which the atheist speaker threatened to walk out of a debate until the organizers relented. This has mostly been a problem with Islamist speakers up till now, but we could easily imagine it happening in other belief systems as well, like ultra-Orthodox Jews (who also ask for gender apartheid in public) or Quiverfull Christians.

After a firestorm of protest, including criticism from Prime Minister David Cameron, this week Universities UK caved in and withdrew this bad advice. But segregation still has its defenders, including some well-meaning but badly mistaken liberals, as I found out on Twitter:

The argument seems to be that the only way we can defeat extremist views is by engaging them in debate; but if we won’t bow to the extremists’ demands for a segregated audience, they won’t debate at all. Therefore, the only way we can confront and refute them is by giving in to any conditions they set to grace us with their presence.

To be clear, I agree that the proper way to defeat extremists is to engage them in debate. (I was in favor of Columbia University inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in 2007, so that his repugnant, ridiculous opinions on gay people and the Holocaust could be roundly mocked.) However, I disagree fiercely with the idea that drawing them out is so important that we have to accede to any sexist or racist demands they make.

In a free society, everyone has the right to speak their mind, even if their views are repugnant to the majority. But no one has the right to control the composition of their audience. If bigots want to speak at private, invitation-only events, they can set whatever rules their hosts will abide. But if they want to take part in a forum that’s open to the public, they have no right to dictate who can attend or under what conditions. If they won’t participate unless they can make up their own rules, then they just won’t participate, and that’s absolutely fine with me. I have no sympathy for those who cry that their freedom is being silenced when they can’t enforce bigoted, freedom-limiting rules on others.

If we conclude that we have to allow religious groups to discriminate so as not to prevent them from speaking their minds, we’re plunging down a dangerous spiral. What if a fundamentalist speaker would only agree to appear if no women were allowed to speak anywhere on campus that day? What if he demanded editorial control over any press coverage of the event? The only place to cut off this slippery slope is at the beginning: to declare firmly that the public sphere is open to everyone and that no one has to accept unjust treatment as the price of participating in the marketplace of ideas. Neither religion nor any kind of belief entitles anyone to walk around in a bubble of special rules which they can enforce on everyone they come into contact with.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • L.Long

    “The argument seems to be that the only way we can defeat extremist views
    is by engaging them in debate; but if we won’t bow to the extremists’
    demands for a segregated audience, they won’t debate at all. Therefore,
    the only way we can confront and refute them is by giving in to any
    conditions they set to grace us with their presence.”
    I had this same thought and decided to tell bigots to piss-off!!!!!
    If they need to have their bigotry catered to then they can have all their debates with NO audience and on video.
    Opening line “we are having this debate on video for the obvious reasons!”
    or I like ‘We are having this debate on video because the obvious bigotry of the debater and the some audience will become raging Ahole monsters and rape other members of the audience.” But that will not happen.

  • Lagerbaer

    How about we segregate like this: Seats are numbered consecutively and men sit on odd-numbered seats and women on even numbered seats.

  • MNb

    “if we won’t bow to the extremists’ demands”
    Especially the English should know the lesson of München 1938: never give in to extremists if you don’t get anything concrete back. If we allow muslim-fundies to speak to segregated audiences in universities, what will they give back? Exactly, a lot of neglect and handwaiving of our views. That’s not what we want.

  • Erik Wise

    Wait til those religious bigots find out that some countries, like Germany, recognize a third gender (intersex). Where will they sit? Outside? LOL. :P

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    Universities UK, an umbrella organization representing institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom

    Niggly point of information. Although this is how they are often presented by the press, and UUK do little to disabuse us, they really only speak for Vice Chancellors. They were formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom (CVCP)

  • Nancy McClernan

    I think the best argument here is that if an institution allows the speaker to determine the seating arrangements in this case, then all speakers will be allowed to determine the seating arrangements in all cases. So hypothetically a speaker from a religion with a phobia about the number 17 could dictate that nobody can sit in row 17. This would not be a case of discrimination against any group of people, but would be just as allowable under the rule of speaker control of seating arrangements.
    I wouldn’t advise an institution to allow speakers to have control of seating arrangements, but they have a right to do so at their discretion, as far as I am aware.

  • Crimson

    Good article, I remember being profoundly disappointed in my senior year at a UK university when a lecture held by the Israeli ambassador for the government department had to be cancelled because of disruption by protesters (inside the lecture hall), so much for defending the speaker’s right to express themselves freely.
    I must say however that in my opinion your arguments against segregation, regardless how benign, are strong enough on their own without resorting to the kind of slippery slope argument you’ve argued against on so many other occasions.

  • J-D

    If what you mean by ‘they have the right’ to allow speakers to control seating is that it’s not against the law for them to do that, you may be correct, but just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t make it right.

  • Nancy McClernan

    As much as I hate religions, especially the common sexist aspects of religions, I don’t think this issue is as simple as Adam is presenting it.

    For example – suppose a speaker wants to divide the audience up by gender for demonstration purposes – perhaps it’s an evolutionary psychologist who wants to attempt to support one of the many gender essentialist things that evolutionary psychologists believe – perhaps something to do with how women have evolved to be more monogamous than men. Don’t ask me how dividing the room by gender will prove the assertion – just be glad an EP is offering something besides a just-so story, for once to support their assertions.

    But say that the evolutionary psychologist requests in advance, for the purpose of this demonstration, that the room be divided by gender.

    What would be the “right” answer? That it’s OK to divide the room by gender in the cause of (pseudo) science but it isn’t OK to divide the room by gender because of religion?

    Or are you going to deny the evolutionary psychologist the right to provide a demonstration for the “scientific” theory, thus angering Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker?

    If there is an iron-clad rule that no speaker may ever influence audience seating arrangements then that’s the end of the story. Sorry Richard Dawkins.

    But if there isn’t a rule, then are you going to tell me that as long as the cause is not religion, the speaker has the option to influence seating arrangements?

    Maybe the people running the institution love Richard Dawkins, in spite of his being controversial for so many reasons, and want him to speak to its students so much that it will grant only Dawkins the right to mess with seating arrangements. Is it their right to give some speakers special privileges over others? If not, why not?

    Do you see why this issue isn’t nearly as simple as it has been presented?

  • J-D

    On the face of it, I can’t see any reason why demonstrations of the kind you describe shouldn’t be required to meet the same conditions as any other experimentation on human subjects, by which I mean clearance by an institutional ethics committee.

    I think the example is strained, for whatever that’s worth.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So you’ve never been in an audience where the speaker asked for some participation from the audience?Here’s an example:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sdn3O6aaMNc

    And does every experiment have to be so formal that it has to be cleared by an ethics committee? Maybe the “experiment” was just to contrast the resonance of male voices, vs. female voices.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s unlikely to happen – the point is that it could happen and if you agree to let Dawkins divide the audience by gender because it’s “scientific” but refuse to let Reverend Bookburn divide the audience because it’s religious, how is that not discriminating against religion?

  • http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/ Andrew G.

    And if anyone’s wondering why it’s the vice-chancellors who need a committee, it’s because “chancellor” is almost invariably a purely ceremonial position these days (often just some random royal or other figurehead) and the vice-chancellor is the actual chief executive (often acknowledged by attaching the additional title “president” to the post).

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    Has anyone actually said they’d be fine with Dawkins segregating his audience? I mean, I agree with your point, but I think you’re criticizing a hypocrisy nobody here is actually expressing.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I presented Dawkins as a hypothetical case, and the only response besides yours so far is to call the Dawkins case “strained” so how could I be criticizing anybody’s hypocrisy?

    I thought it was pretty clear that my main point was that the issue of invited speakers and seating arrangements is more complex than it first appears. Although getting ones rage on over the possibility of the religious trying to force their irrational beliefs on everybody else is more fun than examining bureaucratic standards and procedures.

    Although my secondary point is that it isn’t only the religious who believe in gender essentialism, which is why I threw Dawkins in there. Dawkins’ friend Helena Cronin even wrote a policy paper for the British government, that she later turned into a newspaper editorial, recommending that there be a gender-based two-track employment system in the UK.

    http://www.theguardian.com/comment/story/0,3604,239317,00.html

    And this isn’t the only time a proponent of EP has tried to influence public policies based on EP theories.

    http://iranscope.ghandchi.com/Anthology/Women/rape.htm

    In any case, if the hypothetical institution has already decided that no speaker may influence seating arrangements for any reason, then there’s no longer an issue.

  • J-D

    Yes, I’ve been in audiences where the speaker invited audience participation. But I’ve never been in an audience where the speaker made universal audience participation a condition of going ahead with the speech. There’s a difference. If the speaker says ‘Can some people move down into these empty seats in the front row?’, then I’ll do it, but some people won’t, and that’s their prerogative, which the speaker doesn’t get to overrule. The speaker can ask, that’s all, and audience members can refuse.

    And if any hypothetical speaker invited to give a speech at any hypothetical university made it an advance condition, for any hypothetical reason, that the entire audience be segregated by gender, then the hypothetical university should not agree. Why should they? If the speaker says, ‘I can’t give my speech without full participation by all audience members’, then we’re no longer talking about a speech but about something else–a psychology experiment is one possibility.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So you think it should be a rule that no speaker should be allowed to make a special seating request prior to any speech for any reason, is that what you’re saying?

  • J-D

    I didn’t say anything about what requests people should be allowed to make, I said something about what requests should be acceded to, and what I said about that was exactly what I meant: a request to a university that the audience for a public lecture be segregated by gender should not be acceded to.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So the only audience sorting request that would be denied is segregation by gender, and no exceptions would be allowed for any reason, is that what you’re saying?

  • J-D

    No, what I’m saying is that requests for gender segregation of the audience are the only kind I’ve expressed a view on so far. If you want my view on some other kind of request, please describe it and I’ll do the best I can.

    As for exceptions (when dealing with requests for gender segregation of the audience for a public lecture at a university), I can’t imagine any grounds that would be adequate for a university to make one. If you think you know of something that would be, please tell me about it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    About this, I agree with J-D’s view:

    Yes, I’ve been in audiences where the speaker invited audience participation. But I’ve never been in an audience where the speaker made universal audience participation a condition of going ahead with the speech. There’s a difference.

    I can’t imagine a reason why a speaker would ever make a request for an artificially segregated audience, other than mere invidious discrimination. But if any speaker ever did make such a request, and could back it up with a real and legitimate reason, I’d be happy to consider their argument on a case-by-case basis.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Thanks for that clarification, Steve. So it’s an organization of university presidents, basically? They speak for themselves and not for the institutions they work for?

  • Nancy McClernan

    So the results of the “real and legitimate reason” could be exactly the same as the wrong, religious reason – men on one side, women on the other. The important thing is that the reason for the exact same results is the “right” one. So it isn’t the actual separation of genders that is the problem, it’s doing it for the wrong reason.

    Who gets to make the decision on the case-by-case basis?

    And if members of the audience still attend the event, if the genders are separated for the wrong reason, who is to tell them that they are making the wrong decision?

    Who is to decide that the gender-divided audience is so unacceptable that it must not be permitted, no matter how many people are OK with that set-up?

  • Nancy McClernan

    No, what I’m saying is that requests for gender segregation of the audience are the only kind I’ve expressed a view on so far. If you want my view on some other kind of request, please describe it and I’ll do the best I can.

    I’m not interested in a survey of your personal preferences. I’m interested in the general principle of the thing.

    And if you and Adam are in agreement, then the general principle seems to be: the outcome doesn’t matter. The concept of a room sorted by gender in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. What matters is why this not-intrinsically-bad-thing was accomplished.

    The only sorting by gender that you will absolutely rule out is sorting by gender for religious reasons.

  • J-D

    Roughly, the chancellor is an analogue of the chair of the board, and the role, activity, and influence of the chancellor varies as the role of a board chair does.

  • J-D

    No, that’s not correct. I don’t presume to speak for Adam, but the general principle I am defending is the one that gender segregation of the audience at a public lecture at a university as a precondition insisted on by the lecturer, regardless of the reasons, religious or not, is a bad outcome, one that the university should resist.

    If you’re interested in the general principle of the thing, what’s the general principle that you would uphold?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Why is it a bad outcome? Does it impact the ability of anybody to hear what the speaker has to say?

  • J-D

    It’s a bad outcome because it is favourable to gender discrimination and inimical to gender equality.

    Now, what’s the general principle you would prefer to uphold?

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    Yep!

  • Nancy McClernan

    I don’t agree that it’s favorable to gender discrimination and you haven’t demonstrated that it does – you merely asserted it.

    I’d like more evidence than your assertion.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Also I see that the atheist who refused to speak at the gender-segregated audience isn’t nearly so concerned about women when a buddy of his is having sex with under aged girls.

    http://skepchick.org/2011/04/lawrence-krauss-defends-a-sex-offender-embarrasses-scientists-everywhere/

    I strongly suspect that like his friend Dawkins, Krauss is more likely to be concerned for women if the issue can be used to oppose Muslims. Under aged women having sex with his buddy, or women receiving death threats from atheists, not so much.

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    Yes. I’m genderqueer, and under those conditions I couldn’t sit anywhere.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I don’t know if that’s true that the androgynous would not be seated at all, but it certainly does complicate the gender binary, and well worth raising as a challenge to that system.

    But I do have to laugh when the likes of Richard Dawkins (who also throws hissyfits over gender seating issues) had no problem with his buddy Helena Cronin’s scheme to separate all of Great Britain’s workforce by gender. But then the bigotry and hypocrisy of Richard Dawkins knows no bounds in my experience, and we’re supposed to ignore this due to his status as a brave hero of atheism.

  • Nancy McClernan

    And in case anybody thinks that Cronin has become less extreme in her beliefs about a rigid gender dichotomy here she is this year:

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2013/may/06/science-weekly-podcast-genetics-gender-sexuality

    Clearly supporters of evolutionary psychology ( and Dawkins is one of the most prominent) have no problem with rigid gender binaries – and they are far more ambitious than religious extremists who merely want a 3-hour segregation in the marketplace of ideas – promoters of evolutionary psychology want to segregate the entire marketplace, permenantly. But it’s OK because its “science” not religion promoting the rigid gender binary.

  • J-D

    Every occasion on which people are treated differently for no other reason than their gender contributes towards normalising the idea of treating people differently for no other reason than their gender.

    So, I’ve stated the general principles I’m relying on; what’s stopping you from stating the general principles you’re relying on?

  • J-D

    If something is right, then it’s right no matter how villainous the people who agree, by the same principle that if something is wrong, then it’s wrong no matter how saintly the people who agree.

  • J-D

    If a public lecture is being given at a university, then the conditions for that public lecture are the responsibility of the university.

    And if anybody thinks there could possibly be a real and legitimate reason for gender segregation of the audience at a public lecture, I would like to know what that reason could possibly be. Can you think of a reason which could possibly justify gender segregation of the audience at a public lecture? Is there some reason you’re not prepared to answer that question?

  • J-D

    I don’t know who says you are supposed to ignore the faults of Richard Dawkins, but it’s not me. I don’t say that you’re supposed to ignore anybody’s faults.

    And I also don’t say that the merit or demerit of a position is affected by who agrees or disagrees with it, Richard Dawkins or anybody else.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The point is that these defenders of women’s rights are hypocrites. It’s likely that the real reason they kick up a shit storm in cases such as these is because their real interest is punishing Muslims.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Sorry, your aphorisms are not evidence. I’m not interested in your declarations I’m interested in your providing evidence that grouping people by gender in a temporary seating arrangement is intrinsically harmful or leads directly to demonstrable harm.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Clearly one of my principles is to refuse to accept statements by self-styled authorities as evidence.

  • Nancy McClernan

    I’ve already given an example. Haven’t you been following this discussion? Certainly my example is no more far-fetched than Adam’s slippery slope inventions.

  • Nancy McClernan

    But more importantly, if an institution decides that it is worth their while to invite speakers who might segregate the audience by gender, and there are people who are members of that institution who are willing to go along with it, who are a bunch of authoritarian atheists to tell them that they won’t be permitted to indulge in what is an essentialy harmless seating request?

    Hardcore and hypocritical extremists like Dawkins and his friends don’t only want fairness – they want to impose their preferences on others. And because they are claiming to do it on behalf of women we are to ignore the fact that they mostly care about women when they can use that stand to impose their own preferences on religionists.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The reason we are discussing the issue is because Dawkins and his extremist buddies, who indulge in gender essentialism as much as any religionists, made a shitstorm out of it.

    It’s one thing to refuse to participate in a discussion with someone whose terms you don’t agree with, in the case of Lawrence Krauss – it’s quite another to declare that nobody else will have the choice to participate or not – Dawkins and his gang of authoritarian Muslim-hating douchebags will make that decision on behalf of “badly misguided liberals” such as myself.

    Well no, I will not allow an extremist shithead like Dawkins and his authoritarian gang to make that decision for me. Especially when Dawkins himself made no objections when Helena Cronin proposed dividing the British workforce on the basis of gender. He’s utterly full of bigotry and shit and so are those who buy into his bullshit arguments.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Nancy, are you fully aware that your entire critique of Dawkins in this thread is based on your presumptions about his behavior in a wholly hypothetical scenario in which he calls for a lecture audience to be segregated by gender, although even you can’t seem to think of any reason he would want to do this?

    I’m all for criticizing Dawkins, or any other atheist leader, for any wrong things they’ve actually done. But your desire to criticize them for things you imagine they might do at some unspecified point in the future can only be described as bizarre.

  • J-D

    I don’t consider the speaker’s desire to use the audience as subjects for an experiment is a legitimate reason to make gender segregation of the audience a precondition for the lecture. If you consider that it is we’ll just have to disagree.

  • J-D

    A speaker asking audience members to change seats, and audience members choosing to comply with that request — or choosing not to — is not equivalent to a situation where it is made a precondition of a public lecture going ahead that the entire audience be segregated by gender.

    And I’m not telling universities that they are not permitted to accept such arrangements. Who am I to grant or withhold such permission? I’m not saying that universities are not permitted to behave in such a way, I’m saying that they would be wrong to behave in such a way.

  • J-D

    I do not style myself as an authority.

    If you think it’s possible to treat people differently for no other reason than their gender without contributing towards normalising the idea of treating people differently for no other reason than their gender, we’re just going to have to disagree.

  • J-D

    If some of the people who support a stance are hypocrites it doesn’t mean that all the people who support that stance are hypocrites; and the hypocrisy of the people you’re referring to, if they are hypocrites, may be a point, but it’s not the point.

  • J-D

    Richard Dawkins won’t decide who gets to give public lectures at any university or on what conditions. He doesn’t have that power.

    Speaking for myself, I am discussing this issue here because Adam posted about it. If you are only participating in this discussion here because of the Dawkins factor, that’s your reason, not mine.

    (As it happens, the reason I started following this blog consistently and commenting here was the Atlas Shrugged material, but that has no effect on the merits or demerits of what I have to say.)

  • Leeloo Dallas Multipass

    Well, yeah, I suppose I could raise a fuss about it and get a little seating area all on my own, at the cost of sitting with nobody and being a public spectacle. Or I could just shut up and sit in a section I knew I didn’t belong in. What’s a few more microaggressions?

    Count me as confused what Dawkins has to do with any of this? I’m not a fan of his, I agree that he’s a hypocrite, and if he supports segregation, I think he’s wrong to do so. I don’t see anyone in this thread arguing that segregation would be okay if it was Dawkins demanding it, so I’m not sure why it keeps coming up.

  • smrnda

    My take here is that I doubt any such *demonstration* would really be the type that would be rigorous or useful enough to actually be said to demonstrate anything, so I don’t see it happening. I have done research in social psychology on gender norms, and if there’s anything I’ve learned is that you need to do quite a bit to make sure that the people participating in your experiment are actually truly consenting.

  • smrnda

    Imagine that a male student with a high degree of social anxiety wanted to go to a talk and happened to go with a few female friends. Now, thanks to the speaker, he can’t sit next to his friends and is going to be nervous and fidgety the entire time and will miss out on the talk. I’d consider that rather asinine behavior.

  • smrnda

    In my experience, such groups end up having to find an off-campus venue to hold their talk.

  • Azkyroth

    …what…the…fuck…

  • Nancy McClernan

    No my entire critique is not based in a hypothetical scenario.

    The controversy over seating arrangements is promoted by Richard Dawkins personally, and it’s his pervasive influence throughout the atheist community that results in these petty idiotic controversies. Do I need to remind you that Elevatorgate was the result of Richard Dawkins inability to allow a woman to express an opinion about an event in her life without attacking her?

    I don’t have time today to debate this much so I’ll just post this excellent piece by Nathan Lean about Dawkins Islamaphobia and his influence on these atheist controversies – including the gendered seating arrangement issue.

  • Nancy McClernan
  • smrnda

    I understand that Dawkins is a total hypocrite with respect for gender issues. He will complain about those horrible Muslims, and will then turn around and display his own misogyny.

    This does not mean that I, personally, by opposing gender-segregated seating at an event where Dawkins has also opposed such seating agree with or like Dawkins, or don’t perhaps even see him as a liability. It’s like being against the Iraq war, knowing that Ron Paul, Rand Paul and Pat Buchanan also oppose the war, and knowing I don’t agree with those guys at all on much of anything. Should I decide to be *for the war* because some people against it have disagreeable opinions?

    This seems to be a case where you’re taking people to task for being against something that *one specific guy is against* who is a horrible hypocrite. Yes, he’s a hypocrite, and if Dawkins or anyone associated were to go all gender essentialist later, I would hope to point out their hypocrisy, and that it’s only being dressed up with shaky pop psychology.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes well that’s another issue. My position has been since the beginning of this discussion that the issue isn’t as simple as has been portrayed.

    But my latest discussion of Dawkins here was to refute Adam’s apparent belief that I’m some lunatic who critiques Dawkins in the basis of an imaginary scenario.

  • smrnda

    Yeah, but I don’t even see Dawkins as relevant to this issue in the least, so his opinions or the motivations for them are irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure he’s got an opinion which, so far, I haven’t bothered to look up (I haven’t read much of his work since the early days when he stuck to biology) so to me, the possible motivation of Dawkins or others on this is irrelevant as to whether gender-segregated seating should be okay if a speaker requests it.

  • smrnda

    If that were the case, would I have to become a creationist to avoid being too chummy with Dawkins?

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes I think it’s possible for one speech given on one single day that almost nobody hears about (although Richard Dawkins will do his best to remedy that) by a religionist will not normalize the idea of treating people differently by gender.

    No wonder why Dawkinites are so petrified of Muslim leaders – they imagine they have immense power to change the world through a single speech.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The reason Dawkins is relevent to this discussion is because he is constantly creating controversies inspired by his Islamaphobia, and there is still a huge number of atheists who consider him their leader. I think it’s unlikely that this seating arrangement issue would be a big deal except that Dawkins and his network made it one.
    And it’s especially fascinating that Dawkins is leading the charge against gender segregation when he fully supported the efforts of his friend Helena Cronin to divide the British labor force by gender. I provided a link to her proposal, although I doubt anybody here has actually bothered to read it.
    The point is that Richard Dawkins has no problem with dividing by gender, as long as it is justified on the grounds of evolutionary psychology. It only bothers him when it is justified on the grounds of religion.
    And I suspect that those here excoriating liberals for standing up for the rights of religionists are just as much hypocrites as Dawkins – they really don’t care about the principle, they care about religionists getting away with something. End of story.
    Public speakers are often given special considerations – a friend of mind was given the job of assisstant to Oliver Sacks when she was a student at Rutgers. And although nobody told her in advance apparently Sacks had insisted that he could not remain in a room unless it was chilled to a certain level – I forgot what the temperature degree was, but my friend was completely unable to provide this for him and he was very put out by it, according to her. To this day I can’t mention Oliver Sacks to her without a lot of grumbling from her.
    The point is that an institution should be able to decide who it asks to speak, and what special conditions it will agree to allow the speaker. And it appears that for the most part they are able to do so – except when a religionist makes the special request. Of course if the request is unreasonable it should be rejected, but is segregating the audience by gender, for a 3-hour speech unreasonable? If the segregation caused one gender to all sit in the back, that would be unreasonable. If they are simply divided up by left and right sides of the room, I think not.
    You could say, well if the speaker won’t agree to speak unless the room is divided, too bad for them. Well why isn’t it just as right to say, if a member of the audience is uncomfortable with a divided room, they don’t have to attend? Because there may be people who would accept the gender-divided room. They may not prefer it, but they might consider it a worthwhile trade-off in order to hear the speaker.

    But why do I even bother making the argument here?
    It’s clear nobody here is interested in nuance and Adam has followed what I’ve said here so carelessly that he actually seems to believe that I am mad at Richard Dawkins for things that Richard Dawkins did in my imagination. There is nothing that I’ve posted here to indicate that I can’t tell the difference between thought-experiment Richard Dawkins and real-world Richard Dawkins, so I find it appalling that Adam would say:

    But your desire to criticize them for things you imagine they might do at some unspecified point in the future can only be described as bizarre.

    Yes, that would be bizarre, if that is what I did. I find it bizarre that someone would leap to the conclusion that a regular contributor to the discussions on this board, who has made coherent and reasonable arguments during the past several months, has suddenly become insane.

  • J-D

    I don’t know what a Dawkinite is, but as far as I know I’m not one. Also, I am not petrified with fear of Muslim leaders.

    I did not say that people’s attitudes are determined entirely by a single speech. What I am saying is that every instance in which people are treated differently for no reason other than their gender makes a contribution to normalising that idea. Of course the contribution of all those instances may be outweighed by other things. I hope they will be. My comments here, in their way, are a tiny contribution to the cause of stopping the normalisation of that kind of gender discrimination, or at least that’s what I have to hope.

  • J-D

    1. Whatever anybody else may do, I do not regard Richard Dawkins as my leader.

    2. It is possible that the chain of events which led to Adam posting on this topic and attracting a response from me was influenced by the intervention of Richard Dawkins. It may be, although I haven’t checked, that if he had not made a fuss about this issue it wouldn’t have ended up in blog post here for me to comment one. But even if that’s so, I don’t see how that should affect one way or the other my response to this issue. If you want to discuss Richard Dawkins of course you can, but that’s not what I’m discussing.

    3. Whatever anybody else may have done here, I have not excoriated you, liberals, or anybody else, for defending the rights of religionists or for anything else. But the rights of religionists do not include a right to use a university as a platform for their public lectures on conditions they set themselves.

    4. A request for environmental conditions that conduce to a speaker’s comfort is a reasonable request, whether it’s physically possible for the host venue to comply or not. There’s a good reason for it. Environmental conditions physically affect people, and that gives them a good reason to seek environmental conditions that don’t have a negative physical effect on them. Religionists who make requests for audiences to be gender-segregated obviously have some sort of reason for doing so, but not good reasons. If you think their reasons are good reasons, we will just have to disagree.

    5. Universities are able to decide who they invite to speak, and what conditions they agree to. Neither you, nor I, nor Adam, nor Richard Dawkins can prevent them from doing so. But if they decide to agree to a speaker’s request for gender-segregation of the audience for a public lecture, then they are making the wrong decision.

    6. Whatever anybody else may have suggested, I have not suggested that you are insane. I am suggesting only that, on the point at issue here between us, you are wrong.

  • David Simon

    Which I suppose ironically leaves only non-integer seats for everybody else.


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