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Sex Segregation at University Debates is Not OK

Sex Segregation at University Debates is Not OK

As a society we separate the genders all the time. (Well, we separate two genders and pretend any variations don’t exist, but whatever.) Bathrooms, sports, clothing, razors. There are men’s and women’s everything. Thankfully, we’ve at least progressed enough as a society that it’s acceptable for men and women to share a room together without it getting weird. Or have we?

The representative body for universities in the United Kingdom recently came out with a report that said that the genders could be segregated during a debate as long as the seating arrangement doesn’t give one gender an advantage over another. For example, side-by-side segregation might be acceptable while seating women in the back would not be because it would hinder the women’s opportunity to participate. It’s not discriminatory, they say, because the genders are segregated in the same way.

Um… I’m not sure they know what discriminatory means.

Universities UK is trying to please everyone, but in doing so they are prioritizing religious sensibilities over equality. Would this type of thing be OK if a speaker believed that people of different races shouldn’t mix? Nope. Of course not. The fact that a speaker even requested that their event be segregated in that way would get them laughed out of the room, and rightly so.

What Universities UK is trying to do is to bring a variety of different world views to as many people as possible, which is a worthy goal. What are universities for if not expanding one’s horizons and becoming familiar with issues from a different point of view. However, sacrificing gender equality is not the way to do this.

Polly Toynbee at The Guardian makes the point that misogynistic attitudes held by religions are exactly the kind of thing that universities should be challenging:

Muslim speakers demand segregation to make a very public point about their belief in women’s “separate” role in the universe, one step behind a man, even in a place of learning. After all, as Maryam Namazie, head of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, says, the speakers and the audience have all traveled there on trains and buses that are not segregated. Mosques and synagogues may hide women out of sight, but by agreeing not to “offend”, the universities condone what they should confront.

If universities want to be considered places of enlightenment, they simply cannot cave to the type of old-fashioned thinking that demands that men and women be separated. Perhaps segregating men and women side-by-side won’t technically impede anyone’s access to debates, but it does send a message. It endorses the idea that men and women can and should operate in different domains and that mingling is somehow inappropriate. That cannot be the message institutions of higher learning would want to send.

This is an unacceptable compromise. How long and hard do women have to fight to be considered fully human and to not have our rights sacrificed so another group isn’t offended? If someone doesn’t like that women exist in the world, that’s their problem. It’s not up to women to make everyone feel comfortable. If that means some controversial speakers refuse to speak at some universities, then I say good riddance.

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Photo Credit: Hugo Pardo Kuklinski via Flickr

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134 comments

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3:07AM PDT on Apr 6, 2014

Thank you

7:20PM PST on Dec 23, 2013

You have no idea how nice it is to see a female speak out against the segregation of women under the religious pretext. I'm stall amazed that in 2013 there was a policy that allowed it to happen, it's like we're just repeating history all over again and never learnt anything.

10:10AM PST on Dec 6, 2013

Jacob R. Where have you been living the last 20 years that you have never heard of transgender people? Some of which are actually born one sex yet the doctor in their infinite wisdom changed them to another sex because of a gender problem they were born with.

10:08AM PST on Dec 6, 2013

How about we segregate them at random letting them sit where they please and get a pleasant random segregation.

4:32AM PST on Dec 6, 2013

Great article. Thanks for sharing.

8:04AM PST on Dec 4, 2013

Pam, maybe it's the United Arab Emirates?

1:47PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

Thanks Mindy.
Can't we all get along? Let us mingle with whom we want and sit with whom we want? What's the big deal?

3:52AM PST on Dec 3, 2013

thank you

11:28PM PST on Dec 2, 2013

Dear Mindy I'll meet you at 10:00 in the girl's bathroom so we can share a good pee.

I don't mean to be too cynical but there are differences between men and women. Most genders do not want the other gender in the vicinity when they are involved in the elimination of waste products from their bodies.

Now on the subject of segregating men and women in a lecture hall - if someone that has been invited to speak or lecture and they have strong religious beliefs or cultural beliefs that men and women should be segregated then I don't have a problem with separating the sexes for that one lecture. You have invited him and it is merely common courtesy to accept their cultural quirks.

I do not invite Jews or Muslims into my home and try to force them to eat pork. It is really just bad manners. You see I'm not asking you to agree that their beliefs or culture are correct merely that it is extremely stupid to flaunt your own ideals/beliefs/culture upon a guest.

And Mindy since I have invited you I will put the seat down after I've finished.

2:58PM PST on Dec 2, 2013

How about just letting them sit where THEY want??

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