Selina Todd and the Twitter storm

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2020 - 11:12
Trans rights flag

A social media storm broke out after a feminist conference in Oxford on 29 February asked Oxford University historian Selina Todd to hand over her two-minute opening address to a colleague, following threats by some speakers to boycott the event.

Todd is associated with Women’s Place UK, which was set up to oppose progressive reform of laws on transgender rights.

In a strange twist, WPUK types demanded the AWL immediately denounce the "disinvite". But none of us even knew about the event, let alone had involvement in it!

And our position on such things is clear: we support trans rights, but oppose "disinvites", boycotts, etc. on this issue because we favour dialogue.

But the radical feminist Twitter mob defending Todd made dialogue impossible. It is not normal communication to demand instant and pointless clarifications. Or to falsely accuse one feminist group at the event (Feminist Fightback) of being responsible for the disinvite.

Or to denounce those who wanted to stand up for trans rights (whatever the problems of method in doing so) in vile misogynistic and transphobic terms.


Submitted by Noa (not verified) on Thu, 05/03/2020 - 09:56

The BBC cites a statement of Feminist Fightback that "'it only learned that she [Prof Todd] would not be attending while it was meeting to discuss whether it wanted to continue to participate. It said in a statement: "The question from us was never whether we were opposed to Selina Todd's views (we are)... [but] whether continuing to participate in a conference at which she was one of the many speakers would make us complicit in those views".'

If I understand your position correctly with regards to dialogue, boycotts, etc. then you would not have been in favour of such a withdrawal. I don't know whether such (potential) withdrawal qualifies as a boycott in your eyes. I don't know whether such a (potential) withdrawal would qualify as pressure on the organisers to disinvite the speaker. But if I were the organisers, then if I heard of such a potential withdrawal of one of the participating groups, it would enter my mind that this was pressure on me to disinvite the speaker.

Yes, the AWL's position has been clear. But that is no reason to call the WPUK's demand of the AWL to denounce the disinvite a pointless clarification. On the contrary, it seems precisely reasonable to demand that the AWL put its known position into concrete practice, if it's not to stay a mere nominal/verbal position. The AWL was not aware of the disinvite (or the event), but that is no excuse to stay silent, to refrain from actualising its position against boycotts, etc (if they do occur). What good is having such a position otherwise, if it is not concretely put to the test?

At the end you accuse perhaps not the WPUK, but certainly the radical feminist Twitter mob of having denounced trans right activists (but it seems not yourself in particular) in "'vile misogynistic terms". I don't know what terms those were. But that seems a very grave accusation to make lightly.

Submitted by cathy n on Mon, 09/03/2020 - 14:22

Yes there was pressure on the organisers to ask Selina Todd to withdraw, but FF have said that were not part of that pressure. You omit to include that part of FF's statement (on FF's Facebook page), where it says that one of the things they were considering was *continuing to participate*. Such misrepresentation is where factionalism takes you. And you also say, "if I were the organisers, then if I heard of such a potential withdrawal of one of the participating groups, it would enter my mind that this was pressure on me to disinvite the speaker". But it's clear from the statement that the organisers wouldn't even know about that conversation.

That's the kind of factionalism going on; for our part, in such a context, we're uninterested in people trying to push us around. "Cock-shill" is one of the phrases I saw being used. Vile enough?

Cathy Nugent

Submitted by Noa (not verified) on Tue, 10/03/2020 - 09:25

The "mob" (not a friendly characterisation) seems indeed not to have asked for dialogue with you on the intricacies of the subject of trans rights etc. (since that was not even a topic of debate at the conference I believe). but just simple application of your own position. Apparently you don't know who the exact people were that put pressure on the organisers. I don't know if you were asked by WPUK to make a statement specifically in reference to FF. You could easily have omitted reference to concrete persons or organisations, and just made a general statement, applying your position to this instance (which made it into the national news apparently). i don't know why this is called a "strange twist". It would not be pointless caving to the "mob". If someone on Twitter used a coarse word (which seems an equivalent of 'handmaiden'), that can't serve as a sufficient reason for you to balk at WPUK's request imho.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.