-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
Universities UK (UUK) is an advocacy organization whose members include just about every university in the United Kingdom. UUK provides its members with policy guidelines regarding all aspects of university life. The UUK recently released a report advocating a policy of gender segregation to preserve the freedom of speech of external speakers. The report uses a hypothetical case study of a representative of an “ultra-orthodox religious group” whose freedom of speech is imperiled if his demands for gender segregation in the seating arrangements aren’t met.
The UUK takes the separate-but-equal approach. It sees such segregation as non-discriminatory if neither males nor females are treated less favorably. Reminiscent of racial seating arrangements on buses in the U.S. South, the UUK disapproves any “front to back” segregation. They suggest a “left-right” separation of the sexes. The UUK claims that no discrimination exists since “men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”.
However, there is more to arbitrary discrimination than treating the genders unequally. Gender segregation is arbitrary discrimination because it is based on treating individuals solely with regard to their gender. To be human is to be an individual, a distinct person. A person who is not longer treated as an individual is dehumanized.
No mention is made regarding how much distance between adjacent genders constitutes an adequate separation. Those seated in adjacent columns along the dividing line are unsegregated on one side of their bodies. Should there be a vacant column of seats between the genders? Too close a proximity to the opposite gender is a known condition for the transmission of cooties.
The UUK fails to make an argument regarding the loss of freedom of speech if the room is unsegregated. The speaker’s religious beliefs do not give him the right to force others to conform to his views on gender segregation. It would not be tolerated if a speaker’s religious beliefs required him to speak to a racially segregated audience. It should not be tolerated for gender segregation.
The issue of gender segregation came to a boil when physicist and prominent atheist, Professor Lawrence Krauss, refused to take part in a debate at University College London entitled: “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?” when he learned of the forced gender segregation. Krauss said he wouldn’t speak at a segregated event and walked out. One of the event’s organizers chased Krauss down and promised him that the segregation would be abandoned. Krauss was accused of being “intolerant.”
Jesus and Mo captures the essence of the debate: