Laura Favaro: gender studies ‘groupthink is forcing scholars out’

Researcher who revealed censorship of gender critical feminists says no-debate policies on transgender issues are causing ‘scholarly paralysis’

August 30, 2023
Source: Crowdjustice

A sociologist who is suing City, University of London for unfair dismissal, claiming that she was forced out for highlighting how gender critical feminists have been censored, has criticised a climate of “compliance, groupthink and scholarly mediocrity” in UK gender studies.

Laura Favaro, who was research fellow at City’s Gender and Sexualities Research Centre, said she was ostracised at her workplace and denied access to her research data after writing an article for Times Higher Education about how female scholars feared career damage if they criticised the idea that transgender women should be considered the same as natal women in all aspects of public life.

The feature drew on conversations with 50 gender studies academics on both sides of the gender debate carried out for a British Academy-backed project. It described submissions by gender critical feminists being rejected by journal editors on ideological grounds, as well as their support for the bullying and censorship of academics.

In the wake of its publication in September 2022, Dr Favaro’s article was praised for exposing the persecution faced by gender critical scholars, and their inability to speak freely, but was also criticised as an “attack on trans people”. Senior scholars interviewed anonymously for the study broke cover to express their anger, claiming that Dr Favaro had breached ethical rules – claims she said were dismissed as “baseless” by a City investigation.

Dr Favaro said, however, that her employer failed to offer any public support, withdrew line management support and blocked access to her research database. According to her employment tribunal claim, for which she has crowdfunded more than £78,000, she was made redundant when her “fixed-term contract had expired – despite the fact that I have a permanent contract”.

In an interview with Umut Özkirimli – whose book about academic cancel culture, Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke, was published in March – Dr Favaro said her research highlighted an “exodus of feminists from gender studies” who were intent on “escaping ‘scholarship that is thought police’”, with the trend going beyond her discipline, resulting in a “forced or voluntary departure of critical thinkers from academia”.

Policies such as “no debate”, which have been embraced by some university gender studies departments and backed by the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall until recently, had created an “environment that fosters compliance, groupthink and scholarly mediocrity or timidity, and where narcissism, bullying and despotism find fertile ground”, continued Dr Favaro in the interview, which will be published next month in the peer-reviewed journal Teknokultura: Journal of Digital Culture and Social Movements.

Criticising the “scholarly paralysis” caused by no-debate policies, she said many gender studies scholars now believe “engagement with any ideas external to their ‘echo chambers and bubbles’ must be avoided at all costs, as must ‘honest conversations’. Rather, the mandate is ‘be for your team and toe the party line’.”

In a statement, City said it was “unable to comment on employment matters relating to individual members of staff” but added: “We refute the allegations made against us and reject the context in which they are presented.”

The university said that it had a “legal obligation to protect freedom of expression that we take very seriously.” It also took its “obligations with respect to ethics and integrity very seriously” and made clear that “any personal data processed in the course of any research [should be] processed in compliance with data protection legislation,” it added.

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Reader's comments (5)

With all this pretty acrimonious debate on this isssue, I have not seen anyone weighing in who actually researches the biology of "sex determination". And since we all start sex-indeterminate as early embryos, the eventual sex of any individual must become determined. This requires tremendously complex and progressive processes of differentiation changes, which involves a multitude of sex-diverging steps that eventually takes in the structures and functions of all cells in all tissues of every organ (including the brain -and some of its functions). The typical outcomes of some of these divergencies are major and obvious, like the morphology of the external genitalia. These are typically the signal features used as sex-defining by traditionalists. Some sex-related divergencies are covert, like sex-related relative differences in metabolism of cells even in tissues that superficially seem not to be sexually divergent. Some are even more subtle, like the neurally based sense of self. These changes are enacted in one tissue or another over a long period, from early embryo to post-puberty. In an idealised textbook scenario this results in a bimodal female/male pattern of divergence because the outcome of (nearly) all these strands of divergent differentiations are "in synch" in the one individual. But this is certainly not always the case. In some individuals one or another strand (or strands) at one or another stage(s) does not carry out divergent differentiation to the extent, or even in the direction, as other strands. Depending on the extent, tissue and stage this generates a huge diversity that cannot be shoehorned neatly into the traditional female or male categories. It seems to me that the protagonists in these disputes both want to use this shoehorn to categorise in a bimodal female/male way but differ, often violently, dismissively and disrespectfully, in the somewhat arbitrarily choice of features that they claim defines sex. Perhaps, for the enlightenment of all, those involved should define exactly what feature(s) they are choosing to define sex, then justify specifically why they choose this rather than some other sexually dimorphic feature, and describe exactly why the choice of any other feature will lead to some huge and objectively definable societal or personal disaster. And finally, just cool down and consider throwing away the shoehorn.
Mediocrity has certainly seeped into the system because a lot of these newly developed 'disciplines' are subjective and not intellectually based. Universities should return to quest for knowledge and support only true academic disciplines that approach research and scholarship objectively.
There is one inescapable biological fact that no amount ot transgender reassignemnent, surgery even, can change. The weakest decile of men has about the same physical strength as the strongest decile of women (you can check this easily on the Internet). That is why, in sports involving physical strength, trans-women should never be allowed to compete with born-as-women (not the same foir games like chess). This should also make us question wheteher trans-women should be allowed in some spaces where assaults can occur with born as women, like public roilets, prisons. I have no issue with trans, cross-dressing, whatever, do your thing, except I do not agree with outrageous panto-type x dressers beong foisted pon very young children at school - which may actually make it harder for ordinary trans-dressers (men as women) so that is discrimminatory too.
I have one question: whenever trans issues are discussed the focus seems to be solely on the place of trans women in society. What about trans men... and those who are nonbinary? Nobody seems to be interested about where they fit in.
Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but there do seem to be many more trans-identified males than trans-identified females. We don't hear much, do we, about f-to-m trans people trying to get into male sports, changing rooms, etc. Or demanding the right to be incarcerated in male prisons. I suggest that the reasons are pretty obvious.