University students urged to take a stand against “hateful” and “inaccurate” book

0 Posted by - 01/05/2014 - Long, News

The University of Melbourne has been criticised for promoting a lecturer’s “hateful” book.

Sheila Jeffreys, a sexual politics lecturer at the University of Melbourne, is the author of Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism.

In the book Jeffreys argues against society’s acceptance of transgenderism, saying it is a “hugely harmful phenomenon” that is “invariably born of severe psychological distress”.

Professor Jeffreys says the book “highlights the distress caused to the partners and families of transgender people, and the agonizing regret sometimes felt by people who switch gender”.

Executive director of Transgender Victoria Sally Goldner says these views are incorrect and possibly dangerous.

“It’s certainly not accurate, it’s spreading prejudiced information,” she told Catalyst. “Sheila’s views simply do not represent the realities of transgender existence, and a vulnerable person questioning their gender identity that hears that could be severely damaged.”

But Jeffreys says the book is not a direct attack on transgender individuals.

“The book is a political, historical and sociological critique of the practice of transgenderism,” she said via email. “It says nothing negative about persons who transgender, although it is critical of the published ideas of some of those who transgender.

“I argue that transgenderism is a harmful practice and that has nothing whatsoever to do with hating those who transgender. In the book I show considerable sympathy with the harms that those who transgender experience, particularly those who change their minds and detransition.”

The University of Melbourne’s newsroom promoted Jeffreys’ book in a press release, and Goldner says she is concerned the university is associating itself with these views.

“In human terms, it is disconcerting that they would promote a book that probably does not have an opinion backed by facts, logic and evidence,” she said. “Possibly there is an argument about academic freedom, but let’s put a hypothetical. Let’s say someone at the university published a book saying people with a certain skin colour were less intelligent, would that be allowed to be published or promoted? Probably not.”

But this sort of comparison is a “character assassination”, according to Jeffreys.

“There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever with being racist,” she said. “It would be useful if some of my critics read my work and then took issue with particular ideas.”

She says there should be no problem with the University of Melbourne being associated with the book.

“Of course I think it is reasonable for the university to promote my book,” she said. “It is extremely scholarly, like all my nine books in my long career.”

However Goldner says university students need to voice their concerns about the book.

“The only positive that may come out of it is it may prompt some trans students to take a stand against that sort of stuff,” she said.

Gender Hurts, published by Routledge Press, was released on 15 April. In it, Professor Jeffreys claims radical feminism sees transgenderism as damaging to women’s equality.

“When transgender rights are inscribed into law and adopted by institutions, they promote ideas harmful to women’s equality,” she says in the University of Melbourne press release.

Transgender historian and editor of The TransAdvocate Cristan Williams says although Professor Jeffreys is referred to as a “respected feminist theorist” in the press release, her views are not widely held.

“She is referring to it as a feminist critic, when in fact the vast majority of the feminist community reject her views,” she said. “Sheila Jeffreys is very good at equivocation and cherry picking, using personal stories to make sweeping generalisations about an entire population of human beings.”

Williams says she acknowledges Professor Jeffreys and the University of Melbourne’s freedom of speech, but the ensuring criticism must not be silenced.

“If the university wants to support that type of hate, that type of strong rejection of trans people, then trans people must have the right to strongly push back against that,” she said. “I certainly support freedom of speech, and I support her right to put her views out in the marketplace of ideas, because I think that it needs to be exposed and critiqued. What I would have a problem with is silencing the critique that is bound to follow, and framing the critique as censorship and silencing.”

Jeffreys says she thinks transgender students should read her book.

“I hope they will read the book because knowledge is power,” she says. “More and more persons who transgender are detransitioning and more and more blogs and websites are devoted to this It is important that those considering embarking on this practice have all this information to inform their choices.”

Sheila Jeffreys has been at the University of Melbourne since 1991.

By Denham Sadler

@denhamsadler

13 Comments

  • alyson 02/05/2014 - 12:57 am Reply

    As one of my feminist friends pointed out, the correct punctuation for the title is as follows:

    A “Feminist” “Analysis” of “Transgenderism”.

    because it’s not an analysis, it’s not feminist, and there’s no such thing as “transgenderism”. Just to pick one of her claims at random, “detransitioning” is extremely rare, with over 98.5% of individuals being completely ecstatic about their transition. The narrative of trans regret is a myth, largely perpetuated by people with sinister agendas.

    • Sarah 02/05/2014 - 3:22 pm Reply

      Hey Alyson
      Spot on!

      Can you provide the source for the statistic you quote?

  • Frances Taylor 02/05/2014 - 1:29 am Reply

    Regarding Jeffreys, and her admonition that “she thinks transgender students should read her book.”, I have to agree. As President Obama recently said: “When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t really have to do anything – you just let them talk.”

  • Katherine B. 02/05/2014 - 5:49 am Reply

    Can anyone seriously imagine a publisher with feminist credentials like Routledge publishing a book where the writer posits, “I argue that [homosexuality] is a harmful practice and that has nothing whatsoever to do with hating [homosexuals]”? That this book, which argues that confrontational behavior by gay individuals rebelling against a heterosexist society, and gay people going back into the closet to avoid the harms of social ostracism, means that homosexuality is a “practice” that needs “critique,” would be accepted?

    No?

    Because I can’t either. Routledge accepted and published a book that would be absolutely unacceptable anywhere outside of the right-wing publishing bubble if the target were cisgender gays and lesbians.

  • Natacha 02/05/2014 - 7:34 pm Reply

    I think it is very relevant that a genuinely respected feminist Judith Butler has come out strongly critical of Jeffreys.

    http://www.transadvocate.com/gender-performance-the-transadvocate-interviews-judith-butler_n_13652.htm

    Calling people like Jeffreys “Feminist Tyrants” represents a pretty scathing put down, for a book that is rumoured to be very put-downable.

  • Zoe Brain 03/05/2014 - 11:08 am Reply

    A worthy companion-piece to books on “The Politics of Heliocentricism”, and “The Politics of Evolutionism”.

    However, the facts that the Earth is not flat, and that Intersex and Trans people exist, are not political issues, no matter what nonsense has been written by idealogues in the past.

    Professor Jeffreys claims that her ideology trumps the living experience of all trans people, that she knows more about them than they do. Evidence? An obsolete concept that can be dispensed with, all that’s needed is to quote other ideologues from the musty past with similar ideas, and to ignore all this “science”nonsense. She can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t immediately see that she’s right, and never has.

    To quote Roz Kelly’s critique of one of Prof Jeffrey’s previous works:

    “Most of what Sheila Jeffreys is worried about is a matter of people refusing to allow her to interfere with them; she seems to hate the idea of people doing things without her permission. Of course, that is not what she says – she goes on about the harm they are doing to themselves by failing to understand their own needs as well as she does. She also claims, regularly, that any white woman who fails to listen to the views of those particular black women who agree with Sheila Jeffreys are being racist if they do not do precisely what they are told to. This was a tactic that worked a couple of times in the early 80s, and then commitedly anti-racist women suddenly realized that they did not become racists just because the likes of Audre Lord felt like calling them names in the course of arguments about SM. When black women do not agree with Sheila Jeffreys and defend SM, it is of course quite a different matter; poor darlings, she says, they don’t understand their own oppression properly. It is the elitism and knowing better than anyone else as much as the polemical tantrums and self-portrayal as a victim that make Sheila Jeffreys the Violet Elizabeth Bott of feminism.”

    Now it’s Trans people who don’t understand themselves, and who are victimising her by not immediately accepting everything she says.

    A saying ascribed to Talleyrand about the Bourbons is apposite – ” Ils n’ont rien appris, ni rien oublié.” – “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing”.

  • Daniel 03/05/2014 - 1:20 pm Reply

    Even more shocking than Professor Jeffreys’ transphobia is the fact that a publisher with a well-deserved feminist and queer reputation (Routledge) has released this one.

    Sheila writes: “It would be useful if some of my critics read my work and then took issue with particular ideas.” Well, that’s exactly what many of her critics have been doing for thirty-odd years! The remark about knowledge equalling power is laughable in its triteness

  • Forth Sadler 04/05/2014 - 1:03 pm Reply

    “Love the sin, hate the sinner”, huh? Regret levels amongst trans people are vanishingly low. Even those few I know who have backed away from the process have neither regretted it nor completely reverted but rather decided to live outside the gender binary having realised that while their assigned gender didn’t fit, neither did the diametric opposite. There’s an astonishing amount of misinformation here.

  • Mary 04/05/2014 - 11:23 pm Reply

    What happened to freedom of speech? This is why sometimes I loathe feminists as much as I loathe right wing nut jobs. They buy into a certain idea and then they will not budge even if the world around them is screaming maybe there is another way of looking into it. Critique the book, if you don’t believe in what she is saying, like grown up mature individuals. Instead, some of you here are challenging the decision of a publication to print this? Shame on you and your intolerance. If you cannot stand another point of view, you are not academics and you are definitely not feminists!

  • Marie D Sjoberg 05/05/2014 - 3:39 am Reply

    Having interviewed many gender nonconforming individuals for research and to better understand this minority community and issues persons who identify as gender nonconforming experience , I do take issue with the author of this book’s perspective that this is a “practice” and that persons experiencing this variation of the binary social construct of gender must be experiencing “psychological distress”. A gender nonconforming person may not have any psychological distress other then that which society is placing on the individual for lack of conforming behavior.
    M arie D.Sjoberg

  • Jess Mills 07/05/2014 - 12:36 am Reply

    Sigh… Sheila is once again taking aim at, and pontificating on, a topic in which she has no lived experience. This is unsurprising to those who have struggled through reading any of her previous works. I have been angered, frustrated and insulted before, through reading her material which is inflammatory, arrogant, and misinformed. Sheila seems hell-bent on an agenda to criticise and shame anyone, particularly women, about choices that they make and the way in which they live their lives. Anything that does not conform to Sheila’s narrow world view is attacked. Unfortunately, I am unsurprised that she has once again taken aim at people who are not conforming to her own world view. I can only hope that those who read her new book will realise quickly that because they are different to Sheila, does not mean that they, or their life experiences, are wrong.

  • Gavriil 08/05/2014 - 10:09 am Reply

    Perhaps Sheila Jeffreys could get the sack, and then her wage be used to set up a trans* homelessness refuge…. The proceeds of her looney book can go to programs to help homeless trans* people get back on their feet after a life battling hate and ignorance #Melbourneuniphilanthropy #Routledgecorporateresponsibility

  • Bradley 08/05/2014 - 10:22 am Reply

    Brandis and Jefferey’s have a lot in common. ‘The right to be a bigot mantra’ is a loved mantra for both.

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