Image: Warwick Speak Easy

Activists protest Warwick event featuring gender-critical speaker

Activists from Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) protested an event featuring Nina Power, a gender-critical writer and philosopher who has previously faced allegations of transphobia.

The event, which took place on November 21, was organised by Warwick Speak Easy: a non-SU-affiliated society that regularly hosts political discussions and speaker events.

Power is a Senior Editor and columnist for Compact: a “radical” American magazine considered to be “antiliberal”. Her book, What Do Men Want?, argues that “masculinity is in crisis” and advocates for a “return to old values and virtues”.

Power has previously been criticised as being transphobic by trans rights advocates. She previously disputed the idea that people can have a gender identity that is distinct from their biological sex, opposing ‘self-ID’ laws that allow transgender people to identify as their chosen gender.

Just as Power was set to begin speaking, protestors from WASS interrupted her. They disseminated pamphlets branding Power as a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF): a term used to describe feminists who are perceived as being transphobic.

Our presence here tonight is indicative of a student body that will not accept lies, vitriol, and incitement of hatred … toward our trans siblings

Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) protestor

The pamphlets said: “TERFism is fascistic … and aligns itself with Nazism and conservatism”. They suggested that Power’s rhetoric was “vitriolic and dangerous” and that her presence was inciting “violence and hatred on Warwick’s Campus”. The back side of the pamphlet noted the protest was endorsed by 11 Students’ Union (SU) officers and over 10 Warwick societies.

Whilst the pamphlets were being distributed, a protestor, standing at the front of the room in which the event was occurring, said: “Power’s gender-critical work peddles unfounded conspiracy theories and contributes materially to the deadly and hostile realities of trans existence in Britain.”

The protestor then proceeded to highlight statistics surrounding discrimination faced by trans people in Britain and invoked Brianna Ghey, a British transgender woman who was murdered earlier this year.

They subsequently argued: “Our presence here tonight is indicative of a student body that will not accept lies, vitriol, and incitement of hatred … toward our trans siblings”, referencing the Autumn 2023 All Student Vote (ASV) in which Warwick students voted overwhelmingly to support “a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy”.

Immediately after the protestor concluded their speech, the activists left the venue, and the event went ahead.

During the event, Power criticised contemporary society as engaging in an “attack on men”, arguing that “black-and-white thinking” where men are “scapegoated” for society’s failures has predominated.

She argued “all men have [unfairly] been positioned on the side of the oppressors”, suggesting that members of civil society need to be “gently encouraged” back into a “mature dialogue” surrounding gender.

Power then went on to discuss what she sees as an intersection between economic and cultural change, arguing that deindustrialisation has disproportionately disadvantaged working-class men, who now “lack a sense of purpose” and “feel their role has been eclipsed”.

She suggested that men without university degrees are seen as unworthy of marriage because of their difficulties finding work, and that the modern post-industrial ‘knowledge economy’ advantages women, favouring supposedly “feminine” qualities such as having robust communication skills.

We will not engage in debate that denies Trans [sic] people’s existence, and we oppose the violent rhetoric being given a space on our campus

Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS)

Power’s talk was followed by a Q&A session, during which members of the audience asked questions about topics ranging from ‘slut-shaming’ to sexual assault.

A Home Office report has suggested that crimes against transgender people in the UK have risen by 11% compared to last year. When asked about this trend, and whether she thought her remarks had contributed to it, Power disputed the notion that anti-transgender hate crime was a pressing issue. Referring to transgender women, she suggested: “Men who purport to be women are not victims of violence.”

She added: “I don’t hate anybody – I’m just committed to reality”.

When asked for comment regarding the protest, Power said: “Freedom of expression includes the right to protest … I would’ve gladly spoken to and engaged with the protestors, but they didn’t stick around.” She suggested the protestors “want to do the right thing and be on the right side of history, and this is a very human desire”, noting that there was a need for a “dialogue” to resolve prevailing disagreements.

Criticising the protestors’ decision not to have a discussion with her, alongside the fact they urged those attending the talk to leave the venue, Power suggested the protestors were engaged in “cult-like thinking”. She argued that they were conflating disagreement with hate speech, and that it was “not true that trans people are being murdered in the way [the protestors] claim.”

According to a report by the Trans Murder Monitoring Project, an initiative orchestrated by transgender rights advocacy organisation, Transgender Europe, 321 transgender people were murdered between 1 October 2022 and 18 November 2023.

Following the event, WASS released a statement on Instagram noting:

“Yesterday, we disrupted an event on campus that platformed the TERF speaker Nina Power. The disruption demonstrated that we will not tolerate the presence of TERFs on campus. We will not engage in debate that denies Trans [sic] people’s existence, and we oppose the violent rhetoric being given a space on our campus. From SU policy, Society values, and polling of the student body, anti-trans rhetoric is not welcome on our campus, and we will continue to condemn the platforming of any transphobic speakers.”

Warwick Speak Easy told The Boar in a statement:

“As a society we respect people’s right to protest peacefully and defend their right to free speech. The protestors were welcome to stay and engage in debate with Nina and her ideas after her talk, just as other audience members did. We are planning events with speakers across the political spectrum and do not take a collective view as a society on these topics. Rather, Warwick Speak Easy strives to create a neutral and impartial ground for discussion on topical issues.”

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