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Oxford University Press takes a beating over gender

You could have waited for the gender wars to reach academic publishing as well. Public books on gender – and especially transgender – such as Material Girls by the British philosopher Kathleen Stock have been the subject of heated controversy for some time. Titles on the subject were also published in NRC discussed through trial and error, after an initial rave review was rejected.

In two open letters has now been fiercely protested against an imminent publication of the prestigious Oxford University Press (OUP), the book Gender Critical Feminism by Australian political philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith. In that book she criticizes thinking in terms of gender. But according to the open letters, she is a well-known “anti-trans activist” out to add fuel to the fire. Trans rights are under pressure, especially in Eastern Europe and the US.

Holly Lawford-Smith (1982), senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, is a radical feminist critic of the concept of gender. Most ‘gender-critical’ feminists, denounced by opponents as TERFs (trans-exclusionary feminists), accept gender as the social, contextual expression of sex. What they object to is the idea that everyone has an inner, fixed ‘gender identity’ that is separate from biological sex. The position of born women would be affected as a result. Lawford-Smith goes a step further. She advocates abolishing the whole concept of gender† It would lock women – and men – in “social cages” and only perpetuate the oppression of women. She also expresses herself unashamedly on YouTube.

The letter writers are certainly not inferior to her. Lawford-Smith’s book would not be science, but a “coordinated polemical intervention,” according to de first open letter, written by a Canadian senior lecturer in cultural studies, Eugenia Zuroski. She points out that Lawford-Smith has called trans women “men” on her website and denies gender identity. Zuroski and her supporters ask the publisher not to immediately delete the publication. They do require access to the peer review of the manuscript. Zuroski also holds OUP responsible for “consequences, if it comes to publication”. Incidentally, the letter writers have not read the book, they rely on earlier statements by Lawford-Smith.

The second letter, of “employees and authors” of Oxford University Press, the publisher accuses the publication that the publication “will legitimize transphobic views”. They ask their employer to give more weight to the interests of transgender people than commercial ones.

Last week replied OUP Director David Clark. He assured the letter writers that Lawford-Smith’s book has been reviewed as thoroughly as other titles from the publisher. He is confident that the reviewers have reached a “balanced” conclusion. With that answer, the stocking was finished for the time being, although that one word aroused suspicion. Because “balanced” doesn’t that suggest a lack of judgment? Now we have to wait for the book itself, which should be published next week.

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