In the last few days, Will Knowland, an Eton College master fired over a “controversial” Youtube lecture on gender, has been cleared of professional misconduct by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA).
The TRA did not consider that “at its highest, the comments” made in the video “could amount to unacceptable professional conduct” – after it went through some of the most sensational claims (“a world without men would be awful for women”).
Anyone who’s watched the thing, titled The Patriarchy Paradox, will be astonished that it caused such a hoo-ha, from Knowland’s dismissal, to the subsequent publicity and then the hearing. The video is opinionated, but it’s fairly banal stuff. Furthermore, it was delivered as part of Eton’s Perspectives curriculum, designed to encourage debate, and it’s clearly meant to spark a reaction.
And yet, while defending himself to the TRA, Knowland had to challenge claims that his lecture “was offensive to women and to LGBT people, and that it breached fundamental values of tolerance and respect.”
In the wake of the news, The Free Speech Union tweeted its delight about Knowland being cleared, who is one of its members. Obviously this is a great relief and victory for free speech. But on a wider note, I can’t help thinking about the money (Knowland’s crowdfunder raised £108,136) and resources that have been wasted on these campaigns, which uphold common sense.
Nowadays there seems to be a whole industry of employees having to take employers/otherwise to court over issues we could probably settle in the pub. One of the most famous examples is that of Maya Forstater, who lost her job after arguing – get your smelling salts out – that people cannot change biological sex.
People like Knowland and Forstater, and everyone else having to stand up for the obvious, are incredibly brave, in a world where common sense is the new controversy (I contributed to Forstater’s campaign, to give you an idea of where I stand). But how did we get to the point where she had to go to the High Court because she thinks “sex is immutable” (as most of the population does)?
Similarly, in recent times I have been getting through podcasts and literature on trans issues. There are some very interesting books out on the subject, such as Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier and Trans by Helen Joyce.
I like these writers very much; Shrier has incredibly compelling prose and Joyce has a fantastic, philosophical mind. But part of me is also a bit cross that some of the most brilliant female thinkers now devote huge intellectual energy to proving that biological sex exists. Not least because their fiercest critics will never bother to read their intricate and counterbalanced arguments. What a waste of everybody’s time (NB. I still really like these books!).
How did the common sense legal/ literary market come about? Twitter and its ability to completely distort public perceptions of the majority. Endless organisations and MPs now have one person in the back of their mind, when deciding policies – and that’s mainly the most offended.
This week, for instance, Scotland decided that four-year-olds should decide their gender, in a move that surely most of the population disagrees with. What will the counter-movement be? A crowdfunder? Huge intellectual effort expended to state the obvious? A new political party? Or could leaders actually get a grip…
At some point, the crowdfunders and books, and the rest, have to go – and common sense has to prevail in every realm of our lives.