Book Of Eminent Philosopher Cancelled Because It Concluded That ‘Women Are Adult Human Females’

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Philosopher Alex Byrne

British philosopher Professor Alex Byrne has hits back at the spineless critics who scorn free speech.

Byrne, a philosophy professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, says his book was dropped for challenging gender.

His book “Trouble With Gender — Sex Facts, Gender Fictions” was cancelled by the Oxford University Press because in it he dared to ask the question “what is a woman” and concluded that they are “adult human females”

He added that for such an idea to be apparently unacceptable by OUP is a very troubling situation for us all.

In an interview with the Daily Mails he writes: We philosophers are used to asking difficult questions. How do I know other people exist? Is the universe real? Do I have free will?

But in the strange times we live in, one question — at least to some people — seems to be even more perplexing.

What is a woman?

As a philosophy professor of 28 years’ standing, I was delighted when Oxford University Press (OUP), arguably the world’s most prestigious academic publishing house, enthusiastically accepted my proposal in 2020 for a book on the philosophy of sex and gender: Trouble With Gender — Sex Facts, Gender Fictions.

I wanted to probe some of the great quandaries of our time: ‘What is gender?’, ‘What is a woman?’, ‘Is sex binary?’, ‘What is gender identity?’, ‘Why do some people transition from man to woman, or vice versa?’ But if I thought that this prestigious publisher was brave enough to pursue difficult subjects in the spirit of free intellectual inquiry, I was mistaken.

In the end, OUP simply couldn’t countenance my inescapable but heretical conclusion in the book — that women are adult human females.

I had made it abundantly clear that the book would not take a stand on political and social issues — trans women in female sports, for example. It was instead supposed to be a lively and accessible tour of central questions about sex and gender, demonstrating that the tools of philosophy can bring light instead of heat.

As I started to write, an OUP editor told me that my book would be ‘an important one’. I was drawing on anthropology, sociology, psychology, sexology and biology, as well as philosophy. But one connecting thread ran through every chapter: the fact that humans, like many animals, come in significantly different male and female forms.

This is crucial to dispelling the modern swirl of confusion around gender.

Perhaps naively, I thought that all this could prove an important subject for lively philosophical study. Most book-buyers are inquisitive people who want to be provoked and challenged, and are willing to change their views if the evidence is strong.

Yet when I delivered the text exactly as promised, OUP changed its tune entirely. To my shock and dismay, the publisher rejected my manuscript, alleging that the book did not treat the subject ‘in a sufficiently serious and respectful way’.

This, as anyone who reads it could tell you, was frankly absurd. I was not even offered the courtesy of making revisions, as an author typically would be.

It appears that my offence was seemingly to be open-minded — a prerequisite for any philosopher — rather than to have written with foregone conclusions.

What has happened when a great publishing institution is too fearful to produce books that explore challenging topics?

The ferocious arguments around trans rights were a niche issue a decade ago. Today, they form one of the great debates of our society.

I have taken a deep professional interest in this area for about five years, and in 2020 I published a paper in a philosophical journal, asking: ‘Are women adult human females?’

In this, I made it clear that, whatever view one takes, trans people, like all human beings, deserve to be treated with respect, and to live their lives free of discrimination and prejudice.

Nevertheless, I carefully set out six clear reasons why ‘adult human female’ was the correct way to define ‘woman’. This caused some controversy, but none of the counter-arguments I received from my fellow philosophers were to my mind at all persuasive.

The fact is: the battle lines in this debate were firmly drawn years ago. As time has gone on, people have only been driven further apart. The children’s author J.K. Rowling has drawn extraordinary criticism for her view that the biological differences between men and women sometimes matter to social policy, even though her language has always been respectful.

Yet many people who owed their careers to Rowling, such as the Harry Potter actors Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe, were quick to distance themselves not only from her views — but from the woman herself.

In the gender wars, there is no middle ground — and anyone who attempts to find it is condemned as a traitor. The controversy reminds me of religious schisms in medieval times.

Just look at the treatment of the historian Nigel Biggar, ditched by his publisher Bloomsbury, which had commissioned his book Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning in 2019. Professor Biggar’s book argued that, though the British Empire certainly caused great harm in many ways, there is also much to be said on the ‘credit’ side of the ledger. Eventually published by William Collins, it became a No 1 bestseller.

Bloomsbury may have been spineless but it at least has the excuse that it’s a commercial publisher — and can’t risk provoking the cancel culture mob.

The non-commercial OUP, the flagship press of one of the world’s greatest universities, ought to be a bulwark against intolerance, instead of a pushover for culture warriors. The hostility of activists on social media should be seen as a compelling cause for publication, not a reason to back down.But, as I have learned, the publishing industry is especially vulnerable to wokeness.It is staffed almost exclusively by graduates, and in many universities freedom of speech is regarded as a toxic privilege espoused by the extreme Right-wing, used to punch down on the marginalised. Dissident voices are rarely heard on the campus.

I worry this attitude is being carried into large parts of the publishing world. Younger members of staff are simply not equipped for open debate and disagreement

Still, one thing my experience has taught me is that some publishers do have a backbone.

My new publisher, Polity — which gladly accepted my manuscript — is one. Another reassuring thing I have learned is that there are many courageous people who value free speech and who are not afraid to put their careers or reputations on the line — such as the philosopher Kathleen Stock and J.K. Rowling herself.

Niamh Harris
About Niamh Harris 15017 Articles
I am an alternative health practitioner interested in helping others reach their maximum potential.