The Editors: UL’s Mary Kenny disgrace

The journalist Mary Kenny is no fire-breathing right wing conservative. In 1970, along with Nell McCafferty and others, she was a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement.

A radical feminist of her era, she was instrumental in ending many of the most egregious restrictions on the rights of Irish women that characterised the first fifty or so years of Irish Independence: The marriage bar, which forced Irish women out of work upon marriage; The law which said that a woman was legally compelled to disclose her earnings to her husband, but not him his earnings to her; The law which decreed that a woman could not obtain a passport without her husband’s permission; The law which banned women from opening a bank account without their husband’s permission; The law which barred Irish women from juries.

That is not an exhaustive list of the restrictions placed on Irish women at the time when Mary Kenny and others formed the Women’s Liberation Movement. At the time, the assumption in Ireland’s laws was that men were simply the superior sex, and better at everything.

It is ironic, then, fifty years on, that Mary Kenny finds herself disinvited from the University of Limerick for refusing to affirm that men are just as good at being women as women themselves.

That is, after all, the crux of the matter: Mary Kenny believes that men and women are separate and different, but should be equal in law. This belief, and her advocacy for it, has been the basis of her long and illustrious career.

What she does not believe is that a man can simply become a woman, or vice versa. If that were true, then self-evidently her entire career fighting for the rights of women would have been a waste, since women who felt themselves oppressed by the laws of her era could simply have re-designated themselves as men and enjoyed all the relative benefits of masculinity. Were it possible, in other words, humans changing their sex at will with nothing more than a sheet of paper would have happened long before 2023.

Not accepting that men can simply become women does not, of course, imply hostility or animosity towards trans-identified people. The right to exist, to dress as one wishes, and to choose one’s own name are long established, and a society which is truly free will always accommodate those who are different, and encourage respect for those differences.

But the fact remains that whatever a law says, a piece of paper cannot transform a biological male into a female, no more than it can transform a piece of coal into lead or gold. Nor, for all the explosion in highly dubious “affirmative care”, can any drug, or healthcare regimen, or operation transform a female into a male. It is, we believe, deeply dubious to sell such surgeries to patients, most especially the very young.

In the estimation of this publication, this field of medicine has the same legitimacy as a doctor who proposed to treat anorexia with liposuction, or depression with a noose. In time, we believe, the world will come to share this estimation.

But Mary Kenny does not go as far as we do.

Amongst her “transphobic” tweets were statements as basic, and as widely agreed as “a male born rapist should not be accommodated in a women’s prison”. Another welcomed the closure of the Tavistock Clinic in London, which has been heavily criticised for, amongst other things, being much too quick to prescribe “gender affirming care” to young children.

These are not fringe views: In almost every public poll conducted on this issue, they are the majority view. But the majority view, it seems, is not welcome in the University of Limerick. Not even when expressed by a woman, on International Women’s Day. On that day, of all days, the views of offended males calling themselves trans women appear to come first.

To call this a disgrace would be to gravely under-state the matter. It amounts to a university – a place of learning – rejecting objective biological fact as too offensive and repellent to be mentioned, let alone taught.

It raises serious questions about the level of academic freedom on the University’s campus, and what scientific conclusions its staff might fear to arrive at in order to avoid falling foul of a culture where, it seems, only one truth may be accepted.

It raises questions about the state, and the funding it supplies to the University, ostensibly for the purpose of advancing learning, debate, and research: How can those goals be advanced, when some ideas – widely accepted ideas – are subject to a heckler’s veto from a fringe minority who appear to consider screaming a valid substitute for discussion?

In a sane world, a decision like this which so thoroughly undermines the very purpose of a University would lead, at the very minimum, to the political demands for answers from the University’s President, Professor Kerstin May. It should also lead, in short order, to serious consideration in the Oireachtas about how best to protect and defend academic freedom and debate on College Campuses.

Because as this shameful episode proves, those freedoms are under mortal threat.


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