One of the great successes of modern feminism is the public awareness campaigns to recognize sexual harassment in the workplace. Universities have encouraged whistleblowing and anonymous complaints procedures so that women can safely report such targeting. But when women in academia are subject to vile slurs such as ‘TERF’, all bets are off; it is considered reasonable to publicly hound and humiliate those women.

Interestingly, the vicious, censorious mob tend not to target the handful of male academics who speak out against the sort of extreme transgender ideology that results in the removal of women’s hard-won sex-based rights.

Holly Lawford-Smith is associate professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne (UM), Australia. In 2020, Lawford-Smith started to collect data and stories concerning the impact on women when men use women-only spaces such as prisons, changing rooms, bathrooms, hospital wards, shelters and rape and domestic violence refuges.

Fast-forward to the now-standard open letter labeling Lawford-Smith ‘transphobic’ and ‘bigoted’ which was signed by more than 100 academics at her university, demanding ‘swift and decisive’ action. As well as calling for her punishment, the signatories denounced Lawford-Smith’s academic coursework on feminism, saying that ‘high-profile TERFs teaching “feminism” courses’ should not be allowed.

Since it all kicked off, there have been two protests against Lawford-Smith. The second protest, in March 2021, was on the campus where she teaches. The university branch of her union used its mailing list to encourage members to join the mob to get Lawford-Smith sacked. At the demo, alongside the usual blue-fringe mob and bearded dude-bros, a small group of brave dissenters are pelted with water by men screaming ‘cunts’ and ‘TERFS’ in their faces.

‘There were several men behaving in pretty ugly ways,’ says Lawford-Smith. ‘Watching male students on campus scream and attack my supporters, made it visceral how much the harassment of women academics has become socially acceptable under the guise of gender identity activism.’

Another witch whom the trans lobby is trying to burn is University of Sussex philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, who has endured repeated attempts to de-platform, sack and destroy her reputation since 2018. This is when she first spoke out against government plans to change the Gender Recognition Act to allow for self-identification.

In January 2021, the UK government bestowed Stock with an OBE for services to higher education. Yet an open letter signed by 600 people, including several academics at Sussex, suggested that Stock had been awarded the OBE for transphobia instead of for her impressive work. They stated: ‘We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honor her for this harmful [transphobic] rhetoric.’

Stock, who teaches some trans students, says: ‘My main problem is non-trans colleagues, in some cases very senior, who announce to the world that I’m a “danger” to the safety and wellbeing of trans students at my university and that my ideas themselves are “violent”.’

The campaign against Stock is carried out mainly on Twitter, which then gets shared by other colleagues and students.

In March, 40 of her colleagues and students also attended an online talk entitled ‘Philosophy and Anti-Trans Thought’ at Sussex on the theme of Stock’s ‘transphobia’. The talk included several false and defamatory claims against Stock, as well as unfounded references to ‘anti-Semitism’.

‘If I complain that this sort of defamation impedes me from doing my teaching job and threatens my own safety on campus,’ says Stock, ‘they reply that since I am a free speech warrior, shouldn’t I just put up with it? They are utterly toxic and my mental health has definitely suffered.’

Donna Hughes has been a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island since 1996. Her important work to combat the trafficking of women has led her to be invited to bill signings at the White House three times, including at the Oval Office.

In January, Hughes was called to a Zoom meeting with Rosaria Pisa, chair of her university’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, at which Hughes was informed there was ‘concern’ that she was not ‘acknowledging’ all the students in her classes. By this, Pisa meant transgender students and those involved in so-called ‘sex work’. Hughes was consequently instructed to “‘affirm’ them.

There was also a complaint about a reading supposedly on Hughes’s syllabus from the Feminist Current website, run by Meghan Murphy. Pisa said that Murphy is a ‘gender-critical’ feminist, and therefore Hughes should not use any materials from Feminist Current because it ‘upset the students’. Hughes could find no such reading from Feminist Current on her syllabus but tells me: ‘If there ever is anything on Feminist Current that I think will engage the students and enable them to learn, I will use it.’

At a second meeting with the entire Gender and Women’s Studies Department faculty, participants were informed that they were required to join a two-hour ‘Safe Zone Training’ session given by the Gender and Sexuality Center on LGBTQ issues in order to ‘learn the language’ of LGBTQ topics.

‘We were told that transgender students must be acknowledged, otherwise we are in violation of the Disabilities Act,’ says Hughes. She has since engaged a lawyer to write to the university affirming her rights to academic freedom and free speech.

Soon afterwards, Hughes published an article called ‘Fantasy Worlds on the Political Right and Left: QAnon and Trans-Sex Beliefs’, following which all hell broke loose. The attacks from students escalated, with calls on Twitter to ‘take her down’ and for everyone to file complaints against her at the university.

The University of Rhode Island posted a statement online which acknowledged the right of free speech, but said that the administration, faculty and students were within their rights to publicly criticize and denounce Hughes. ‘There was an attempt to remove me from teaching core courses, leaving me with only electives and independent studies to teach,’ she tells me.

The students gathered and participated in a community Zoom call. Following this, a petition was circulated calling for Hughes to be fired: a demand which was retweeted hundreds of times by her detractors. ‘Faculty colleagues are still publishing letters to the editor in the student newspaper denouncing me,’ says Hughes. ‘All of the letters, petitions and statements that have been released are full of misinformation and outright lies about me.’

In an unusual move, the chair of the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies released a statement denouncing Hughes to the students in the department, in which she trotted out the usual line that ‘these are not debatable issues’. Hughes says: ‘This encouraged faculty and students to target me for hate and harassment.’

Evidence that the targeting of female academics is fueled by misogyny as opposed to a genuine concern about the rights of trans people is clear in the denouncement by Hughes’s colleagues of her work against sex trafficking.

‘They said that I dismiss race and intersectionality,’ says Hughes, ‘but the exploitation and trafficking of Asian women have been a focus of my research and a number of my papers I have published since the mid-1990s.’

Lawford-Smith, Stock and Hughes are all fine academics, feminists and human rights defenders whose work has resulted in material change for the good on behalf of women and girls. Unfortunately, they are far from the only ones being targeted under this new McCarthyite regime.

What I am asking for is the same thing I have asked for since the trans extremists began to target me in 2004 for daring to dissent: stand up, speak out and stop sending confidential messages of support claiming to be ‘unable’ to publicly denounce this witch hunt. What is happening to feminist heretics in universities across the world is the new face of sexual harassment. It needs to be denounced, or we will lose the right and the fight to resist.