October 28, 2021 - 5:30pm

There is no other way of putting it: a distinguished academic has been driven out of her job at a British university. For insisting on the reality of biological sex. A belief protected in law. Scarcely believable, and a terrible commentary on the poisonous atmosphere at some educational institutions. How could it come to this?

First, no one should be in any doubt about what Professor Kathleen Stock has gone through. ‘This has been an absolutely horrible time for me and my family,’ she writes on Twitter, announcing her decision to leave. ‘I’m putting it behind me now. On to brighter things soon, I hope.’

Many of us who saw the posters and masked protesters targeting Stock at Sussex two weekends ago will share that hope. But what has ended so badly for her has much wider implications. The Vice-chancellor, Adam Tickell, has written to all staff at Sussex, insisting that the university ‘has vigorously and unequivocally defended [Stock’s] right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind’.

Stock has responded by saying that the university leadership’s approach ‘more recently has been admirable and decent’, leaving open the question of what it did when she was first targeted. Because Stock and other gender critical academics, such as Professor Jo Phoenix of the Open University, have faced slurs and bullying for at least two years — so much so that Phoenix is raising funds to take the OU to an employment tribunal.

For too long, other academics have looked the other way, afraid of being targeted themselves, or in some cases even joined in the harassment. Who could forget the posters around Sussex demanding that Stock should be fired? Yet those of us who denounced the gender extremists behind the bullying of feminists, after our meetings to defend women’s rights were picketed by screaming trans activists, have been primly told that the issue is ‘toxic on both sides’.

It is hard to sustain this nonsense when you have seen the venom with your own eyes. Earlier this month, when women from all over the country gathered in Portsmouth to discuss violence against women, we had to walk past trans activists bearing posters that threatened us with sexual violence in the most obscene language imaginable.

On the ‘other side’ are lesbians like Stock and Phoenix, who simply ask to do their jobs — to ask awkward questions in a polite manner — without threats. On the ‘other side’ are women who highlight the conflict between the rights of vulnerable women in prisons and men who demand the right to be housed with them.

What has happened to Stock is indefensible — and it is shocking that the situation at Sussex was allowed to reach the point where she feels she has to leave. But it should also be the biggest red flag for people, including far too many academics and MPs, who have tried to keep their heads down.

Misogyny is rampant among gender extremists, and Stock’s resignation is the direct result. If you really care about women, now is the time to speak.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.