By Jonathon Van Maren
Shortly after appearing on Fox and Friends, the co-director of undergrad studies at Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology became the subject of a long Twitter thread by Laura Simone Lewis, a Harvard PhD student and director of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. Lewis was apparently outraged by what Hooven had said during her media interview: “I am appalled and frustrated by the transphobic and harmful remarks made by a member of my dept in this interview with Fox and Friends.”
What were Hooven’s offensive sentiments? She committed the crime of saying that there are “sex differences” between men and women: “That’s something I’ve always been really enthusiastic about, the science of sex and sex differences. And part of that science is teaching the facts. And the facts are that there are, in fact, two sexes. There are male and female. The ideology seems to be biology isn’t really important as how somebody feels about themselves or feels their sex to be. But, you know, we can treat people with respect and respect their gender identities and use preferred pronouns. So understanding the facts about biology doesn’t prevent us from treating people with respect.”
It isn’t enough that Hooven is willing to use preferred pronouns and accept the transgender movement’s ideological premises, of course—Lewis wants Hooven to subject her entire intellect to this new ideology. Hooven, for her part, responded by retweeting Lewis’s thread: “I appreciate your concerns. Could you let me (and the Twitterverse) know exactly what I said that you consider transphobic or harmful to undergrads? I think you know that I care deeply about all of my students, and I also care about science. How about a discussion?”
A discussion is not what Lewis and her ilk want. That’s why she went to Twitter, not to Hooven. She wants Hooven to get fired, or disciplined, or deliver a groveling apology that will strengthen her cultural position. Every time a public figure is forced to bend the knee before woke young radicals in public for all to see, a message is sent to everyone else: Fall in line, or we’ll make you pay.
This is an increasingly common story. Consider this anecdote from Katie Herzog, published recently on the Substack Common Sense with Bari Weiss:
During a recent endocrinology course at a top medical school in the University of California system, a professor stopped mid-lecture to apologize for something he’d said at the beginning of class.
“I don’t want you to think that I am in any way trying to imply anything, and if you can summon some generosity to forgive me, I would really appreciate it,” the physician says in a recording provided by a student in the class (whom I’ll call Lauren). “Again, I’m very sorry for that. It was certainly not my intention to offend anyone. The worst thing that I can do as a human being is be offensive.”
His offense: using the term “pregnant women.”
“I said ‘when a woman is pregnant,’ which implies that only women can get pregnant and I most sincerely apologize to all of you.”
It wasn’t the first time Lauren had heard an instructor apologize for using language that, to most Americans, would seem utterly inoffensive. Words like “male” and “female.”
Why would medical school professors apologize for referring to a patient’s biological sex? Because, Lauren explains, in the context of her medical school “acknowledging biological sex can be considered transphobic.”
When sex is acknowledged by her instructors, it’s sometimes portrayed as a social construct, not a biological reality, she says. In a lecture on transgender health, an instructor declared: “Biological sex, sexual orientation, and gender are all constructs. These are all constructs that we have created.”
In other words, some of the country’s top medical students are being taught that humans are not, like other mammals, a species comprising two sexes. The notion of sex, they are learning, is just a man-made creation…
The denial of sex doesn’t help anyone, perhaps least of all transgender patients who require special treatment. But, Lauren says, instructors who discuss sex risk complaints from their students — which is why, she thinks, many don’t. “I think there’s a small percentage of instructors who are true believers. But most of them are probably just scared of their students,” she says.
And for good reason. Her medical school hosts an online forum in which students correct their instructors for using terms like “male” and “female” or “breastfeed” instead of “chestfeed.” Students can lodge their complaints in real time during lectures. After one class, Lauren says, she heard that a professor was so upset by students calling her out for using “male” and “female” that she started crying.
Then there are the petitions. At the beginning of the year, students circulated a number of petitions designed to, as Lauren puts it, “name and shame” instructors for “wrongspeak.”
One was delivered after a lecture on chromosomal disorders in which the professor used the pronouns “she” and “her” as well as the terms “father” and “son,” all of which, according to the students, are “cisnormative.” After the petition was delivered, the instructor emailed the class, noting that while she had consulted with a member of the school’s LGBTQ Committee prior to the lecture, she was sorry for using such “binary” language. Another petition was delivered after an instructor referred to “a man changing into a woman,” which, according to the students, incorrectly assumed that the trans woman wasn’t always a woman. But, as Lauren points out, “if trans women were born women, why would they need to transition?”
This phenomenon — of students policing teachers; of students being treated as the authorities over and above their teachers — has had consequences.
“Since the petitions were sent out, instructors have been far more proactive about ‘correcting’ their slides in advance or sending out emails to the school listserv if any upcoming material has ‘outdated’ terminology,” Lauren tells me. “At first, compliance is demanded from outside, and eventually the instructors become trained to police their own language proactively.”
In one point in the semester, a faculty member sent out a preemptive email warning students about forthcoming lectures containing language that doesn’t align with the school’s “approach to gender inclusivity and gender/sex antioppression.” That language included the term “premenopausal women.” In the future, the professor promised, this would be updated to “premenopausal people.”
Lauren also says young doctors are being taught to declare their pronouns upon meeting patients and ask for patients’ pronouns in return. This was echoed by a recent graduate of Mount Sinai Medical School in New York. “Everything was about pronouns,” the student said. The student objected to this, thinking most patients would be confused or offended by a doctor asking them what their pronouns were, but she never said so — at least not publicly. “It was impossible to push back without worrying about getting expelled,” she told me.
This hypersensitivity is undermining medical training. And many of these students are likely not even aware that their education is being informed by ideology.
“Take abdominal aortic aneurysms,” Lauren says. “These are four times as likely to occur in males than females, but this very significant difference wasn’t emphasized. I had to look it up, and I don’t have the time to look up the sex predominance for the hundreds of diseases I’m expected to know. I’m not even sure what I’m not being taught, and unless my classmates are as skeptical as I am, they probably aren’t aware either.”
The consequences of rejecting biology in favor of ideology are, in other words, dire—and could potentially be deadly. Herzog documents, in detail, how this is playing out. But to woke trans activists, none of that matters. To instructors trying to hang on to careers built over decades, it is easier to knuckle under than to combat an ideology that has infiltrated nearly every major institution virtually overnight.
This change, it must be noted, is being driven by radicalized young people who claim the mantle of compassion and tolerance but possess none. Their self-righteousness will make liberals long for the old Religious Right, which at least had a framework for forgiveness and redemption. The struggle sessions in the days to come will make the old culture wars seem laid back—and this time, liberals are in the crosshairs, too.