02.07.2022, Berlin: Teilnehmer einer Demonstration gegen den Vortrag der Biologin Vollbrecht in einem Hörsaal der Humboldt-Universität im Rahmen der Langen Nacht der Wissenschaften stehen vor dem Hauptgebäude der Humboldt-Universität. Die Universität hat den Vortrag mit dem Titel »Geschlecht ist nicht gleich Geschlecht. Sex, Gender und warum es in der Biologie nur zwei Geschlechter gibt« abgesagt. Foto: Christophe Gateau/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Once again, a public lecture received a response mainly because it was not held. A biology doctoral student wanted to speak about sex, gender and “why there are two genders in biology” as part of a popular science program at Humboldt University; but she couldn’t because supporters and critics on digital platforms caused an uproar and the university – understandably – had security concerns. The university canceled. After all, the “Long Night of Science” is not a night of long knives.

Nevertheless, it is worth taking a look at the process and the discussions it triggered. Where some see “cancel culture” and an attack on academic freedom, others see a counter-revolution of backwardness that forces immediate intervention – also in the name of science. The two-gender biology, which the young researcher wanted to talk about, is as hostile to trans as it ignores non-binary people, just as multi-gender biology is misogynistic because it weakens female protection against discrimination. Outsiders with mere school or experience knowledge about reproduction suspect that it is about political terminology and interpretation battles, which are reflected in the respective understanding of science. Or the other way around: that lively science also stimulates, agitates – shapes political understanding.

That’s how it should be. Science and politics are human works that occur and develop together. Every perspective is valuable that enables new insights. Or a real old one confirmed, which falls into oblivion under the progression of the new. What and how something is separated, accentuated or made to disappear is up to the actors. There is therefore no need to feel sorry for the young scientist, who, from her study of gametes, was also given the task of defying gender pluralism – according to her own statement – ​​in a feminist way. Her emphatically evolutionary-biological message, in contrast to the emotive word “gender” in the lecture title, including her activist Twitter profile, was a provocation, should be one and has been accepted as such.

Conversely, the provoked should not be surprised to see themselves accused of being censors. The pretended innocence, with which one simply wanted to “inform” about the biologist’s oh so terrible actions, is part of the calculation of being able to effectively impose a ban on speaking. In the digital arenas, fronts can quickly be drawn that serve as a threatening backdrop for real and true community life. The effect is intimidation. It is often against the person, less often about the cause, but always about influence. The enemy scheme is raised to the principle of debate, exclusion is celebrated as a success. It doesn’t matter that resentment increases, that small opponents can become bigger in the media barrage. Every rejection is a victory.

Everyone can claim fundamental rights for themselves, if not academic freedom, then freedom of speech or freedom of assembly. But what does that matter? This seems to be about forms of civility or even about what used to be called custom. You can treat each other differently. Talk, listen, let talk. And of course, there are many genders, but little works without a woman and a man.