Toxic Femininity at Stanford

Is this what toxic femininity looks like?

Associate Dean for Diversity at Stanford Law School, Tirien Steinbach, argues that Judge Kyle Duncan’s right to speak is ‘not worth the squeeze’

In previous posts, I have discussed the greater tendency of female academics to favour shutting down or disinviting speakers they disagree with. Helen Dale noted that ‘women are systematically more hostile to freedom of speech than are men. As institutions, including universities, have become more feminised, they have become more hostile to freedom of expression and thought’. Cory Clark writing in Psychology Today documented a gender gap in censorship support. Cory found that female academics were more likely than their male peers to prioritise inclusivity over freedom of speech. In my blog post Charlotte Proudman: Women will not be silenced? I outlined other studies that show a consistent gender gap in support for freedom of speech and thought.

Returning to the YouTube video above, Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan had been invited by the Federalist Society to speak to students at Stanford Law School. Kyle Duncan is a republican appointed judge which alone might have been enough to attract the ire of progressive students, but his biggest sin in their eyes was to decline to use the preferred pronouns of transgender pedophile Norman Varner. The students immediately set about sabotaging his speech by shouting abuse to the point he was unable to continue speaking. At this point, not unreasonably, Kyle asked if one of the faculty members could be called to the podium to restore some kind of order. Tirien Steinbach who is Associate Dean for diversity answered the call, but instead of supporting the visiting speaker as she should have done, she took it as an opportunity to lecture Kyle Duncan. It was was a display of shocking insensitivity and monumental conceit.

Kyle Duncan initially says to Tirien. ‘so you’ve invited me to speak here today and I’m being heckled non-stop and I’m just asking for an administrator to…..‘ at this point, his voice is drowned out by mostly female voices and a student shouts ‘your racism is showing‘. Then, Tirien steps up to the podium and instead of being the adult in the room trying to restore order she decided to lecture the visiting speaker. At 1.20 she begins ‘I have to write something down because I’m so uncomfortable and I don’t say that for sympathy’ Which suggests to me that she is reading are prepared speech. Tirien went on,

I had to write something down because I am so uncomfortable up here. And I don’t say that for sympathy. I’m just saying I’m deeply, deeply uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable cuz this event is tearing at the fabric of this community that I care about and am here to support. And I don’t know and I have to ask myself and I’m not a cynic to ask this: Is the juice worth the squeeze? Is this worth it?

And then,

I mean is it worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes? Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that that is worth this impact on the division of these people who have sat next to each other for years, who are going through what is the battle of law school together, so that they can go out into the world and be advocates.

The answer to Tirien’s question ‘is it worth the pain this causes and the division this causes?’ is that you won’t know unless you listen. If you listen you might learn something or you might see a flaw in Kyle Duncan’s arguments and you could respectfully point out those flaws in the questions and answers at the end of the talk. If you prioritise (supposedly) hurt feelings nobody gets to learn or move on.

In truth, I don’t believe Kyle Duncan’s words were causing the students any pain. They were merely milking the emotional rewards of performative radicalism and enjoying the power they could exert over a high status speaker. In the short term, at least, they were successful, but this video has caused shock around the world and has damaged the reputation of Stanford. The consequences of Tirien’s display are still unfolding and the last word has yet to be written.

Tirien’s failure to support Kyle Duncan’s right to speak, even if she disagreed with him, reflected an emotional mindset that might be the dark side of empathy. She over empathised with immature and spoilt students and undervalued the importance of free speech. Perhaps she represents the extreme end of the female personality spectrum or toxic femininity if you want to call it that.

By femgoggles

I was abandoned by my parents in the black mountains and raised by timberwolves. On my return to the 'civilised world' with questionable table manners, I became a detached observer of human behaviour in general and gender relations in particular. This blog is the product of those observations.


  1. I must admit I stopped watching the video when she began whining about how her job “isn’t easy”. as part of her spiel. She has a nice office and a nice platform where she can speak to a nice audience about how difficult life is. How self centred and rude. It gives the impression she set up the situation to get a bigger audience.


    1. I agree, the only thing that seemed to matter to her was whether Kyle Duncan’s words and presence made her feel comfortable.
      Chairman Mao was an evil monster, but making academics work in the paddy fields (at least for a while) sometimes feels like a good idea. If people such as Tirien and the Stanford Law students spent time working in manual labour alongside ordinary citizens they might be bit less precious.


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