Kathleen Stock


Kathleen Stock is that rare thing, a weekly columnist who never fails to say something new. Her range is remarkable: over the past year she has written about Nicola Sturgeon’s shortcomings and Prince Harry’s ghostwriter; Caitlin Moran’s feminism and the appeal of Dua Lipa — topics on which there is no shortage of opinions, but about which Kathleen is guaranteed to make you think differently. Armed with a logician’s brain and an entertainer’s panache, she shows a remarkable ability to make the gnarliest of subjects accessible. Her analysis is watertight; her flourishes are filled with vim. Stock’s calm head and capacity for erudition has turned her into a must-read columnist.

In ‘The Oxford kids are alright’, she describes the experience of returning to her alma mater to speak to the president of the Union about gender ideology. Given that Kathleen resigned from her professorship after being harassed for her views on the subject, one would expect her to vigorously condemn the protestors at Oxford, who performed stunts rather than engaging her in debate. Instead, her conclusion is surprisingly hopeful, and will contradict the perception of most readers: Kathleen argues that students are still exercising and defending free speech and, in keeping it alive at universities, they are performing a vital public service. This piece became a news story in almost every national newspaper.

Clearly, Kathleen is unafraid to provoke debate, and she is as incisive on the media as she is on the academy. In ‘The fantasy of Britain’s liberal elite’, she debunks the fashionable idea that the nation is run by an uber-progressive ruling class that imposes its worldview on a socially conservative working class. Unlike many of the commentators who were tweeting about this idea while Kathleen was writing her piece, she is forthright about her position. “Whatever the new elite is,” she writes, “I’m probably a member of it.” She concludes by offering a counter-intuitive insight: that the elite fails the working classes not because it has “rampantly woke” political views, but because it has none at all — it is more interested in cricket than race debates. Kathleen’s voice is as distinctive as her interests are diverse.

If there is a common thread running through Kathleen’s columns, it is her view that productive conflict is essential to human flourishing — whether in public debate or private relationships. In ‘Why is my chatbot hitting on me’, which is simultaneously profound and hilarious, she suggests that the disturbing thing about an AI acting like it’s your wife is that it was created to do what it is told. Reporting from the field, Kathleen writes: “When I told her I liked someone who put up a fight, she took this as a sign I wanted to engage in erotic roleplay again” — before arguing that this kind of compliance offers “a neutered simulacrum of terrifying, exhilarating real life”. Kathleen wants us to take risks, to refuse the easy way out.