SILENCING: No platforming
Although hate speech wasn’t against the law in my youth, there was a very strict campus policy against racism. Any student who was foolish enough to reveal racist attitudes was in danger of expulsion. And there was a no-platform policy for racists/fascists in operation, so speakers from far-right groups like the National Front and British National Party couldn’t be invited.
While I felt – and still feel – that hearts and minds should be won by countering bad arguments based on prejudice and hatred with good arguments based on reason and evidence, I was quite relieved that I didn’t have to waste my student years arguing with racists and fascists because it allowed me more time instead to fight small-minded, arrogant, sexist men who relished putting down and humiliating women at every opportunity. I really wonder if the young women of today who centre men in their so-called ‘feminism’ (on the loathsome Everyday Feminism website, for example) really have any idea what it was like back then.
What are now called ‘safe spaces’ weren’t known as such but they did exist, in that students’ societies were at liberty to set the criteria for membership. The Women’s Society could have invited men to our meetings if we wanted to but we didn’t and it was the only ‘space’ where I, as a feminist, felt I could express my views without being ridiculed by men. The Gay Society was a safe space for gay men (and perhaps lesbians, though none of the lesbians in our Women’s Soc joined, for reasons I can but guess at), the Jewish Society was the same for Jews, etc.
Fast-forward several decades to 2017 and we find ourselves in an absurd situation, helpfully analysed by Frank Furedi in the Los Angeles Times: Campuses are breaking apart into ‘safe spaces’
Safe space activism stems primarily from the separatist impulses associated with the politics of identity, already rampant on campus. For some individuals, the attraction of a safe space is that it insulates them from not just hostility, but the views of people who are not like them. Students’ frequent demand for protection from uncomfortable ideas on campus — such as so-called trigger warnings — is now paralleled by calls to be physically separated too. Groups contend that their well-being depends on living with their own kind.
When everyone retreats to their separate corners, that subverts the foundation on which a tolerant and liberal university is constituted. Whereas historically the university freed its members from their cultural baggage to create a community of intellectual individuals, students in the contemporary era are regarded not as individuals in their own right but as the personification of a cultural group. The popularity of identity politics among insecure millennials threatens to fracture campus life to the point that undergraduates are inhabiting separate spaces and leading parallel lives.
It is extraordinary that, early in 2017, large numbers of young people were so terrified at the thought of a semi-educated buffoon like Milo Yiannopoulos speaking on university campuses in the US that they gathered together to make headline-grabbing protests and send pre-sales orders for his as yet unpublished book through the roof.
If they don’t want men who are bigoted hypocrites with bad arguments to speak, it should come as no surprise that nor do they want women who are highly accomplished academics, journalists or human rights campaigners with good arguments to speak either – women like Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel (see transcript of her talk here.), Maryam Namazie or Linda Bellos. And the only way they can justify this is by pushing the boundaries of absurdity and presenting these speakers and others who don’t have such high-profiles as some kind of threat, a danger to the well-being and even lives of others. How ridiculous!
Even more so because these speakers only need to express a dissenting opinion on one issue once to be considered beyond the pale, a pariah, a deadly enemy who must be kept away from those who in mortal danger of having their feelings hurt.
Read about some of these women:
Update: 2.03.18 This week saw the publication of A statement by the Chair of Bristol University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group, which re-affirms a commitment to free speech “and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics. Universities are places of research and learning, where debate and dissent are not only permitted but expected, and where controversial and even offensive ideas may be put forward, listened to and challenged. Intellectual freedom is fundamental to our mission and values”.
In stark contrast to that message, Bristol Uni Students Union voted in favour of a motion to ban speakers who challenge trans cult ideology in case in hurts anyone’s feelings. Sad little bigots.