I Don’t Agree With You On That

I recently watched a disagreement on feminist view points play out on twitter.
I watched as one woman published her views, and I watched as other women disagreed and it became heated. I then watched as other women stepped in to placate and mediate; effectively silencing the debate and negating the feelings of those involved. Not allowing those women to be angry and express that anger.
I then watched as a woman expressed her support for a particular political stance and subsequently had her appearance at a university student union event cancelled as a result.

Kate Smurthwaite is the latest in a line of women who have expressed a political belief and have been either no-platformed or simply cancelled as a result. Julie Bindel regularly – consistently, even – is banned from appearing at student events, regardless of what she’s debating or lecturing on, regardless of what the topic might be. It’s ludicrous. More than that, it’s harmful and politically stifling.
Women are allowed to disagree. Not only are we allowed, we should actively encourage disagreement. Debate is healthy. Through debate, we are able to examine aspects of a belief or theory that we hadn’t thought of, or explore a different perception.
Do you think people are so fragile that the very presence of one woman performing a comedy act is going to cause the audience irreparable harm?
(I’ve seen Kate perform and she’s funny, so it’s not likely. Although, comedy is a weapon of political dissent so who knows?)
Is it not possible that people generally are quite capable of
1) choosing to attend or not, and
2) leaving if they don’t like it?
Is it not possible that Kate performing her comedy routine may actually not reflect or contain a political belief she expressed on social media?
Is it not possible that Julie Bindel might actually have something of value and importance to share on violence against women?

There is a very pervasive attitude that women – because we’re women – must agree on everything.
It’s insulting, it’s patronising, it’s sexist, and it reinforces the view that women are a homogenous group who are unable to hold, and articulate different opinions.
Men, on the other hand, are allowed to hold opposing political views, argue them in public, and no one bats an eye.
Rarely do men get no-platformed. Rarely do men have to pull out of events because of dissent or disagreement.
Rarely are men silenced. Why? Because men are rational. Balanced. Unemotional. Respected.
Women are not.
Our attitudes towards men and women are reinforced throughout our lives and we act – often unconsciously – in a way that perpetuates them. It takes a lot of hard work to examine and acknowledge these attitudes and not everyone is prepared or willing to do the work.

Having a political viewpoint or belief that differs from someone else is quite normal. That’s why we have a political system that (in theory anyway) allows for debate and discussion of different theories and ideology.
That’s why we have a vote which we use to register our support for different party politics.
Some people vote Conservative. Personally, I don’t agree with them. I don’t like ANY conservative policies, and I don’t know anyone in real life who votes for them. Would I no-platform them? No. I probably wouldn’t attend a public meeting with them, or an event, unless I felt the need to go and register my protest but I wouldn’t no-platform.
Protesting against a rival political party is fairly common. There’s a long history of protest and dissent in politics and, I would argue, it’s healthy.
I’ve worked in academia for many years teaching social work, sociology and criminology. All of these subjects are specifically designed for students to question their world view, and debate their values, principles and belief systems. I’ve regularly had students express views that are sexist, racist, offensive in all sorts of ways. Allowing students to challenge those views in a safe space means that someone might learn something. And before you start assuming that there is no safe space for potentially harmful views, a great deal of preparation is done beforehand to ensure that it is as safe as possible. Students are spoken to, everyone has the right to leave if they feel unsafe or distressed, and disrespectful debate is not allowed. I am also led by students. It’s a collaborative process and I do not dictate the ground rules or content.

Debate should be actively encouraged. Without it, how on earth do you expect to develop an understanding of other peoples oppressions and experiences?
But this doesn’t just apply to the subjects I’ve taught. It applies to students across all disciplines. You are at university to LEARN. Once you achieve your degree, you will go out into the workplace and, no matter what your field, you will interact with other people. Those people will also hold different views to you and that’s ok. I find it utterly baffling that so many student societies are no-platforming speakers. But not just ‘speakers’ – women.

Examine your sexism and misogyny and stop babysitting people.
Stop telling women what they can or can’t say.
Stop assuming that your opinion and beliefs are the right ones.

NB: in the spirit of debate, feel free to disagree with me.

10 replies on “I Don’t Agree With You On That”

Yes! Yes! Yes! Debate is how we learn. Shutting down people’s views is so counter productive. When did academia shut it down? When I was at university we learnt to disagree – and it wasn’t that long ago. Just had a discussion on twitter about this very thing. Everyone who disagrees is called some kind of ‘phobic’ or a ‘hater’. I am not saying that all people don’t hate, as clearly some do. But, too many disagreements, too many attempts at debating a different view lead to insults and name calling – not helpful

Thanks for commenting. I always think debate is much better in real life, face to face. We keep saying that twitter isn’t the best medium for discussion but we still try. Offensive language should be challenged and I am aware I come at this from the perspective of a white woman. But being told lesbians are abnormal, or dirty, or sinful is offensive to me but I would still want to discuss it!

Thanks. Pondering your comments. It’s certainly the case that women constantly rush in to silence one another, speak over the top of one another (much more than we do to men), and treat debate as inherently negative. (Often either shying away from it or actively trying to convince others not to participate because it is ‘personal’ – even where it is about movement strategy.)

I do think it’s worth reflecting on the complexity of anger though. We direct a lot of anger at one another that isn’t deserved – and the validity of anger is not the same as the validity of debate. I don’t believe that suggesting that women take a breather or try out a new method of engaging in the debate is inherently silencing. (And suggestions are merely suggestions – the idea that disagreeing is ‘silencing’ is a pomo one which elevates the power of discourse over material hierarchy.)

But so too should we reflect on the complexity of mediation, and the self-serving nature of this is really under-discussed. Stepping in to ‘mediate’ can get us attention, and even kudos from others. There can be a real egotistic element to it, as we can take advantage of the debate to portray ourselves as the reasonable ones, by undermining one or more of those currently debating and fudging the history of the debate. There is also a science to it, which many women are unaware of, erroneously assuming that mediation does not usually increase the power of whoever already has most of it.

These finer points aside, thank you for reminding us how rarely men get no-platformed. And how dangerous it is for feminists to view endorsing this as anything other than a reinforcement of our oppression.

Thanks so much for this comment, it’s made me reflect on your points about anger. You’re right about it being complex and we (women) are generally conditioned to stay calm and not show our anger. I suspect that is one of the reasons why we show it more online. We encourage women within feminism to be angry, and for others to hear that anger. Yet, we don’t like it directed at ourselves. Really thought provoking, thank you.

You said “Do you think people are so fragile that the very presence of one woman performing a comedy act is going to cause the audience irreparable harm?” That’s true and the same can be said in relation to Dapper Laughs. However, many feminists tried to stop him from speaking, which was wrong. An enlightened society is all about hearing things you don’t like as well as that which you do like.

I take your point although I would argue that Dapper Laughs was misogynistic and advocated rape techniques. Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy is feminist comedy. For me, there’s a difference. The whole free speech debate is complex and I am aware that we (I?!) often veer into the realm of, “I think it’s offensive so it shouldn’t be shown.” I’m still trying to work through that!
Thank you for taking the time to comment.

I’m currently fighting a similar battle with a camper van rental company and its misogynistic slogans. The freedom of speech card comes into play often and I get it BUT there *has* to be a line when something perpetuates dangerous perspectives against others – predominantly females. I’m trying to work through it too!
Thanks for this piece 🙂

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