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.