Just over a week ago Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos were banned by our SU from speaking at an event on the University of Manchester campus. The title, “From Liberation to Censorship: Does Modern Feminism have a Problem with Free Speech” would have seen them and others explore a possible compatibility issue between freedom of expression and third wave intersectional feminism. Unfortunately for those wanting to attend, both prospective speakers fell foul of the newly tightened safe space policy, and were then banned from speaking only a few weeks before they were scheduled to appear.
It has become clear recently that a key figure behind this censorship is our SU women's officer Jess Lishak. Last week she posted an explanation piece as to why she pushed so hard for the SU to ban the two respective speakers and label one as a security threat. It was taken down a day later, but can still be found here. It reads as if the writer was subtly and satirically trying to mock herself by drawing attention to what a Students’ Union stereotype sounds like. It also shows a complete willingness to use her position of privilege to discriminate against students that hold different opinions to her, as well as a blatant bias against the UoM Free Speech and Secular society.
The irony here is almost too blunt to constitute the label ironic. An event designed to explore the censorious side of intersectional feminism is effectively shut down by a progressive feminist via an appeal to a piece of legislature that is the very embodiment of intersectionality. I am talking of course about the safe space policy. That particularly soggy piece of legislation that facilitates the dangerous transition from that which is offensive to that which is physically threatening, and promotes one’s identity above the beliefs that one holds.
It would be easy to say that such irony is a signpost that the debate is now over, the issue settled, and the answer obtained. Well this would only be the case if our SU leadership were being reflective of modern feminism in their illiberal actions. They would certainly argue that they were, and one would not be acting irrationally to take them at their word.
However, I would prefer to see feminism as being reflective in the opinions of a trans student who wrote underneath Jess’s original post. She expressed her distaste towards Julie Bindel, but thought her own free expression would suffer were she not allowed to hear and challenge a speaker whose opinions she does not like. She also did not appreciate her identity being pigeon holed and minimalised by the assumption that just because she does not like Bindel’s opinions, she would somehow be psychologically at risk were she to speak on campus.
Such an assumption is not just intrinsic of the safe space policy, it is the safe space policy. Yet always with these SU leadership types, they have decided how a certain minority should feel, conveniently forgot that autonomous individuals actually exist, and determined that those who are vulnerable can do nothing more than languish in their own vulnerability. This is not what the kind of feminism that I subscribe to is about.
I have no tract with Julie Bindel, she recently argued that men should be placed in camps (though I think somewhat in jest), and that trans people should not be viewed as humans born into a gender that they never felt was their own. She may have changed her position on this one, it would have been nice to ask her were she not banned from the university. However, she does not incite violence and her position is routed in a legitimate position that gender is entirely constructed by the social environment of the subject. She is also an accredited journalist who is extremely popular in her field and has fought for women’s liberation for the entirety of her professional life. Whatever you think of her, she is certainly worth listening to.
Every UoM student should be worried about the safe space policy. It is sufficiently elastic that any speaker of note will have at one time or another fallen foul of its wide reach. Perhaps more worryingly, every prospective student should now be thinking twice about becoming a member of a Students’ Union whose leadership is out of control.
John Beswick writes about student affairs for The Manchester Magazine. He is also an active blogger on the FSS Blog