In a spectacular moment of irony, Britain’s University of Manchester has banned two prominent people with radically different views about feminism and censorship from speaking at a panel about feminism and censorship.
The school’s Free Speech & Secular Society had invited Julie Bindel, a famous second-wave lesbian feminist who campaigns against violence against women, and Milo Yiannopoulos, a firebrand gay conservative who advocates for men’s rights, to engage in a debate titled “From liberation to censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?”
On Tuesday, when the University’s Student Union barred Bindel from participating in the debate based on her “views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students,” it was clear that indeed modern feminism does have a problem with free speech—at least at the University of Manchester.
Bindel’s controversial opinions on trans people, which she’s backed off of in recent years, were declared a threat to the school’s “Safe Space policy.” (PDF)
Jess Lishak, the SU Women’s Officer, called Bindel a “famous transphobe” in a Facebook post explaining why she’d been banned.
She’d stated in a 2004 Guardian column that a man who had a sex-change operation was still a man, and her opinion was simply intolerable.
They had upheld Yiannopoulos’s invitation, but promised that “extra security” would be “put in place for everyone’s safety.”
One would think these modern feminists would need a separate safe space from Bindel’s position on prostitution, since she frequently advocates against sex work.
Bindel later wrote in a 2007 column that arguing her unpopular views with four transgender experts that year on the BBC’s Radio 4 “was one of the most challenging and stimulating debates I have taken part in… because I was given a platform for my opinions, which are so often censored by those accusing me of bigotry and ignorance.”
She was “outvoted” in the end, but she felt she’d “done my job” and helped to provoke an insightful discussion.
Eight years later, our liberal culture has become ever-more sensitive to trans issues, and with good reason.
The rights of the transgender community have long taken a back seat to other civil rights crusades, but now the LGBT and feminist movements have taken up the transgender cause too—the latter somewhat problematically, as sketched in a controversial New Yorker article.
Indeed, they are so desperate to prove their inclusivity of minorities that they have no qualms excluding their feminist forebears whose views don’t entirely align with the movement’s latest, most progressive incarnation.
All of this demonstrates that if one’s views veer too far from accepted ideological doctrine, they aren’t just unwelcome, they’re unsafe.
Cultural vigilantes like the University of Manchester’s Student Union members vow to create safe spaces, but how exactly do they define “safe” versus “unsafe”?
Who gives them the authority to do so? They claim to protect us from harm and violence, but too often they conflate offense with harm, and the fear of offending has become its own form of extremism.
On Wednesday, after social media objected to Bindel being disinvited and not Yiannopoulos (after all, he has called being trans “a psychiatric disorder”), the Student Union kicked him off the panel as well.
“We have been made aware of various comments lambasting rape survivors and trans• people, and as such we are concerned for the safety of our students on the topic of this event,” the group wrote in an amendment to its first statement, labeling Yiannopoulos a “rape apologist.”
Bindel made it clear that she hadn’t called for Yiannopoulos to be “no-platformed.” Quite the opposite: “I was looking forward to wiping the floor with [him] then necking a bucket of martinis with him. And making him pay for it,” she tweeted.
Yiannopoulos fired back a provocative response (“you didn’t stand a chance you batty old dyke”), which Bindel playfully dismissed (“Twat. See you in Durham.”)
The irony of both parties being banned from a censorship discussion was not lost on anyone except for the University of Manchester’s Student Union. In fact, it was evident from their Twitter exchange that both Bindel and Yiannopoulos were eager to engage each other in rigorous debate on feminism’s censorship problem.
“I think [the Student Union] has made it clear that there’s no need for a debate,” Yiannopoulos told The Daily Beast, citing their censoriousness. “We’re going to have the debate anyway in a larger context, but it’s extraordinary to me that there’s a lesbian feminist who has spent eleven years defending young women and a flamboyant gay conservative columnist who enjoys provoking but who is by no stretch of the imagination a ‘rape apologist,’ and neither one of us is allowed to participate in the discussion.”
“Julie Bindel and I are both cultural libertarians who want to expose ideas not with censorship but with a spotlight,” he added. “We want to talk about dangerous ideas and explain why they’re dangerous. We only give them more power if we censor them.”
He also noted that “most students want to hear these debates; most students are frustrated with their own student unions.”
Bindel did not respond to requests for comment.
Clearly these two proudly combative writers aren’t going to censor themselves, but censorship has become an increasingly popular tactic among students who prioritize the potential for hurt feelings over having their beliefs and thoughts challenged.
This loud minority has launched a war against views and values deemed impermissible, intolerable, or wrong— and, as the banning of Bindel and Yiannopoulos makes clear, they’re winning.