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Radical feminists criticising “safe spaces”? The worm has turned

March 18, 2016

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion in feminist and LGBT circles about censorship and safe spaces. It would seem that people who hold unconventional views on gender (in the opposite direction of the ultra-progressive stance of “anything goes”) find themselves blocked from speaking at universities by perhaps somewhat overprotective cisgendered / heterosexual people, who in their earnest attempts at empathy imagine that hearing Nasty Things being said about trans people is equally as bad as having gender dysphoria in the first place. Actually, I’d say that the people who are typically granted safe spaces are, for various reasons, made of tougher stuff than the general masses.

A safe space is a regulated situation, constructed so that specific groups are assured freedom from the threat of hatred and discrimination. Universities talk a lot about safe spaces, but they aren’t the only ones. Historically, so do the very people the Student Unions are refusing access to. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists or TERFs are among the major groups.

For some time, some TERFs were saying that in order to have safe spaces for women, feminist spaces should ban men and transwomen. It is thought that, as people who have been socialised male, they cannot be inside women’s spaces without causing discomfort to the women there.

The university view is that TERFs should not be allowed to speak at public events on campus, because universities have a duty to provide safe spaces for transgendered students. It is thought that the mere presence of TERFs violates this right, regardless of what they are speaking on.

So, TERFs have been rather hoisted by their own petard; champions of safe spaces find themselves victims of the new safe-space culture, which repeatedly silences them. And as quickly as they came up with the theory, they have fought to debunk it. The most common criticism is to point out that it does not make one feel “unsafe” to be faced with viewpoints opposite to one’s own, even if they are offensive. I’m inclined to agree, and now wonder how anyone can with a straight face suggest that a feminist conference can be trans or male exclusive for the “safety” of the women there.

These are not refuges, designed for nothing more than to be safe; these are discussion breeding grounds, places where ideas are freely batted back and forth. To ban anyone male or male-born is to suggest that feminist theory can’t hold up to scrutiny from those outside the ingroup, thus more inclined to be sceptical.

Exclusivity essentially says that no one who might disagree on their own behalf should be present, in case they rock the boat. But for the movement to have credibility, it must be accountable to its naysayers. Wherever it is intentionally portioned off, it doesn’t serve its purpose as a movement intended to instigate change. Nothing changes if the individuals who need to change themselves know nothing about the changes proposed.

It also suggests rather baldly that male and male-born people are incapable of shutting up and listening; that they will dominate female-led spaces and aggressively upset the apple cart for no reason but to anger feminists, whom they don’t like. Apart from the fact that this goes against most observations of audience behaviour, is a person in a wig and a dress likely to do that? A strange thing it would be for someone dressed as a woman to yell down the house about how women’s rights are a load of hot streaming cow dung. Not unheard of, I’m sure, but unlikely enough not to ban the entire community of transwomen over it.

Not for the first time, it occurs to me that if we’re to see the back of this petulant in-fighting, the first thing we have to do is see that opposing groups of people have been making the exact same mistakes as each other for years. The whole safe-space thing isn’t so convenient when it comes back to bite you on the bum.

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From → Leftism

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