Apparently I am a member of Generation Z. (I have no idea what we’re going to name the generations after this, but hey.) Over the last few months I’ve been accumulating various pieces of media about how we’re all far too radical and politically correct, and this kind of culminated in me doing a whole bunch of research into attempts to no-platform speakers, most notably Germaine Greer.
Basically, there was a petition to ban Greer was banned from a Cardiff University talk for saying among other things transgender women ‘aren’t real women’. Across the issue various other people like Peter Tatchell and Mary Beard signed a petition supporting freedom of speech in unis. (Many signers later received death threats.) Although many journalists might tell you that this issue embodies how young people are destroying the concept of opinion, it’s more about the reaction of students to people being transphobic.
Okay, freedom of speech is obviously a really difficult thing to discuss: we’re supposed to be able to say what we want, but when does that become hate speech? Where do we draw the line? What’s the difference between an offensive comment and a comment born from the privileges of society? Yeah. A lot of stuff like that.
Often when people quote long words about privilege and equality and the oppression of society in comments, they’re dismissed as being ‘too Tumblr’. That attitude is sseen a bad thing, and in some ways I think it is. I am an avid Tumblr user, and I see almost daily the somewhat aggressive social justice agenda on that website. I do love it sometimes, but what frustrates me is that if you make one mistake, you are bombarded with criticisms — you’re not allowed to be ignorant. Just having no malicious intention isn’t okay: it’s are you sponsoring the discrimination of society? By using this word are you supporting that prejudice? It means that often in a discussion I will stay silent rather than risk offending anyone. Even as I write this, I’m kind of hesitant because I don’t want to offend anyone. I know that I have a lot of privilege, and I can’t speak about all kinds of discrimination. I can only talk from my own viewpoint. So if you think I’m speaking out of line then please, please say.
Anyway. I digress. I’ve realised that I’m using a lot of rhetorical questions in this post… Probably because I don’t really have any of the answers. I’m just someone trying to formulate an opinion about all these other opinions. I DON’T KNOW.
Now that we’re over my small angst introduction, it’s time for me to let out some of my current frustration at Germaine Greer. You can read some of the things she’s said, which are lots of general crude comments about how trans women aren’t real women.My immediate reaction was: well, I don’t agree with you at all, and to be honest that hasn’t really changed as I’ve researched. Obviously I’m not going to agree that being trans is a delusion…? I have so, so many problems with what she’s saying, and I don’t think it’s okay.
Just because a person says one problematic thing doesn’t make all their views wrong, of course. I know of Greer, but I haven’t really read anything she’s written. Since she’s not as much of an icon for me, I suppose I’m not really inclined to defend her. Do her views on trans people make her a less desirable speaker? Does that mean she should have been banned from speaking at universities?
I mean, going back to Tumblr I think that in particular it has a habit of shutting people down as soon as they say anything slightly wrong. Sometimes these things take a bit of time and explaining rather than righteous fury. By that logic I should probably be saying that Greer shouldn’t have been banned from speaking. I think the situation has worsened by doing that; she seems to just be defending her views as before along with a whole cohort of freedom of speech advocates. This open letter to Greer is excellent, and I’d like to hope that kind of thing would be more useful. But…to be quite honest, I feel that if a uni wants to ban her they can. There’s a difference between a casual person on the internet and an official speaker saying hateful things, you know? I personally wouldn’t have gone to a talk with someone who says things like this. Although: allowing institutions to accept this kind of transphobia isn’t cool, but perhaps it was not the decision of the institution to make the ban. I think it was the whole student union trying to ban her? But I guess I don’t know enough about the role of unis and their relation to visiting speakers.
I am frustrated that a lot of people have spoken up saying this shows how young people always shutting down any dissent or debate. We apparently don’t want to hear any opinion to ours. It is a problem, but that’s not the whole story. It’s not always because we don’t want to hear any different opinions. Usually it’s because we don’t think you garner respect or responsibility from misinformed views and hurtful words. We’re changing, alright? Yeah, maybe it’s not okay for you to call someone’s identity a delusion anymore. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Look at all these far too radical and politically correct students! How dare they!
Having said this, that doesn’t make it acceptable to attack people in response. Many people who signed a petition for freedom of speech in universities received death threats. I know you might be angry, but those actions are also not cool. And they’re not going to persuade people of anything, if that’s the aim. To give this a Les Mis allegory: We need to leave the Valjean eye for an eye/several limbs phase and move into a slightly more forgiving mindset, I think.
I think there’s a lot more I could talk about on this topic. Maybe I gave myself too broad a headline. Because there’s SO MUCH. This opens a whole span of issues about the words we use and how we deal with inclusivity. I’ll probably have to write something else in the future. But I’ve looked at a crazy amount of articles for the moment, so I’d like to hear what you think.