Generation Politically Correct? // germaine greer & freedom of speech

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.

should we be able to ban speakers from universities? what do you think about germaine greer’s comments? how do we draw the line between freedom of speech and hate speech?

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12 thoughts on “Generation Politically Correct? // germaine greer & freedom of speech

  1. I definitely agree with you on the Tumblr thing- it’s really scary to voice your opinion when you know that someone out there is going to be upset no matter what, and there’s a chance they’ll lash out at you. I wish, for a community that supports inclusion of all types of people, they’d be a little less harsh.

    1. I do love using Tumblr, but there are some topics or people I’m really afraid to talk about or disagree with. I agree, there’s almost always someone who’ll be upset at what you’re saying! Which makes it pretty difficult sometimes, but I think we just have to consider the actual intention and meaning behind something.

  2. This is a very good point! I had never really heard of Greer, and it sucks that she thinks that way, but it does make sense what you’re saying- when did we go from educating the ignorant to simply telling them no? That doesn’t really solve anything.

    1. Yeah, I sorta recognised her name but I didn’t know who I was until I read about this issue. I mean, I think she’s saying some pretty awful things, but also I think banning her would just create a bigger backlash? I DON’T KNOW. I’d prefer to be able to educate people where possible, I suppose.

  3. omg i agree with you so much here!! my opinions on all this are very complicated and kind of ?? but here’s about where i am:

    on one hand, tumblr culture can be really toxic in the way that it kind of demonizes anyone who makes a mistake (but then, a lot can be said for how much it can help to educate people – a lot of bloggers can be really rude to newbies who don’t know the right lingo, but a lot of other bloggers can be really helpful, and it’s kind of a gold mine of information for anybody trying to figure out their gender / sexuality / etc).

    but then, educating people is important, but it also shouldn’t be required of anyone? like, if someone (ie, greer) is hating on me / my friends / my family, then it’s not my job to educate her. i don’t HAVE to be nice – yes, it would make me the bigger person, but it’s not my job, or anyone else’s, if i’m making sense here. like, minorities shouldn’t feel required to remain completely polite and helpful with people who are being hateful or rude. it’s not my job, your job, or anyone else’s job to make bigots like greer understand (this comic illustrates it well >> http://i0.wp.com/slcfeminist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/ideal-trans-person.jpg?w=500 ). google is a thing that exists – if aforementioned bigots really want to educate themselves, they can either do it alone or politely ask for the opinions and experiences of the minorities in questions. and if they’re determined to remain a bigot, then there’s nothing anyone can really do about it, no matter how polite they are.

    also, universities are private establishments that (ideally) are there for the students and their education. allowing transphobic / homophobic / racist / sexist speakers to speak at universities is essentially either (a) an endorsement of their bigoted beliefs or (b) saying that their bigoted beliefs are educational or otherwise useful. neither of these things are good. if these students like, saw greer giving a speech in the park and beat her up, that would be different, but they literally just said “our school is not going to endorse your message”. that’s like, if greer walked into your house and started spewing transphobic nonsense – you’re well within your rights to show her to the door. i have no idea whether what i’m saying here makes sense but basically: the students weren’t preventing greer’s free speech, they simply saying that they didn’t want her transphobic garbage to be part of their curriculum.

    tl;dr: freedom of speech can be a tricky subject but i think the students were well within their rights here.

    1. I mean, I feel like Tumblr is the place I’m most at home on the internet. There are of course MANY lovely people, and it’s seriously had so much of an effect on my life. (I feel like this is so sappy considering it’s just like a social media site. BUT IT HAS.)
      Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. *nods* The problem is that…a lot of people don’t actually seem to want to educate themselves, and I guess I feel like sadly it’s not going to be done unless we tell them. And I feel like that’s kind of sad? Even though I do think you’re right – it shouldn’t be anyone’s job. (That comic does explain it very well.)
      Where I think the problem starts is, like – how do we tell if someone is a bigot? Is signing a letter for freedom of speech, but spinning off the issue over Greer’s comments transphobic? Do we get to ban LGBT+ activists for that? I’d probably have voted to ban Greer, but a bunch of other people were also attacked who weren’t directly part of the issue. And after all of this Greer wasn’t actually ever banned; the petition was rejected. Cardiff just said they wouldn’t tolerate any discriminatory comments, I think. Although some different student unions have actually did ban her.
      ANYWAY. Yep, I agree with you on a lot here! I just think there are some areas where it becomes more difficult to tell straight away how you should react.

  4. Ok, I really love this post and I love the fact that our generation discusses these issues so much.

    To be honest, and people can brand me a crazy sjw or whatever, but I think that anger can sometimes contribute to quicker progress. It has taken so long for equality to progress, to come into conversation, and that slowness, from my perspective of white male privilege, I think would surely cause frustration for many people who are, and historically have been, disrespected? Polite conversation and quieter attempts to educate can be a losing game. Banning Greer has probably sent her a message that she might not have been able to process in another softer approach? That today people just won’t stand for blatant ignorant comments that have no thought behind them?

    Greer should know to do her research before making superiority-fueled comments about a group of people. And she probably did, and her comments probably just stem from the superiority complex that still dictates our society. I just don’t think there’s any time for excuses in an age where we’re really intent on moving things forward more than ever? No matter how strongly a response to ignorance is, it will never be as strong as the hate minorites have received throughout their history and lives.

    At the end of the day, I’d rather the world be exactly like Tumblr than the way it is now. 😛

    GREAT POST! 🙂

    1. Thanks, I’m super glad you enjoyed it! Yep, I actually do think our generation is very aware of social issues and it makes me very happy.

      I should probably have made this a bit more clear in the post, but Greer wasn’t actually banned from Cardiff in the end. (Although she was from some other unis.) I think it’s definitely brought more publicity to the issue and her comments, but it’s also made a lot of people side with Greer even if they don’t actually agree with her point? Like, I think they want a debate rather than a total shut-down of speaking. I mean, she’s still made a lot of progress in feminism even if she’s transphobic.

      Sadly quite a lot of people have tried to talk to her about this issue (which from what I’ve read does seem to be shared by other radical feminists) but she doesn’t seem to want to change her mind. I…kind of hate to generalise, but I feel as though it is older generations who are less likely to accept minorities? She should do her research, but if she doesn’t want to change her view she won’t. I’d be super worried and guilty if someone told me my words were that offensive, but I guess not everyone. But yeah, our response can’t really make up for all that hate.

      Haha I do sometimes wish the world were more like Tumblr! That would be easier in a lot of ways. 😛

    1. I’m super pleased you thought so! Yeah, although I adore Tumblr it’s important for me to remove myself sometimes. (Ha. I did it again today. I think every post is destined to become a Les Mis reference… :P)

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