The No-Platforming of Feminists

Today, the Guardian published an open letter written by Bea Campbell about the no-platforming of feminists at universities. I signed the letter because I am increasingly concerned by the silencing of dissenting views – particularly by women – on university campuses. It is absolutely essential that universities remain spaces which challenge orthodoxy. Students are spoon-fed heteronormative, white supremacist history in secondary schools, particularly in relation to the obsessive examining of children through SATs, A-Levels and Highers. Universities and colleges should be places where students are exposed to all manner of thought and theory – even those which make them uncomfortable.

The cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s show at Goldsmith’s last month was the latest in a long line of questionable decisions by universities. I’ve read accounts from all manner of people who were involved in the situation prior to the university’s security firm deciding it was “not safe” to go ahead with the event due to protests. Smurthwaite should not have been un-invited due to her stance on prostitution and the sex industry.

Equally, students who wanted to protest outside the venue should have had that option. Frankly, it’s the responsibility of university security to maintain the right to peaceful protest. I am sure they were worried about that gang of men, who normally self-define as anarchists but are mostly pro-violence, showing up to cause havoc. They do so at every single protest going and take great delight in causing damage and engaging in threatening behaviour. The fact that a group of people intent on violence *may* have shown up is not serious enough to cancel either Smurthwaite’s performance or any potential protest on site.

University and college campuses (and one day secondary schools) should be hotbeds of radical thought, protest and anger.  It should be where students are challenged, provoked and forced to confront ideas antithetical to their own. It doesn’t mean they will change their minds and it doesn’t make changing your political position a sign of weakness. It means we are teaching students to think for themselves – something which is sorely missing right now.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been told Julie Bindel is transphobic by people who have never read any of her work and had no idea that she was involved in feminist campaigns like Justice for Women. If students find her work transphobic, they have every right to say so. BUT, they need to actually read this work for themselves and not just parrot what someone else has told them.

It is ironic the number of people tweeting out #JeSuisCharlie in defence of freedom of speech for a deeply racist and misogynist magazine who have no problem whatsoever in telling women to shut up.

We need to insist that our children grow up with critical thinking skills and the ability and desire to challenge anything they deem incorrect and dangerous. The right to protest is a fundamental right of democracy – but this right is not predicated on ensuring that everyone thinks or believes the same. I have written before about my concerns on the rhetoric of “free speech”  being guaranteed only for those in power to engage in abuse towards those without power. This is what universities need to change: ensuring that political debate is encouraged and that the right to protest remains protected.

This is why I signed the letter written by Bea Campbell: silencing women you disagree with is simply replicating the same heteronormative, capitalist power structures that exist.

The fate of Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show, cancelled by Goldsmith’s College in London last month (“What could be more absurd than censorship on campus”, Nick Cohen, Comment) is part of a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed “transphobic” or “whorephobic”. Most of the people so labelled are feminists or pro-feminist men, some have experience in the sex industry, some are transgender.

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

You do not have to agree with the views that are being silenced to find these tactics illiberal and undemocratic. Universities have a particular responsibility to resist this kind of bullying. We call on universities and other organisations to stand up to attempts at intimidation and affirm their support for the basic principles of democratic political exchange.

Beatrix Campbell

Lynne Alderson

Ruth Ahnert

Dr Lucy Allen

Nimko Ali

Dr Kerri Andrews

Lisa Appignanesi

Prof. John Barrell

Prof Mary Beard

Melissa Benn

Rosa Bennathan

Katie Beswick

Dr Sue Black

Prof Jenny Bourne Taylor

Alison Boydell

Fiona Broadfoot

Paul Burston

Dianne Butterworth

Prof Deborah Cameron

Ivy Cameron

Dr Rosie Campbell

Cynthia Cockburn

Anna Coote

Caroline Criado-Perez

Hannah Curtis

Dr Liz Davies

Kim Darwood

Dr Sukhwant Dhaliwal

Jane Diblin

Sarah Ditum

Stella Duffy

Dr Victoria Dutchman-Smith

Louise Evan-Wong

Dr Katharine Edgar

Jayne Egerton

Carol Fox

Kim Graham

Rahila Gupta

Prof Catherine Hall

Prof Jalna Hanmer

Jeremy Hardy

Dr James Harrison

Heather Harvey

Lorrie Hearts

Prof Nicholas Hewitt

Dr Rachel Hewitt

Deborah Hyde

Bridget Irving

Susan Jack

Darren Johnson MLA

Claire Jones

Jane Clare Jones

Judith Jones

Prof Liz Kelly

Karen Hanna Kruzycka

Jenny Landreth

Claire Lazarus

Kate Leigh

Prof Alison Light

Prof Ruth Lister

Dr Julia Long

Sonia Long

Prof Joni Lovenduski

David Lusted

Dr Samantha Lyle

Shakila Maan

Dr Finn Mackay

Nancy Mackeith

Rosina Mcrae

Sarah Maguire

Dr Sarah Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield

Heather McRobie

Gia Milinovich

Lucinda Montefiore

Dr Helen Mott

Hannah Mudge

Sonali Naik

Dr Peter Newbon

Jill Nicholls

Sian Norris

Juliet Oosthuysen

Sue O’Sullivan

Femi Otitoju

Ursula Owen

Sue Parrish

Pragna Patel

Louise Pennington

Cat Peters

Prof Jill Radford

Dale Rapley

Dr Rebecca Reilly-Cooper

Dr Victoria Rimell

Roweena Russell

Dr Adam Rutherford

Gita Sahgal

Dr Joan Scanlon

Sandhya Sharma

Vanessa Shaw

Dr Ben Schiller

Prof Sophie Scott

Shelley Silas

Karen Ingala Smith

Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou

Sian Steans

Mary-Ann Stephenson

Prof Ann Stewart

Marina Strinkovsky

Southall Black Sisters

Julka Szymanska

Felicity Tarnell

Peter Tatchell

Steve Trafford

Dr Sue Tate

Dr Matthew Taunton

Lisa-Marie Taylor

Helen Thompson

Dr Megan Todd

Janet Veitch

Judith Vidal-Hall

Nicky Wallace

Dr Jim Walsh

Liz Waterhouse

Prof Nicole Westmarland

Lisa Whelan

Dr Michael Whitworth

Jim Wild

Dr Heather Williams

Clair Wills

Prof Alan Winfield

Harriet Wistrich

Miranda Yardley

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