Feminism

British Students Ban Feminist Writer Julie Bindel From Panel on Feminism's Free Speech Problem

Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos also banned; both said to violate "safe space" policy.

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modified from @bindelj/Twitter

LOL LOL LOL is about all there is to say on this story: The University of Manchester has banned feminist activist Julie Bindel from speaking at a panel on feminism's free-speech problem.

The Manchester Students' Union (SU) flagged Bindel's appearance at the event—titled "From Liberation to Censorship: Does Modern Feminism Have a Problem with Free Speech?"—as a potential breach of the school's "safe space" policy. "After reviewing the request in more detail, the Students' Union has decided to deny this request based on Bindel's views and comments towards trans people, which we believe could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students," SU said in a statement.

I'm not as familiar with Bindel's repertoire on trans issues as I am with her views of sex work, which are of the second-wave, prostitution-is-inherently-abusive variety. Bindel regularly campaigns against sex-worker rights and prostitution decriminalization. And both in articles for The Guardian and on social media, Bindel comes across to me like an awfully unpleasant and misguided human being. 

That being said: Bindel's views on prostitution and trans issues are certainly active schools of thought in some modern feminist circles (generally referred to as "rad-fems"). They might not be en vogue with the kids today, but it's not as if Bindel is advocating violence or harassment against trans people and sex workers. So call me a free speech nut, but I'd prefer those who disagree with her shtick debate her on the merits of her ideas rather than seek to silence her—this is not the first time U.K. student groups have "no platformed" Julie Bindel.

University of Manchester student Leonardo Carella (who looks to be a budding libertarian, awww) has started a petition to let Bindel speak at his school. It points out that the school allowed Bindel to speak at a 2013 event hosted by the Manchester Debating Union (though she "dropped out because of threats") and states that "the position on trans issues of Julie Bindel are of no interest in these circumstances, as the debate is not intended to touch upon trans issues."

And therein may lie the crux of the problem "modern feminism," or modern liberalism more generally, has with free speech. Those who don't buy the whole package (whatever it is that week) are written off as bad and that's that—one can't possibly be an "ally" on some issues while disagreeing on others. And the best way to deal with disagreements? Mock, discredit, and silence the "unsafe" speaker! The modern liberal orthodoxy sees things in terms every bit as black-and-white as the so-cons and religious right about which they once complained. 

In this case, I would see nothing wrong with the SU asking Bindel to avoid trans issues at this talk, since that's not its intended subject. Yet these students (and others who have no-platformed her) seek to punish Bindel for holding "incorrect" views in this one area by prohibiting her from speaking about anything.

Banning her from the panel "is clearly in breach of with the University of Manchester's Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech," Carella's petition states. "Speakers far more controversial and 'offensive' than Julie have been permitted and even suggested by the SU on previous occasions. Yet they have decided to apply the principles of the safe space policy now and on us. We feel that the manner in which it has been done is at best sloppy on their part, and at worst inconsistent to the point that it suggests an abuse of power."

"The freedom to express a controversial or challenging opinion is held equally and by all," the petition continues. "Without this freedom we are robbed of the ability to refute or confirm the views that we have formed, and are thus diminished as people and as students."

On Tuesday, the Students' Union rejected an appeal of its decision about Bindel. On Wednesday, it decided to ban Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at the University of Manchester campus as well (he was scheduled to debate Bindel).

"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," said an SU statement (random asterisk their's) about Yiannopoulos. "He is a rape apologist and has repeatedly used derogatory and debasing ableist language when describing members of the trans* community….As we believe it is probable these views would be aired in this discussion should he be allowed to speak on campus, we have no choice but to ban him."