Illiberal Feminism Strikes Again

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 21 2014 @ 1:30pm

This is a truly clarifying argument:

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if it’s a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women.

Access to abortion impacts the lives of women, trans and non-binary people every day, and the threat pro-life groups pose to our bodily autonomy is real, not rhetorical. If you don’t believe me, visit any abortion clinic and witness the sustained aggressions of pro-life pickets. In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.

The context for this is the inability of a group called Oxford Students For Life to find a place on campus for a debate on abortion between two men. They were planning an event in Christ Church’s Junior Common Room, a typical place for a small-scale discussion. The group has had similar debates including women in the past. The pro-choice side was represented. But men, it seems, are not allowed to debate abortion at all, according to a fem-left group at my alma mater. Because: men. Even pro-choice men. In a country where pro-choicers greatly outnumber pro-lifers, and where the right to an abortion is deeply rooted in law. And their contempt for even the idea of free debate is palpable:

This Tuesday Oxford Students for Life are putting on a super cute debate with two cis guys on whether people with uteruses deserve to have any choice over their own bodies. We don’t think this is okay so (assuming the event is still going ahead) we thought we should go and say hi! … We are still hoping this gets shut down by the college (Christ Church).

The college canceled the debate in part due to concerns about “physical security” of the students – the danger that the college would be mobbed by protestors, making a debate impossible – and their “mental security” as well. What on earth does “mental security” mean? This apparently:

Mental security here refers to students’ emotional well-being, avoiding unnecessary distress, particularly for any residents who may have had an abortion. With a 300 person protest expected, the event could not have been self-contained and it would have been impossible for those in the closest staircases (at a minimum) to avoid being made acutely aware of the event.

Let me put this simply enough: Once free speech is made contingent on no one’s feelings being hurt, we no longer have free speech. Once that applies even within a university – the one space in our culture where free speech should be absolute – we have left liberalism behind on the march toward progressivism. That’s why the logic of “hate crimes” is so pernicious; that’s why the language of “micro-aggressions” leads to a public sphere in which some individuals, simply because of their gender or sexual orientation, are deemed unworthy of being allowed to debate. And those of us who speak out against this are damned in the same way: our integrity as human beings impugned, our characters wantonly besmirched, our views dismissed, and our arguments made to look as if they are mere prejudices.

Any movement that seeks to win this way is not a movement I want to be a part of. And feminism is too vital a cause and too integral part of our discourse to be hijacked in this fashion.