A reader very close to the controversy writes:
I saw your blog post about the feministic censoring of my debate in Oxford. I thought you might be interested in my piece about this debacle published in this week’s Spectator. The terrible irony of my having effectively been banned by “pro-choice” students is that I intended to make a very pro-choice speech … now published here.
Oy, Andrew, your framing of this situation. Like the group who shut down the debate, you have a salient point but undermine it with utter, contemptuous bullshit lines like this:
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.
Come on, you know the impetus behind why they’re upset is bigger than such an idiotic reduction. As a straight man who is also pro-choice, I’m not at all hesitant to say that while I might debate the topic off the cuff with other men, if a woman’s voice is available, I’m going to cede to that voice. The reason should be obvious given that as a man I have no way of knowing the anxieties and issues that go along with childbearing and the general reproductive issues that women face. Similarly to that being that I’m not African American or Asian American, I’m not going to go diving into any debates that concern those groups.
Another responds to that kind of that argument:
Men are not allowed to speak about matters related to the female body? That drives me crazy. Question for these women: how many of them have male doctors who advise them on their health, including pregnancy and abortion?
Another dissenter of sorts:
As a feminist, I share your belief that anti-feminist ideas should be openly engaged and debated, not censored and suppressed, on college campuses. But the ferocity of your response got me thinking. You say that “free speech should be absolute.” But in universities, as everywhere else, there are always ideas that are beyond the pale.
What changes over time is that some ideas break out of that closet, and others get pushed back into it. For myself, I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing that advocacy of slavery, Jim Crow and genocide have been pushed into the closet. I am glad that arguments for inter-racial marriage and gay marriage broke out of it. I am horrified that arguments for torture and ethnic cleansing (just this week!) have broken out of it too.
Some ideas still need to be branded taboo. So it is reassuring to me that you will see campus debates on the proposition that the president should be impeached, but not on the proposition that the president should be shot. You will see proponents of fundamentalist religion, but no one given a stage to declare that priests should be allowed to rape little boys. I’m ok with that.
I guess what I’m saying, Andrew, is that the argument over what ideas should be off-limits is itself one of the most vital arguments a society has with itself. I realize that this position locks us in a conundrum of sorts. But it does give me a lot more sympathy for someone who genuinely believes that pro-life arguments are as odious and threatening as pro-torture or pro-rape arguments, and wants to shut them down.
My point is that a free society will always veer on the side of being able to debate anything. Taboos are dangerous. They can cut us off from various arguments that deserve to be heard, if only to be dismissed. Rendering them unmentionable can give them an allure they would never have in the light of day. Another reader:
I’ve been following your posts on feminism with a lot of interest, and I’ve noticed a trend in some of the responses from readers that I wanted to highlight, ones that take a particularly unfair and pernicious strategy for engaging in debate, and it occurs with great frequency in the context of identity politics. These responses take the form of “I know you think what you’re doing is OK, but it’s not for some unspecified reason that you can’t understand because you are not the correct gender/race/religion. Because of this, you should refrain from expressing an opinion and solicit feedback from those who do possess the relevant identity.”
This is one of the more frustrating rhetorical strategies to encounter, because it doesn’t actually constitute an argument. People who argue this way don’t really seem interested in debate so much as having others agree with their point. They believe they’re self-evidently correct, and that if you just think about it long enough you’ll figure it out for yourself. It’s condescending, self-righteous and lazy, and it flies in the face of intelligent, open discourse.
I strongly believe in social, political and legal equality regardless of gender, race, or any other factor. I consider myself a feminist, and I try to go out of my way to treat the women in my life decently and respectfully. I’m also straight, white, male and Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I’m either unwilling or incapable of listening to and understanding other perspectives. What I’m not willing to do is engage in a debate where the other party refuses to even formulate the terms of the exchange, and you shouldn’t either.
At some point, this is an argument about citizenship. I believe in equal citizenship on an open society. That means we interact solely because we are human in a certain polity. No one is excluded from the debate because of their identity; and no one is given special privileges because of it either. So, yes, straights get to debate the rights of gays. That’s how we’ve gotten this far – and have it stick. Another zooms out:
Of course there has been this illiberal strain in feminism for as long as people have been calling themselves feminist – but I also think that by and large it has been overblown by your coverage. Yes, feminism has shades and facets – some much more militant than others. And yes, there is certainly a backlash against the concept of “mansplaining”, but by and large that’s been directed at male politicians and others who have tried to put forth some truly myopic advice to women on the topics of how to avoid being raped and that they can “shut all that down” to keep from getting pregnant. Or use why they didn’t use their teeth to ward off a lecherous comedian who drugged and orally raped them. You know, that sort of idiocy.
In my experience as a 39-year-old white man, I’ve been involved in countless discussions in many of the feminists sites I like to frequent (as I do a vast number of specialized sites to get a more robust understanding on a lot of issues from a lot of directions), and my opinions have been met largely with rigorous and lively debate with the participants even when in disagreement with much of the consensus there. Most of the people I’ve talked to feel that shutting down discussion like in the article you posted earlier is detrimental to all sides of a debate, and that feminism belongs to and is the responsibly of everyone.
For example, I agree that there is too much focus on culture and society rather than chemical and physical understanding of gender differences. Both play a major role, but only one can really be modified with any real efficacy. So, having seen how effective modifying cultural norms have been for other political ventures like gay marriage/rights and marijuana laws, by and large this is the way that many feminists feel they have a chance to make a real progress. I get this, but also think that if you try to take physiological differences out of the equation it makes changing the culture difficult because it’s important to understand how the culture evolved this way in the first place.
Like many of your readers, I find it fairly odd that you seem to have serious blinders on this topic. It’s starting to feel like an axe to grind, and that’s not like you when discussing non-Palin matters …
One more reader:
I spent a whole dinner party in Cambridge last night trying to keep my cool, infuriating especially because by the end it was clear that I was the leper, with death stares from the wife, merely from failing to go along with the vapid indignation. Talking with her afterwards it was clear her issues are motivated by sexual violence that occurred to her as child and for which she still bears true trauma. Likely she always will. If that’s the deeper issue more broadly, it deserves my compassion, but it will force me to engage every debate on the proposed policy prescriptions. Not one good idea last night. Just people patting themselves on the back for being aware of sexual video games.
To your credit, Andrew, your eloquence on marriage is something feminism should be learning from. Yours was a discriminated class just ten years ago. The focused efforts at something so basic as marriage changed everything and quickly. Real change to real policies affecting real people.
The problem with feminism today, by contrast, is no clear outcome worth fighting for, so no real change. And nothing I’m hearing from the proposed first female president is inspired either.
Obama should feel great shame that so many young men are in prison for non-violent crimes and he has done nothing to address the issue as a policy matter. Where is the left’s answer there? By contrast, Gamergate and Hollaback are a cruel joke.