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No platform for feminists?

Posted by: on Mar 8, 2014 | 11 Comments

March 8, 2014 | Are feminists under attack—from campus feminists?


Note: This story was due to run between March 3 and 7, but didn’t in the end. This is the draft copy.

“No platform for fascists”—it’s a decades old strategy used on European campuses, supposedly to keep dangerous ideas from spreading. It’s controversial, but simple: deny the right to speak and the ideas won’t catch on. But what about “No platform for feminists?”

It sounds like an assault from the radical right, or perhaps an old boys’ club who want to turn back the clock on women’s liberation, but one feminist, Julie Bindel, has found herself excluded from universities not by men’s rights activists, but by feminists and a reinvigorated campus left.

Invited to the feminist society of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, Ms. Bindel was due to speak on “women’s resistance” but was told she was unwelcome after students expressed “discomfort” at the idea of her presence.

It’s not the first time she has been banned from campus. In fact, it’s becoming a recurring theme in her career as a journalist and speaker.

Ms. Bindel is controversial. As a radical feminist she has advocated “political lesbianism”, the idea that all women should be homosexual for political reasons; but many say students supposed to grapple with difficult and controversial ideas. Philosophy students read Heidegger and Nietzsche, history students investigate war, slavery and imperialism and in neither case does anyone think they are mere sponges uncritically absorbing ideas.

Given this, a feminist becoming the center of complaint may seem mystifying. Ms. Bindel’s real offence, though, ha been objecting to the presence of transexual women at women-only meetings. A new generation of “intersectional” feminists disagrees, arguing that previous waves of feminist thinking, both mainstream liberal and radical, contribute to the oppression of other marginalised groups, including black women and transexuals. This has led to toxic Twitter spats and is now making its presence felt in university politics.

“They’re creating a McCarthyite climate. It’s a ‘Queer’ thing, supported by some gay men, loads of lesbians and most straight young feminists who don’t know any better,” she says.

“They tend to mostly bother with lesbian feminists. They think they have the right not to be offended.”

Offence-taking is on the rise, and it’s not always clear who is on whose side. Ms. Bindel’s fellow radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys has had her lectures at Australia’s University of Melbourne picketed. More traditional feminist campaigns have led to many British university student groups banning what they consider sexist music, notably Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, while The Sun tabloid newspaper, which features a daily photograph of a topless woman, has been banned from several more.

But transsexuality is particularly sensitive issue. Comic Ellen DeGeneres was recently censured in the press for making what was perceived as a transphobic joke while hosting the Oscar ceremony.

Back at college, some say a rising tide of sensitivity, often heralded as critical thinking, is interfering with universities’ ability to disseminate knowledge.

Joanna Williams, lecturer in education at the University of Kent and author of “Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t be Bought”, says facing difficult ideas is an essential part of an education.

“Students who demand controversial ideas be outlawed from campus demonstrate a degraded view of themselves and their peers, in the name of protection they are rejecting the intellectual challenge which should be at the heart of the university experience,” she says.


  • Floyd Codlin

    Great article Jason, agree with 98% of it…

  • Jonathan

    I don’t think no-platforming is really “deny the right to speak and the ideas won’t catch on”; more “we don’t want this bigoted nonsense said in our house”. And not from the desire not to be offended either, but from already knowing – and totally rejecting – what someone is going to say. No-platforming refuses to grant that person legitimacy, and makes a stand: basically saying “get out of here with that crap”.

    When it comes to Julie Bindel, it’s a complete rejection of her (and Sheila Jeffreys’, Janice Raymond’s, etc) attempt to frame trans realities as “gender politics” which they can “debate” (and therefore deny). As an analogy with their own constituency, the “debate” they want to have is equivalent to allowing right-wing male homophobes to discuss (and therefore deny) lesbian realities at a mainstream left political conference.

    The real trouble arises when Julie is prevented from speaking on other issues, such as violence against women (as occurred at the recent New Turns feminist conference). Such no-platforming – of a person themself – is far more problematic. Does someone’s objectionable opinion on one matter render invalid everything they have to say on *any* matter? Or conversely, does allowing someone to speak on one matter de facto legitimize their opinions on *all* matters? I’m not at all sure about that.

    • RealityCheck

      Ho hum… a male who would dictate what women should be able to discuss. Oh, and thanks for the education about “lesbian realities,” sir!

      • Squerty

        Nope. But a male was bright enough to see this is about whether are entitled to be given a platform to discuss your views or whether campuses can choose what they want to promote. (h/t you’re not entitled, and they can)

        edit: p.s. he was also bright enough to see he was replying to a male who felt entitled to his opinion on this issue too. I guess for you it’s not “how male are you” but “how male are you and do you agree with me” – but of course you’d never mention the second half because it would make you look intellectually dishonest….

    • Hierophant2

      Gee, thanks for supporting the silencing of feminist voices and perpetuating the Patriarchy, dudebro. Way to stand up for freedom and equality.

      • Squerty

        No one’s supporting silencing. They aren’t entitled to be promoted by the university. They can discuss it wherever else they like. Nice job assuming he’s a dudebro, dudebro.

        • Hierophant2

          We are talking about preventing someone from speaking on a campus. That IS silencing. And I am not “assuming” anything, asshole. I agree that some people should be silenced: people who fight against women, like you, should be silenced, not people who fight for women. The difference is that your beliefs are toxic for human beings, and egalitarianism and anti-genderism are beneficial for human beings.

          • Squerty

            Not providing a platform is not silencing. That’s not debateable.

            She could rent a room across from the campus. She could have her own festival. Open her own website. Write to the paper. Write for the paper. Write for a feminist website. Publish or self publish a book. That’s not silenced.

            You believe you have some sort of crazy entitlement to be given a platform on the campus. Sadly you’re wrong. I don’t know why you’re so entitled. Perhaps you’re a man.

          • http://thismagpie.com/ Magpie

            She can’t rent a room – she is banned from student venues – If a student were to do something as simple as posting one of her articles on the student Facebook groups, even without a comment of endorsement then hat student will almost certainly risk exclusion.

            There is a word to describe denying democratic representation to those who hold certain views – it’s called fascism.

        • http://thismagpie.com/ Magpie

          Yes they are.

    • Bastet

      Sorry, but no. Sheila Jeffreys speeches were packed to the rafters in Melbourne with a minority picketing outside that didn’t even number 1/20th of those inside. Loud, intolerant libfems who have never even bothered to educate themselves on what/who they’re protesting are the problem. Feminism requires open, respectful debate, not little echo chambers. Julie Bindel was joined by Miranda Yardley on a No-Platforming talk. Why would she be joined by a transwoman as co-speaker and friend if she was, in fact, transphobic or transmisogynist. I suggest you look it up and listen to the audio recording.