Feminism and Censorship
November 22, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

“The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalized groups,” writes Niamh McIntyre on a proposed, protested, and then cancelled debate on abortion organized by Oxford Students for Life. The Oxford abortion controversy, argues Lizzie Crocker, is the latest example of an increasingly common instinct among certain feminists to argue that certain subjects and certain arguments are either off limits or simply not up for debate.
posted by shivohum (121 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
The minute feminism becomes hypercritical and humorless, it becomes too easy for the mainstream to dismiss our more valid complaints

Sing it, sister.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:14 AM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Ugh. That Daily Beast piece is yet another person conflating changing social norms and criticizing people with censorship. And it fails to grok what "apologist" means, too, especially in the context of rape culture.
posted by NoraReed at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2014 [23 favorites]


This is dumb. Of course some things shouldn't be up for debate. If every single thing we believe as humans is always up for debate, forward movement in any area is impossible. Some ideas eventually have to be taken as givens even if it is theoretically possible to keep debating (it's always possible to keep debating anything for purely formal, epistemological reasons).
posted by saulgoodman at 11:16 AM on November 22, 2014 [32 favorites]


Too far! Humorless! Shrill! Overreaching! Ask more nicely, and the people who have kept their boots on your necks will relent!

It never, ever, ever, ever ends, does it.
posted by Etrigan at 11:17 AM on November 22, 2014 [84 favorites]


It's a tired refrain as old as feminism itself. We're humorless! We're shrill! We're ruining feminism by focusing on minutia and airing our thin-skinnedness to the world! All predictable ways of undermining women who want to have a say about what is or isn't important to feminism. If we can't be removed from the discussion completely, then we at least shouldn't get to have any say about what, when, and how the issues relevant to us should be discussed.
posted by daisystomper at 11:19 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think everything should be open as a subject for discussion, but everything should not be "up for debate" in the sense that we have to have that discussion constantly in public places with minimal context. Public debates do not allow extensive education on an issue as a part of the discussion and are inherently a terrible place for this to be happening. Open for discussion does not mean presented constantly as though other viewpoints come from a neutral place where they are equally valid and equally legitimate until repeatedly proven otherwise.

I'm loving this new term, sea lioning. The problem is not entertaining discussion per se. If the "discussion" is organized in a format that is unfriendly to in-depth discourse and is organized by a group that exists to push a particular viewpoint, then it's not about "open debate". Staging a "debate" between two men about a women's issue, at a prestigious university, when you're a pro-life group, is not about being open to discussion, it's about maintaining the thinnest veneer of respectability until you can declare yourself right because you've been so obnoxious for so long that nobody else wants to engage with you.
posted by Sequence at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2014 [55 favorites]


I think everything should be up for "debate" always but I don't think we should interpret that to mean things have to be debated by two people in front of cameras in a room full of people without context or time. Difficult issues are difficult because they're difficult. You can't simplify tax law and you can't solve the abortion issue in 30 minutes under hot lights.
posted by ddd at 11:35 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's also shitty of these guys to claim they 'just want a debate' after they carefully coin a deliberately fighty nonsense term such as 'abortion culture'. Unless I've just missed previous instances of that ridiculous expression.
posted by colie at 11:36 AM on November 22, 2014 [26 favorites]


The minute feminism becomes hypercritical and humorless, it becomes too easy for the mainstream to dismiss our more valid complaints

This criticism always seems so off to me. We should be framing our critiques in ways that are palatable to the mainstream, then? Don't be too challenging, don't be too critical, only call out the things that the mainstream is 'ready' to be called out on? It's a fundamentally conservative worldview.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:37 AM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's especially gross because Internet Feminism has been producing so much wonderful and hilarious feminist content and it gets totally Lewis' Law in every comment thread.

Lazy comedians (of all sorts, not just standup but writers and other people who use comedy and jokes in their work) use shitting on marginalized groups as a crutch, and since feminists tend to try to avoid that, they often can produce some pretty hilarious and reflective stuff. But there's this group of mostly dudes who get all threatened when shit isn't for them and they throw mantrums about it and folks like Lindy West and Sady Doyle get weird stalkers and death threats and shit. So yeah, the whole "humorless feminist" thing is bullshit.
posted by NoraReed at 11:38 AM on November 22, 2014 [31 favorites]


Staging a "debate" between two men about a women's issue, at a prestigious university, when you're a pro-life group, is not about being open to discussion

So you don't find a problem with groups threatening to stage protests so disruptive that the university backs out over security concerns? Why isn't that just simple intimidation? Or is intimidation an acceptable means of stifling viewpoints sometimes?
posted by shivohum at 11:43 AM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


>Saulgoodman,

I don't think anything shouldn't be up for debate. I think it's possible to say "X is still up for debate, but I'm not gonna waste my time educating you when you don't first principles". There's a difference between person A and B debating proposition X, and person A advocating for proposition X, about which person B is resolutely, intentionally ignorant. A lot of "debates" about feminism are really one person saying "I think feminists are joyless harpies out to destroy society- prove me wrong." That's not a debate- that's an ignorant person demanding to be taken seriously even though they display no evidence that they've tried to understand the issue.

I think saying "you need to know what you're talking about before we debate" looks a lot like the topic isn't up for debate- but they're not the same thing. They'll get called the same thing by the ignorant person (on preview, what Sequence is saying. s/o to "Sea Lioning"), but I'm not particularly bothered by an ignorant person blaming "censorship" for the fact that they're not taken seriously. It is worrisome when the non-ignorant party starts calling for censorship, however. Censorship is destructive to dialogue, and straight up dangerous. Instead of criticising "[t]he idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate"- the article could have said "I'll debate abortion, and abortion access, but not with lying, misleading, ignorant people." There's a difference, and it matters.
posted by DGStieber at 11:45 AM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


mantrums

Gold! Stealing for later use :)
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:46 AM on November 22, 2014 [22 favorites]


shivohum: So you don't find a problem with groups threatening to stage protests so disruptive that the university backs out over security concerns? Why isn't that just simple intimidation? Or is intimidation an acceptable means of stifling viewpoints sometimes?

If those two guys want to sit out in the quad and debate the issue, they're more than welcome. Having it be an official event with the university's name attached to it means the university (and by extension the students) get a say in the terms of the debate. Having two men debate an issue that far more directly affects women is not a proper way to represent the two "side" of the abortion debate, and therefore the university is right to avoid wanting their name on such a sham of a debate.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:47 AM on November 22, 2014 [27 favorites]


So you don't find a problem with groups threatening to stage protests so disruptive that the university backs out over security concerns? Why isn't that just simple intimidation? Or is intimidation an acceptable means of stifling viewpoints sometimes?

"Oh you don't like this thing? So you DO like this other shitty thing, huh?"

C'mon, really?
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:49 AM on November 22, 2014 [27 favorites]


“The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalized groups,”

No, it is entirely the opposite. Power likes nothing more than for the oppressed to be silent. "You can't talk about this," is the language of power. I don't like debate formats (and I don't like Brendan O'Neill), but anti-abortionists would much rather you shut up about women's rights completely.

It's also shitty of these guys to claim they 'just want a debate' after they carefully coin a deliberately fighty nonsense term such as 'abortion culture'. Unless I've just missed previous instances of that ridiculous expression.

Anti-abortionists have nothing to offer but slippery insinuation and moral imperialism. That they've stopped talking so openly about gods and start framing it in "sociological" terms is a great step forward. They're losing and losing badly (well, in England at least), because despite being hardcore theists they've realized that they can't even talk about god anymore.
posted by Thing at 11:49 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I get the meaning of the term "sea lioning." If the lady is being overtly sea-lion-racist in public, can the sea lion call her out on it? I get that he should not follow her into her home. (This is solely based on the cartoon, and I'm just curious about the meaning of the term.)
posted by demonic winged headgear at 11:51 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


C'mon, really?

Well if anyone had so far said: "yeah I think this debate should not have been hosted in the first place, but the intimidation and cancellation on security grounds was totally unacceptable" -- then I wouldn't have had to ask... but no one so far had, leading me to think people didn't feel it was such a big deal.
posted by shivohum at 11:52 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Where's the intimidation? Your link is a Facebook screencap that just talks about a "disruptive protest." Disruption can be simply exercising free speech.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:54 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


You're welcome to add criticism of the tactics to the discussion. Assuming that because people haven't come out against something that they are for it is absurd and a terrible discussion strategy.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:57 AM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


>demonic winged headgear-

re: "Sea Lioning"- The comic is a response to Gamergate. And it's all mostly about twitter. On twitter, if you used the #gamergate hashtag, at all, you would get swarmed with people who would want to "debate" whether or not there is any misogyny in video games, but they'd want you to prove everything from scratch. And they'd just keep mentioning you and "engaging" in a blandly nice yet insistently ignorant way, for days.

The term now, in my experience, is used to refer to people "who just want to debate", but don't want to do any sort of work to educate themselves.
posted by DGStieber at 11:59 AM on November 22, 2014 [16 favorites]


For those who claim that this was going to be a legitimate debate on the pros and cons of abortion in modern society, the ostensibly-women's-rights-defending male half of the "debate" posted this on Facebook:
It's not a debate between two men - because starting tomorrow morning I intend to identify as a woman for a 24-hour period. The transphobia of these protesters is DISGUSTING.
So, yeah, it was a bullshit frame-up from the word Go.
posted by Etrigan at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2014 [65 favorites]


Ugh, I have gotten into two debates on Facebook this week with guys (of course) who posted this stupid meme claiming that feminists are hypocrites for criticizing Matt Taylor for his shirt while also arguing that women should be able to wear what they want. (I'm not linking to the meme, but it featured images of "angry" slutwalk protesters and Matt Taylor in his t-shirt). One guy was open to hearing my argument (basically, that there's a world of difference between telling women that they encourage violent assault with their clothing and telling a guy his shirt is sexist). The other one dug in, throwing the word "feminazi" around. When I tried to extend an olive branch, saying I didn't want to debate this over social media but we could talk about it the next time we see each other in person, he told me he was not going to change his mind.

But somehow feminists are the ones shutting down debate.

Also, what the fuck was Matt Taylor thinking wearing that stupid shirt??? I'm one for casual wardrobes but this is the biggest moment of your career - don't dress like a jackass.
posted by lunasol at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2014 [17 favorites]


It's pretty clear from what McIntyre says in The Independent that she is not protesting "debate" in the abstract, of particular topics, but the title of this debate, and the gender of the speakers. I for one would support her in protesting those things.

And when will people learn the difference between censorship and protest? To censor something, you have to have the power to say yes or no to events happening, words being published, transmitted etc. That is clearly not the case with the people protesting this debate.
posted by iotic at 12:05 PM on November 22, 2014


People, please stop trying to turn South Park scripts into real life events!
posted by benito.strauss at 12:06 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am surprised by the University of Oxford's amateurish handling of the situation and I suggest that they append Culpa to their motto.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:08 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


>Thanks! That makes sense.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 12:10 PM on November 22, 2014


It's also shitty of these guys to claim they 'just want a debate' after they carefully coin a deliberately fighty nonsense term such as 'abortion culture'. Unless I've just missed previous instances of that ridiculous expression.

It's been around for a little bit, more commonly formulated as the "culture of death". A skimmed Google search says that "abortion culture" has been used at least since 2002.

So you don't find a problem with groups threatening to stage protests so disruptive that the university backs out over security concerns? Why isn't that just simple intimidation?

All protests are disruptive; that's why they're protests. Absent actual threats of violence, no, I don't have a problem with people saying "we're going to protest your thing because we think it sucks". This is also the exercise of free speech in an open society.

By the way, here is the first line from the speech of the nominally pro-choice side of this "debate", by Brendan O'Neill: "The first rule of the politics of fear is that if you want to make something sound scarier than it actually is, you add the word ‘culture’ at the end of it." Anyone want to take a guess what common "- culture" phrase he's really aiming at there? Oh, there it is, right at the end: "If you want people to think more about rape, you say ‘rape culture’. Suddenly, a terrible but discrete crime that happens between individuals gets turned into a secular form of evil that permeates all areas of life." This wasn't ever going to be a debate. It was going to be two noted right-wing voices using the pretext of disagreement about abortion to stage a larger attack on the tenets of social justice, amplified by the effect of two opponents "coming together" in rueful agreement in the end. They absolutely couldn't wait for this protest to happen, because now they get to both yell about "furious, censorious feminists".
posted by Errant at 12:11 PM on November 22, 2014 [29 favorites]


Holy shit, doing that Super Transphobic Appropriation Of Trans Stuff and then claiming that people who are against you are transphobic is pretty rich. I'm not gonna say it hasn't been done before; people have generally done every gross and horrible thing it is possible for humans to do, but you usually see that kind of egregious bullshit pulled by racists claiming that it is TRULY THEIR OPPONENT WHO IS THE RACIST for NOTICING A RACE THING.
posted by NoraReed at 12:16 PM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


All protests are disruptive; that's why they're protests. Absent actual threats of violence, no, I don't have a problem with people saying "we're going to protest your thing because we think it sucks". This is also the exercise of free speech in an open society.

Free speech in an open society is not shouting over other people, and shouting over others is not free speech. This remains the case whether you agree with a person or find their views repellent.
posted by biffa at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2014 [8 favorites]


No, that's moronic.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:30 PM on November 22, 2014


It is ridiculous in an academic setting to not allow debate. No it doesn't have to be in class where it disrupts others and certainly the school paper shouldn't bother covering it but to disallow a structured debate in academia on any topic where attendance is optional is absurd.

If the debate is irrelevant people won't show up. If a bunch of one-sided people do show up everyone else is free to ignore their echo chamber.
posted by stp123 at 12:33 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Free speech in an open society is not shouting over other people, and shouting over others is not free speech.

In this case the JCR (essentially a student democratic body, within the Oxford college system) of the college the debate was due to be held in, declined to allow the debate to occur, after hearing both sides of the argument. That's not shouting someone down.

The Oxford debating circuit is about as privileged an environment as exists. It's the main breeding ground for UK politicians - largely males from Eton and Harrow, the most moneyed, upper class schools in the country. And has been for centuries. The idea that some feminist protestors are the people with dangerous and unfair power in this situation is frankly laughable.
posted by iotic at 12:33 PM on November 22, 2014 [28 favorites]


I'll add – why people are still debating abortion rights is a bit beyond me, but I'll defend their right to hold their attendance-optional echo chamber.
posted by stp123 at 12:36 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


iotic: Yes, I am familiar with Oxford and its position in UK society. My point is a general one, in response to the previous general point. It still applies at Oxford. If anything, it is more true at a UK University than just about anywhere else in the UK.
posted by biffa at 12:41 PM on November 22, 2014


The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on
marginalized groups.


I think this is precisely backwards. It is partially because we engage in debate that things have improved for marginalized people. If we didn't debate thinsgs that were considered settled slavery would not have ended , or segregation would still be in place or a hundred other similar changes wouldn't have occurred.
posted by vorpal bunny at 12:44 PM on November 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue.

I find this a bit bizarre. Abortion is not prima facie morally unambiguous. In fact, it's morally really really complicated, even from a secular standpoint. If it is not something to be mulled over, and to be given serious and careful consideration, then what is? And it ought to be something we think hard about precisely because it's not an "abstract, academic" issue. Isn't it just those things that have a dramatic impact on people's lives that we ought to be debating and thinking about? In any case, there exists an entire sub-discipline of philosophy, namely Bio-Ethics, which got its start almost entirely by taking up the question of the ethical status of abortion. (Which is why I teach Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" in just about every intro to philosophy class.)

At stake in the problem of abortion is a whole range of issues, like the definition of life, the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the state and community, the debate between consequentialist and deontological moral philosophies, and so on. All of these are things thinking people ought to think hard about and keep thinking hard about as they live their lives and make their way in the world.
posted by dis_integration at 12:45 PM on November 22, 2014 [20 favorites]


The idea that everything is up for debate at all times breaks both legs at its first step, because naturally the first thing that comes up for debate is the idea that everything is up for debate.

And by a remarkable coincidence, the only people we ever see pushing this idea are people who would end all debate permanently if they got into power.
posted by jamjam at 12:46 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm sure the "hey I'm gonna be trans* for 24 hours" dude has a PhD in deontology.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


I sometimes post activist stuff on facebook, and I've taken to telling people "Look, I don't want to host a public debate, and I'm going to delete comments that veer in that direction. If you want to have a conversation with me, call me or IM me or something."

So as a result, this week, I've had two or three really fascinating hourlong one-on-one conversations on super interesting topics with people who I rarely get to talk to.

And I'd forgotten what that's like — how much fun it is, and how much more you learn from that sort of thing than from the sort of grandstanding public debate that usually springs up on that sort of facebook post. It really is easier to have a conversation that you learn something from when you're not both worried about fending off possible derails and shouting down assholes and like Winning Hearts And Minds among whatever stranger happens to be reading. It's so nice to be able to find some common ground with one person, and then use that common ground to examine the points where you disagree, rather than feeling like you've got to boil everything down to the 101 level.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:51 PM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


Also,

It's not a debate between two men - because starting tomorrow morning I intend to identify as a woman for a 24-hour period. The transphobia of these protesters is DISGUSTING.

This is a joke, right? This has to be a joke, right? Like, I'm not one for crying "appropriation" every time a cis dude puts on a bra, but — what?
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:58 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


mantrums

Gold! Stealing for later use :)


Um, yeah, because people will listen to you more when you make up words ridiculing them. Seriously, I pretty much quit reading the comment that word appeared in when I read it. Tantrum is a word, it has a meaning, go ahead and use it. I do this when people make up words that are plays on politicians names as well, and start ignoring the thoughts behind the speaker regardless if they share my political affiliation or not.

(Bush and Obama have enough faults based on their respective politics and policies, don't go making up clever new names for them based on their names - its childish and stupid).

Also, are gendered insults really the way to convince people that your brand of feminism is the enlightened ones? Are gendered insults appropriate?
posted by el io at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2014 [12 favorites]


It's not a debate between two men - because starting tomorrow morning I intend to identify as a woman for a 24-hour period. The transphobia of these protesters is DISGUSTING.

This is a joke, right? This has to be a joke, right? Like, I'm not one for crying "appropriation" every time a cis dude puts on a bra, but — what?


He claimed afterward that it was a joke, but even if he really did intend for it to be a joke at the time (as in, hey, this is amusing, let's laugh, rather than trying to be another "Oh I am so intellectually clever take THAT feminists" point), it's an incredibly gross example of "punching down."
posted by Etrigan at 1:12 PM on November 22, 2014 [12 favorites]


Seriously, I pretty much quit reading the comment that word appeared in when I read it.

Oh, good, we're going to have that argument again.
posted by Etrigan at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2014 [24 favorites]


In this case the JCR (essentially a student democratic body, within the Oxford college system) of the college the debate was due to be held in, declined to allow the debate to occur, after hearing both sides of the argument. That's not shouting someone down.



Yeah, I think it's a bit weird that this keeps getting framed as Oxford doing X, when the colleges at Oxford are fairly autonomous and the JCRs are their own special thing. Christ Church's porters are sometimes fairly hostile even to Oxford students at other colleges-- I can see why the thought of having a sudden influx of people (I just checked, the Blue Boar Theatre isn't that large) in kind of a flashpoint event would be something they would want to have more time to prepare for. It's not like this was going to take place at the Oxford Union or another space accustomed to contentious arguments or with certain debate standards; this is just an independent thing at a conference area in a college.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:16 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


So wait, el io, you ignored the content of an entire comment because you thought that one word in it was childish and stupid? Kind of a high standard? That is called "tone policing."
posted by radicalawyer at 1:20 PM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think mocking gendered insults are mocking and insulting. It doesn't bother me as much as when I read misogynist gendered insults, but it certainly not conducive to any sort of nuanced discussion.

Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of things to mock about two men debating abortion, but making up gendered insults isn't really necessary.

If was policing, I'd be handing out tickets, as it is I'm just critiquing.
posted by el io at 1:25 PM on November 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


The plans to disrupt the event could be characterized as being a heckler's veto. Simply picketing outside the debate (something that'd be quite reasonable) would not be a hecklers veto.

So yeah, they stopped the 'debate' from occurring, but it ended up resembling censorship. Censorship tends not to lend moral authority to your cause.
posted by el io at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Do we even know what kind of "disruption" was planned, or are you just extrapolating from a Facebook screencap?

Anyway, nearly every civil disobedience action ever undertaken could be described as a "heckler's veto." If you're acting within the bounds of the laws of your country to register your disapproval, you're not censoring anything. These two chuckleheads weren't entitled to the space or the audience.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


Censorship tends not to lend moral authority to your cause.

Genuine censorship often is done with the exact aim of lending authority to a cause - and indeed, often achieves that aim. This is not that.
posted by iotic at 1:47 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


It seems a funny definition of censorship that results in an act being considered censorship in one country but not in another.
posted by topynate at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyway, nearly every civil disobedience action ever undertaken could be described as a "heckler's veto." If you're acting within the bounds of the laws of your country to register your disapproval, you're not censoring anything.

The UK's 1986 Education Act states that: ‘persons concerned in the government of any establishment...shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers.’ and applies to all UK Universities.
posted by biffa at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd kind of be interested in hearing this debate just out of curiosity, so they can go ahead and do it in a different venue if they want. They have no right to demand to be hosted at any particular venue. They have a right to be offended that they were rejected if they want, but they are just coming off as whiners to me.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:00 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Anyway, nearly every civil disobedience action ever undertaken could be described as a "heckler's veto."

Huh? That's just gibberish. Refusing to sit at the back of the bus is not shouting over anyone to prevent them from being heard. Ditto rescuing a slave, burning a draft card, voting illegally when you're unfairly disenfranchised, heck, even occupying a park. None of these scream through someone else's speech and prevent them from being heard or threaten them so that an institution somehow prevents them from speaking.
posted by shivohum at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yes, the core dynamics of civil disobedience and heckling are very similar -- someone at a disadvantage in terms of privilege, power, or sheer numbers using whatever legal tools they have at their disposal to combat what they feel is an injustice.

And, again, this is moot, because we don't know that the plan was to shout over them -- "disruptive protest" is very vague, and the wild extrapolation from a single social media posting is nothing but grasping at straws to create a narrative about what might have happened.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:10 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


someone at a disadvantage in terms of privilege, power, or sheer numbers using whatever legal tools they have at their disposal to combat what they feel is an injustice

But that's not what a heckler's veto is. The essential point of it is that it disrupts speech, not that it's a "legal tool."

In fact, the very definition of civil disobedience is to do something that's not legal!

But I'm sure it's all the same because they're both things that people use to do other things.

"disruptive protest" is very vague, and the wild extrapolation from a single social media posting is nothing but grasping at straws to create a narrative about what might have happened.

My link is to a social media posting, but there was obviously a lot more than just my link. There was enough for them to cancel the speech on security and safety grounds.

Again, that's what actually happened: a cancellation not on the grounds that this was lending the college's platform and prestige to people who didn't deserve it, but on security and safety grounds.
posted by shivohum at 3:23 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Actually, I feel like a total sucker for falling into a defensive crouch instead of just pointing and laughing at the ridiculousness of this contrived bullshit.

I'm neither a lawyer nor a UK resident, but a plain reading of the statute biffa cited suggests there's wide discretion in determining how "reasonably practicable" it is for every single group who wants an audience to get one on university property. In the U.S. they might have an argument if it were a public university, but even then and with our robust First Amendment there's a recognition that sometimes the entity who has to deal with the safety concerns can't always honor every request, and that allowances have to be made for institutions to assess their own readiness to deal with the fallout of hosting controversial speakers.

These clowns are the textbook example of bad faith actors trying to create a right wing-friendly "political correctness run amok" story for inclusion in chain emails, and it should be met with the exact amount of seriousness that they would have brought to that debate.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2014 [15 favorites]


Here's my problem with this discourse/situation.

It's possible to imagine a scenario where people debate the moral character of abortion. However, historically, it's only in the last 50-60 years or so that women have been getting any real reproductive agency in Western countries, and the reactionaries who want to declare abortion immoral are quite obviously interested in having it outlawed, as they're succeeding in doing in the US right now.

So, while there is an abstract discussion to potentially have, it's disingenuous to divorce this "debate" from policy initiatives and informal campaigns organized through groups that aren't directly involved in electoral politics. It's unjust to debate this issue as though nothing is at stake, and it's morally execrable to try to control women's lives by saying that you're just interested in what's right.
posted by clockzero at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


There seem to be two issues here:

Problems with the forms and conventions of debate, as applied to important moral issues. I don't see any way of defending a veto on such debates that doesn't rely on tautology (taking the wrong side of this very important moral issue is morally execrable - yes, that's what 'very important moral issue' means, now let's talk about it).

Problems with abuse of the form of a debate to transmit a political viewpoint, using a communal platform. That's what happens when you let groups like OSfL pick the speakers. In a society like the Oxford Union, the members delegate responsibility on who gets the right to pick speakers to an elected representative. This at least means that those doing the selection have a good chance of doing what they were elected to do - hopefully including impartiality and commitment to getting the best defenders of each view.
posted by topynate at 3:45 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


My link is to a social media posting, but there was obviously a lot more than just my link. There was enough for them to cancel the speech on security and safety grounds.
[...]
Again, that's what actually happened: a cancellation not on the grounds that this was lending the college's platform and prestige to people who didn't deserve it, but on security and safety grounds.


From the student newspaper:
Criticism on social media was followed by moves to shut down the debate, with Christ Church JCR Treasurer Will Neaverson bringing forward a motion at Sunday’s GM which resolved to “request our college authorities and our elected officers to try and cancel an event hosted by Oxford Students for Life”, and the college responded to the request the following day with a decision to cancel the debate.

An email sent around the Christ Church JCR mailing list by JCR President Louise Revell stated that the decision of the College authorities had been not to grant OSFL permission to host the event in Christ Church, for the reason that “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”.

The GM motion, which originally questioned the legitimacy of the OSFL debate itself, was amended following a three-hour debate to mandate JCR Officers to raise “security concerns, both physical and mental, of Christ Church students” with the college. The amended motion also noted the JCR’s “strong concern with the practical format of the debate”.

Neaverson told the OxStu: “I’m relieved that Christ Church passed the motion, which sends a strong message that the welfare and safety of our students is more important than an outside group’s access to use our space.”
So, OSFL had apparently not formally booked an event at Christ Church, and in any event OSFL had never received permission to hold the event there. So the JCR (read: student union) made the decision, along with the people that run the venue, to cancel the debate. Since they're the ones where the "security and safety grounds" language came from, it seems that their concerns were around the fact that nobody had done anything to provide safety precautions (i.e., fire and health) for a large crowd, not that they expected violence.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:51 PM on November 22, 2014 [18 favorites]


Also, what the fuck was Matt Taylor thinking wearing that stupid shirt??? I'm one for casual wardrobes but this is the biggest moment of your career - don't dress like a jackass.

I'd like it if we could lay off Matt Taylor, because (a) he seems to be very sincerely sorry -- he broke down in a press interview while apologizing for it (b) the shirt was made by a friend of his, a woman in fact, so (c) he was probably just either wearing his friend's shirt as a kind of shout-out to her or to show that scientists are fun people too, not just nerds with pocket protectors.

We all agree he shouldn't have worn that shirt, but it's a very different thing from the abortion dispute, which I think will never go away because it seems to me to be fundamentally metaphysical.

My impression is that many religious traditions believe that a fully human soul is joined to the embryo at the moment of conception, and while that seems ridiculous to me, it's not something you could disprove with the most powerful microscope.

And if you believe in that soul stuff, then it's not really about whether women should be able to control their own bodies, it's about the already-ensouled bodies inside them, and so it's no longer a feminist issue and it doesn't matter if it's only men on the stage.

So I think the question is whether it's okay for a university to either sponsor (i.e. pay for travel fees etc.) or host (i.e. allow on their premises) such a debate. Part of me thinks that if the "Oxford Students for Life" paid for all expenses (including the use and cleanup of whatever auditorium) then the university should have just allowed it. On the other hand, if the debate had been "Hitler: A Great Fuehrer Or *The Greatest* Fuehrer?" (to paraphrase Colbert), I'd feel a little uneasy about that.

Times change. I belonged to a literary/debating society in college and once opened up one of the books of meeting minutes from the mid-1800s to read "tonight's topic of debate was: is slavery immoral?" (Of course, this would have been a debate among undergraduates, not invited speakers.)

Slavery and Hitler are off the table now, thank God. I'm afraid that abortion is still a live topic and, for the reason I suggested above, doesn't even appear to be a women's issue to those who oppose it. I think I'd have supported allowing the debate to happen, even if I'd have been one of the people outside carrying signs and handing out pamphlets.

I'd like to get to the point where the right to abortion is no longer questioned, but we have an awful lot of people to convince before that happens, and I'm not sure keeping them off college campuses is going to help. It'll just prove to them that colleges are evil bastions of liberalism.

Let them come, let them talk, tell them why you're not buying their crap, let them go home.
posted by uosuaq at 4:03 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Not sure if this event has actually totally censored or if the official rationale " “there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting”." means it will resurface in modified form.

Looking at the original stated purpose and framing of the debate, I think it's reasonable for the college to suspend the event and cancel it completely unless the terms are changed - it does not appear to be a sincere debate but an exercise in loaded, one-sided argument pretending to be a debate. This is tantamount to deceptive propaganda masquerading as public debate over ideas and does not belong at a university.

However, Niamh McIntyre's argument in favour of banning the debate very weak as well as a lamentably poorly thought out attack on intellectual freedom and freedom of speech. Of course everything can be debated. It might be that the terms of the debate are damnably skewed and non-inclusive, as they do in this case. If the terms of debate were fair and open, then one can expect that an obnoxious debate statement can easily be defeated. But do not ban a debate purely for the topic proposed itself.
posted by Bwithh at 4:06 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


However, Niamh McIntyre's argument in favour of banning the debate very weak as well as a lamentably poorly thought out attack on intellectual freedom and freedom of speech.

...that played right into the hands of OSFL, Stanley and O'Neil, who were trolling for this exact response from someone, anyone, so they could become Famous Victims Of Political Correctness.
posted by Etrigan at 4:34 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Slavery and Hitler are off the table now

For me, this in a nutshell is why there are some issues on which there is no debate. Abortion is one of them: if you don't want one, don't have one. But you don't get to decide for anyone else. End of discussion, seriously, there is no good reason for continuing to indulge the fantasist whims of these dinosaurs.

And don't try the 'but how do you know you're right, they have the right to their opinions' thing that so often comes up. I'm right, they're wrong, they can deal. At some point we as a society need to grow up and say to those who would base law on religion "sorry, we are just not listening to you anymore."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:57 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you believe in that soul stuff, killing somebody doesn't actually destroy them, so the whole moral calculus changes--but not really in a way that favors the antiabortion set.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:02 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


It does though, they tend to believe in that original sin thing--aborted fetuses go to hell, because they never get baptized and/or accept Jesus personally.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:04 PM on November 22, 2014


At some point we as a society need to grow up and say to those who would base law on religion "sorry, we are just not listening to you anymore."

But the message here seems to be Shut up, we are just not listening to you anymore.
posted by layceepee at 5:04 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah. I am okay with that. Not all viewpoints are of equal validity, and the viewpoints of a couple of rightwing idiots using the occasion to bloviate about how social justice is bad ten to fall on the 'less valid than discussing Hitler's leadership skills' end of the spectrum.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:07 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


aborted fetuses go to hell, because they never get baptized and/or accept Jesus personally.

Not even the Catholic church holds this position anymore because it's so morally repugnant. And it was limbo, not hell.

I mean, if you believe in souls in the way you mean, people don't need physical bodies to exist and abortion doesn't really kill anyone, it just prevents a soul from occupying a particular body. Souls make the antiabortion case weaker, not stronger.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:08 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hey, I don't believe it, just repeating what I have been told by forced pregnancy types.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:10 PM on November 22, 2014


Maybe the news hasn't gotten around, but no church that I'm aware of believes miscarried babies go to hell at this point in history. I know the view is out there, I'm just pointing out it doesn't actually make sense under a couple seconds' scrutiny.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:13 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


I believe in souls, I also believe that they and the creator know whether a fetus will be carried to term and won't enter one that will not.
posted by brujita at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's fine if you aren't willing to engage in a charade of saying you are open to persuasion any more, but you don't get to "slavery" levels of "we aren't talking about this anymore" without having to continue to persuade others. So, the debate goes on since there are many jurisdictions where people need to be persuaded to change their laws on abortion.

Saying, "We won't ever listen to you, you forced pregnancy types!" is likely to be met with "Well, we won't listen to you either, you baby murderers!" so sometimes strategically a debate can be the better choice. Sometimes, like with slavery, debate won't mean shit and you will have to be forceful.

This of course hypothetical big picture stuff and has nothing to do with an Oxford debate that was mostly going to be comprised of conservative wankery.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


But the creator doesn't know that in the case of abortions for some reason? Nonsense.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:32 PM on November 22, 2014


I often wonder if many religious people actually know what "omnipotent" means. I mean, you either are or you aren't.
posted by maxwelton at 8:25 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'd like it if we could lay off Matt Taylor, because (a) he seems to be very sincerely sorry -- he broke down in a press interview while apologizing for it

I think he handled his apology amazingly well and graciously, and while I really hope he hasn't been reading twitter much, I feel bad for the guy seeing hordes of genuinely sexist asswipes leaping to his defense. It was also very nice to see various astronomy institutions come out and say a few thoughtful words openly clarifying their positions.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you believe in that soul stuff, killing somebody doesn't actually destroy them, so the whole moral calculus changes--but not really in a way that favors the antiabortion set.

I think there are lot of better religious based critiques of Christian pro-life views out there than this.

If you believe life begins at conception then the soul or souls coming into existence in the physical world at that moment as a unified being makes perfect sense. Many Christians believe it begins at conception. An omnipotent God can certainly see if it will be a short life or not, but this God believes in free will and his plan is not free of seemingly random death of natural causes at all stages of life. It's a religion where the central act is God becoming a physical human and allowing his physical form to be tortured and executed and then rising from the dead. A lot of that sacrifice loses impact if you are to argue that only the spirit has meaning, and not the physical vessel which had been killed.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:51 PM on November 22, 2014


So, OSFL had apparently not formally booked an event at Christ Church, and in any event OSFL had never received permission to hold the event there.

I don't see where you're getting that from. OSFL obviously booked the "Blue Boar Lecture Hall" and reserved time there. Nothing happens on campuses without booking space. They obviously had what permission they needed -- thus the need for a specific resolution revoking that permission and canceling the event.

So the JCR (read: student union) made the decision, along with the people that run the venue, to cancel the debate. Since they're the ones where the "security and safety grounds" language came from, it seems that their concerns were around the fact that nobody had done anything to provide safety precautions (i.e., fire and health) for a large crowd, not that they expected violence.

This appears nowhere in the article you link to. What does appear there is:

The GM motion, which originally questioned the legitimacy of the OSFL debate itself, was amended following a three-hour debate to mandate JCR Officers to raise “security concerns, both physical and mental, of Christ Church students” with the college.

Fire and health concerns for a large crowd wouldn't be categorized as "mental." But physical and mental concerns DO relate to this, found later on in the article:

WomCam called “for an apology from OSFL for hosting this event and urge them to cancel it” and supported a “disruptive protest” if the event goes ahead.

Could a disruptive protest potentially be harmful to the physical and mental health of students, particularly those on the wrong side of the debate, and would the college perhaps not want to be in the middle of that? Hrm.
posted by shivohum at 11:46 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


I feel that we're seeing a lot of very heavy editorialising from the OP via multiple comments in the thread, here.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:55 PM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Julie Bindel article linked indirectly is pretty interesting:
Many would hail this as a feminist victory: a big-name scientist apologising on TV and being reduced to tears for his apparent sexism. We must have come a long way to wield so much influence. But there’s another way of seeing it. As less of a victory, more of a sign of a shift in feminist tactics. Instead of attacking the root cause of women’s inequality, we’ve moved towards the vilification of individuals...

Feminism, a great social movement, is in danger of becoming toxic and repressive. The focus on individuals, however vile they may be, signifies a shift away from the more difficult, long-term work of making institutions such as the Crown Prosecution Service and other governmental departments accountable. Justice for Women, a feminist campaigning group I co-founded, managed to change the law to prevent men claiming that “nagging” was a justifiable reason to kill female partners; Southall Black Sisters successfully challenged Ealing council when it proposed cutting women’s services. The CPS, badgered for decades by anti-FGM campaigners, ended up changing its policy and began to proactively seek prosecutions. Feminists campaigned all through the 1970s and 1980s to make rape in marriage a crime – and in 1992 the goal was achieved.

Rather than spending so much energy piling on a man for wearing a sexist shirt, is it not better to focus on the manufacturer? Is Taylor’s shirt really as problematic as an entire clothing label named Porn Star?...

Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:00 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


However, Christ Church JCR also claimed that OSFL had not secured the permission to hold the event in Christ Church at the time of the motion. A spokesperson for Christ Church confirmed they held no booking from OSFL for a debate on Tuesday. A spokesperson from OSFL told Cherwell, "As I understand it, the final decision rests with the Censors*, who haven't given a decision yet. But the other stages of the booking were all complete."

Additionally, the number of people interested in protesting seems to have been a security concern for the JCR and for Christ Church's community.


*not what one might think it means
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:07 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Honestly a lot of this seems very they said/they said, tied up with the substantial bureaucracy of a large Oxford college. Yes, a disruptive protest could also impact the health and safety of a college: it's a community, it's a place to sleep and eat and learn. It's understandable that CC would have reservations? Should they instead be mandated to take on the burden of dealing with protesting students and outside community members? I mean, why?
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:10 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


For those who claim that this was going to be a legitimate debate on the pros and cons of abortion in modern society, the ostensibly-women's-rights-defending male half of the "debate" posted this on Facebook:
"It's not a debate between two men - because starting tomorrow morning I intend to identify as a woman for a 24-hour period. The transphobia of these protesters is DISGUSTING."


Holy christ that is terrible. Trans people are not a fucking prop you can throw around like that. That bullshit blatant appropriation abuses our position in society, our lives, trivialises everything we experience, and completely misunderstands self-identity with regard to gender. You cannot decide to be a woman for a day like that. That is not how it fucking works. Trans people do not 'decide' their gender in that way.

I think this is precisely backwards. It is partially because we engage in debate that things have improved for marginalized people. If we didn't debate thinsgs that were considered settled slavery would not have ended , or segregation would still be in place or a hundred other similar changes wouldn't have occurred.

The question is WHICH debates. If we were still debating slavery like a legitimate option now, what impact do you think that would have on the fight against racism? I see us as a society having moved past having that debate as progress, and it allows us to engage with more subtle aspects of racism in a way that wasn't possible when slavery was still a tenable political position.

Again, that's what actually happened: a cancellation not on the grounds that this was lending the college's platform and prestige to people who didn't deserve it, but on security and safety grounds.

Being intimately familiar with both student protest and university administration and their responses thereto in the UK, let me assure you that 'on safety and security grounds' is the standard reason given by university administrations when they bow to student pressure, or indeed want to take any action without giving a good reason why. Can't explicitly let the world know they're responding to the student body, gotta save face. 'Ugh, we don't want to deal with this at all, cancel it and say it was for security reasons' is pretty common, to the point where I've seen universities use it as justification for not allowing people to put up posters (not particular posters, just putting paper on brick walls at all is apparently a security issue).
posted by Dysk at 2:32 AM on November 23, 2014 [10 favorites]


[Just as a note, since there have been a few comments about it: let's try to avoid a Matt Taylor/shirt derail, please. We do have an open thread for that discussion. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:59 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


These clowns are the textbook example of bad faith actors trying to create a right wing-friendly "political correctness run amok" story for inclusion in chain emails

Probably not a brilliant idea to give them exactly the platform they most desired, then, rather than letting them have a debate which almost no one would have witnessed.
posted by yoink at 7:44 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apologies for extending the slight derail, but the idea " that a fully human soul is joined to the embryo at the moment of conception" is a relatively modern one, not at all a "tradition".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensoulment
posted by bashos_frog at 8:20 AM on November 23, 2014


yoink: Probably not a brilliant idea to give them exactly the platform they most desired, then, rather than letting them have a debate which almost no one would have witnessed.

It's pretty easy to tell others not to feed the trolls at a safe remove, but when it's happening in your community, there are downsides to simply letting the trolls have their day. There was going to be some form of protest against this sham of a debate, and I have no doubt that Brietbart and friends would have covered those protests much in the same way they're covering the cancellation of the debate. I see no downside at all in the student union's decision to insist on a proper debate, quite honestly.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:10 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Probably not a brilliant idea to give them exactly the platform they most desired, then, rather than letting them have a debate which almost no one would have witnessed.

When the "debaters" are consciously trying to provoke as many people as possible (see above re O'Neil's Facebook post, patently intended solely to rile up the trans community), they're going to get at least one person to show up and yell, or hold up a sign, or just stand up and walk out. At that point, not only do they have their "debate" so their media allies can report on how they Solved The Problem, but they also get to be Rudely Interrupted by Political Correctness Run Amok.

There was no way to not give them the platform. They built it themselves.
posted by Etrigan at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Apologies for extending the slight derail, but the idea " that a fully human soul is joined to the embryo at the moment of conception" is a relatively modern one, not at all a "tradition".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ensoulment


Yup, but it's what they believe right now and need to be convinced out of.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2014


I guess I'm surprised at how many people are chiming in to disagree with the idea that fully free and open debate can harm marginalized groups. I probably shouldn't be, but I am.

Mind, I think open debate is necessary and should happen. But that's not at all the same as saying that anything is always open for debate. 'Full, free and open' debate does not happen on a level playing field, any more than I was born on the same playing field as Warren Buffet's kids. You can do things to give disadvantaged groups more of a voice -- but as soon as you start pretending the field is level, they lose most of the advantage they had gained.

There just isn't any simple, mechanical way of ensuring that we'll all get an equal say in any debate. What that means is that we have to pay attention and correct the problems, not that we shouldn't have the debates.
posted by lodurr at 11:46 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's pretty easy to tell others not to feed the trolls at a safe remove, but when it's happening in your community, there are downsides to simply letting the trolls have their day. There was going to be some form of protest against this sham of a debate, and I have no doubt that Brietbart and friends would have covered those protests much in the same way they're covering the cancellation of the debate

This cancellation handed the trolls them a PR victory that is being heard around the world: "PC nutters too scared to even hear contrary opinions!" Letting the sham devate go ahead and ignoring it? That would hardly have amounted to coverage in the local student press. Leaving all the "free speech" issues to one side, this is just a gross tactical blunder.
posted by yoink at 2:36 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, I think we're all familiar with how the Streisand effect works, but as I said, it's nearly impossible to imagine someone wasn't going to protest, so it's silly to give lectures about simply ignoring the problem. Given that a stunt like this was going to provoke some kind of reaction, I don't really think the difference in scale between the wingnut outrage over it being protested versus it being canceled is really worth worrying about, especially because there is a positive value associated with letting the local activists have their say and insist on a fair debate.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:50 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


This cancellation handed the trolls them a PR victory that is being heard around the world: "PC nutters too scared to even hear contrary opinions!"

I think you're grossly overestimating A) how difficult it is to be heard around the world these days, and 2) how much impact being heard around the world can actually have these days.

I have literally heard nothing about this on any site that does not start with "Meta". I admit, I don't have everyone friended on Facebook, but I usually see at least one person snipe about every stupid thing. Not this one.
posted by Etrigan at 3:07 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know if it's even really caught on in Right Blogistan just yet. Breitbart's on top of it, of course, but it doesn't appear that HotAir, Daily Caller, or Michelle Malkin have it. Some entity called "The Christian Post" has a single story, but while I might be looking in the wrong places, it doesn't seem to have reached critical mass just yet. Meanwhile left-ish leaning Vox has a story from Brandon Ambrosino, Vox's token religious conservative scold. Maybe this is something that will catch on in the next day or two, but quite honestly there's enough going on in domestic US politics right now that it's hard to imagine this will get traction.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:16 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


This cancellation handed the trolls them a PR victory that is being heard around the world: "PC nutters too scared to even hear contrary opinions!"

I'm not sure the news of "abortion debate between two men cancelled after protest by many women" is the PR victory that you seem to think it is...
posted by Dysk at 4:01 PM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


it's nearly impossible to imagine someone wasn't going to protest, so it's silly to give lectures about simply ignoring the problem

"Someone was bound to do something stupid, so we had to join them" doesn't strike me as a compelling argument.

I'm not sure the news of "abortion debate between two men cancelled after protest by many women" is the PR victory that you seem to think it is...


That people already utterly self-confident about their positions--pro or con--will not be swayed one way or the other by this story is a given. If you're of the position that men aren't allowed to have opinions about abortion, there's pretty much no story that's going to move the needle for you one way or the other, so of course the story as just summarized by you will strike you as a victory for truth, justice etc. etc. If you're trying to win a PR battle, though, you don't ask "will this play well with people who are already committed partisans for my side?"

Try and think about how you'd react if this had played out with respect to an issue on which you have very different feelings. A debate between, say, two people who have been strongly critical of Israeli policies with respect to the Occupied Territories over Israel's military actions in Gaza that was shut down because Jewish students protested that neither participant was an Israeli Jew. Would you be sitting back and saying "hey, it's not censorship unless it's a state actor doing it!" and "well, obviously 'debate between two goys over Israel cancelled after protest by many Jews' is no kind of PR problem!"? Somehow I think that story would get a very different kind of reception here on Metafilter.
posted by yoink at 4:31 PM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Try and think about how you'd react if this had played out with respect to an issue on which you have very different feelings. A debate between, say, two people who have been strongly critical of Israeli policies with respect to the Occupied Territories over Israel's military actions in Gaza that was shut down because Jewish students protested that neither participant was an Israeli Jew. Would you be sitting back and saying "hey, it's not censorship unless it's a state actor doing it!" and "well, obviously 'debate between two goys over Israel cancelled after protest by many Jews' is no kind of PR problem!"? Somehow I think that story would get a very different kind of reception here on Metafilter.

Obviously I can't speak for anyone else, but I sure wouldn't call that censorship. And it's not really an analogous situation - there's no 'both parties' to women's bodily autonomy in the same way. Furthermore, it wouldn't be much of a 'debate' on Israeli military actions in Gaza if it were between two people both critical of Israeli military actions in Gaza, and it would equally be a sham to call it such. I certainly have a stance on that particular issue, and it is indeed as you anticipate, but every debate or dialogue of any sort on the issue that I have attended or been involved in organising has had Jewish Israeli representation, because in the situation of "debate between two goys over Israel", a Jewish protest would have merit and a point.
posted by Dysk at 4:42 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


yoink: "Someone was bound to do something stupid, so we had to join them" doesn't strike me as a compelling argument.

My argument is that human nature exists. Your argument is that we should pretend it doesn't for the purposes of a hypothetical argument about what could have happened if nobody protested. I'll let others decide which is more compelling, but mine is certainly more applicable to the world we live in.

If you're of the position that men aren't allowed to have opinions about abortion

Oh, great, this shit again. You know damned well that the problem is that it was two men representing sides in a debate over a woman's issue, not that those men had opinions. We men are allowed to have all the opinions we want, but we're not the best people to represent either side of an issue that primarily affects women. Please drop this sophistic straw man argument and engage with the actual position of anyone who's posted in this thread.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:44 PM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


It goes a bit beyond that though, failing to have the best representatives isn't enough to cancel a purely intellectual debate. It's more that it was two men engaged in an intellectually dishonest debate with clear motives outside what it was presented as. If you put the two leading experts on bioethics in the world on that stage and asked them to make the best case for each side, even if they happen to both be men, you would end up with something which would be educational and stimulating and incredible to watch.

That was not what was happening here though. What was happening here was a political agenda, as the vile "identifying as a woman" tweet makes clear.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:06 PM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


Well yeah, it's not like a man could never capably represent one side or another, but even if we didn't have the context that proves that these particular jokers aren't engaging in good faith, I would look skeptically at a debate about reproductive freedom between two dudes. It wouldn't be enough to suggest canceling it, but it would certainly set off alarm bells in my mind, so it's therefore not at all surprising that it ended up being pure trolling.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:32 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yup, 100% agreement.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:51 PM on November 23, 2014


so it's therefore not at all surprising that it ended up being pure trolling

Actually, the speech the pro-choice advocate was going to give was far from trolling. It was vehement in its advocacy for women's autonomy over their bodies.

The whole idea that you're presumed incompetent to discuss or debate issues unless you're affected by them leads right down the path to nihilistic relativism. Men can't debate women's issues and presumably women then are not allowed to discuss men's issues. No one can debate issues affecting any other culture. No one can discuss issues from any other racial, age, occupation, or disability group.

Taken to its logical conclusion, no one could ever discuss anyone else's experience at all, since hey, you're not them, and everyone is unique.

That's a sad and long way from the kind of open-minded and unafraid liberalism that believed so strongly in free speech that it defended the rights of the KKK to march through Jewish neighborhoods.
posted by shivohum at 6:47 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Actually, the speech the pro-choice advocate was going to give was far from trolling.

It's odd how earnest and vehement he became after he got the reaction that he was clearly looking for. Seriously, take a look at the front page of his website: "The dangers of mob justice" railing against the scourge of online petitions; "Affirmative action: the real racism on campus"; "Why I'm handing in my feminism card"; "Rape culture? There's no such thing"; "Curators need to stand up to censors", "Human rights: a straitjacket on liberty". It's like the greatest hits album of Trollie and the Trollers.

O'Neill retreated to his position of reasoned and reasonable debate only after he was a big enough asshole to get people to notice him so people like you would defend the speech he says he was going to give.
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 PM on November 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


Actually, the speech the pro-choice advocate was going to give was far from trolling.

It's trolling, and not even subtle trolling. Seriously, I like to troll myself, if I thought there was even a hint of a clever troll here I might play ball. But no, it's just lame feminist/PC needling.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:36 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seriously, take a look at the front page of his website

Interesting point -- so he's pretty clearly a libertarian and also not a feminist in any standard sense. Yet that actually doesn't make his pro-choiceness any less sincere. Libertarians actually often are usually staunchly pro-choice. It's core to their autonomy uber alles stance.
posted by shivohum at 7:54 PM on November 23, 2014


Yeah, that's it, I fold. Y'all go ahead and deal with this MetaTrolling.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:15 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Interesting point -- so he's pretty clearly a libertarian and also not a feminist in any standard sense. Yet that actually doesn't make his pro-choiceness any less sincere. Libertarians actually often are usually staunchly pro-choice. It's core to their autonomy uber alles stance.

I'm pro-choice mainly because of the libertarian arguments for why you should be. This man is still a troll!
posted by Drinky Die at 8:20 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


[Shivohum, please ease back now. We generally expect people to make a post and let other people comment rather than riding herd on the discussion, threadsitting, and taking up the position of chief debater. Basically, we ask that people post in the spirit of "maybe other members will find this interesting and want to discuss," rather than "I want to fight with mefi members about this topic."]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:52 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's a sad and long way from the kind of open-minded and unafraid liberalism that believed so strongly in free speech that it defended the rights of the KKK to march through Jewish neighborhoods.

Yes, a college of Oxford University, UK is a long way from the the Americans who did a thing somewhere in America. What a surprise.
posted by Dysk at 2:26 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


So people who thought the debaters had no right to speak delivered enough thinly-veiled threats that the institution got worried about security and cancelled the event. But it's not censorship because they could always speak somewhere else. After all, Anita Sarkeesian can post on YouTube all she likes, she doesn't have to speak at any particular conference!

What's most appalling is that people think this sort of silencing is a progressive tool. The ability to rally enough people to scare an institution is inherently only available to large, powerful groups. If all it takes to cancel a public event is sufficient numbers of angry people, say goodbye to discussions of gun restrictions or abortion in red states, discussions of LGBT issues in religious communities, and any other discussion of minority principles you would have liked to have.
...attempts to curtail [free speech] rights result inevitably in unforeseen, ugly consequences, against even the best of intentions. And for those of us on the left, that history should function as a potent warning indeed. Because power is not our friend.
This is not a theoretical issue. Many colleges in the US are having problems hosting discussions of Palestinians' rights because Jewish and Evangelical Christian groups are promising "disruptive protest", and so speakers get cancelled. This is far more unacceptable than unpleasant debates. Especially when you're talking about a live issue like abortion, where there is tremendous divergence of opinion even among women. The idea that you can just declare an issue closed when it isn't but is absolutely pathetic.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:04 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


TFB, maybe you missed the fact that the pro-life group involved in setting up this "debate" has signaled their willingness to debate the issue opposite a member of the feminist community, so there's been no "silencing" of any actual debate. The only thing that's been silenced was a bullshit stunt that everyone knows was a bullshit stunt.

Nobody is saying issues are closed for discussion, they're saying that the discussion is not furthered by hosting phony debates that aren't meant to actually further the discussion in the first place.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:07 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that, given institutional culture at UK universities, there's actually no indication that the school thought there was a security risk.
posted by lodurr at 8:22 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


So people who thought the debaters had no right to speak delivered enough thinly-veiled threats that the institution got worried about security and cancelled the event.

Not according to the institution, no.

But it's not censorship because they could always speak somewhere else. After all, Anita Sarkeesian can post on YouTube all she likes, she doesn't have to speak at any particular conference!

You are aware that Sarkeesian was the one who canceled the event, and the institution was the one who refused to provide security on an actionable threat and therefore place her and their students at risk? So other than being near-opposite situations, they're completely identical!

when you're talking about a live issue like abortion, where there is tremendous divergence of opinion even among women.

Acutally, this undercuts your argument and that of OFSL. After all, if there's such a divergence of opinion, then why refuse to give the stage to an actual woman? It shouldn't have taken being called out on this obvious bullshit for them to (by most accounts grudgingly) offer to actually have a debate where they didn't provide both speakers, with the representative for "pro" seeming relatively indifferent to the issue in general.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:57 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that, given institutional culture at UK universities, there's actually no indication that the school thought there was a security risk.

Also, let's not lose sight of the fact that, given its failure to secure a place or clearance to do so until the day before the scheduled event, there's no indication that OSFL actually intended to put on this "debate."
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 AM on November 24, 2014 [5 favorites]


TFB, maybe you missed the fact that the pro-life group involved in setting up this "debate" has signaled their willingness to debate the issue opposite a member of the feminist community, so there's been no "silencing" of any actual debate.

I'm afraid I'm not following this. It seems the OFL is unable to have the two speakers they had chosen for the debate speak. That's silencing, even if the event can later go ahead with different speakers, whose perspectives are different.

So people who thought the debaters had no right to speak delivered enough thinly-veiled threats that the institution got worried about security and cancelled the event.

Not according to the institution, no.
The reason is that there was insufficient time between today and tomorrow to address some concerns they had about the meeting arising from potential security and welfare issues, such as those discussed at last night’s General Meeting.
Is there a quote from the institution refuting this statement? Because it certaintly sounds like they had concerns about security and welfare issues.

You are aware that Sarkeesian was the one who canceled the event, and the institution was the one who refused to provide security on an actionable threat and therefore place her and their students at risk? So other than being near-opposite situations, they're completely identical!

If you are using threats to security to prevent people from speaking, that is a problem. Whether the speaker or the institution is the one frightened into silence is not particularly important.

Acutally, this undercuts your argument and that of OFSL.

Not at all. Commenters here are insisting that the issue of abortion should not be debated because it is as settled as slavery or fascism. This is simply untrue, even if you believe only women should be permitted to publicly speak on the issue.

After all, if there's such a divergence of opinion, then why refuse to give the stage to an actual woman?

You do not get to tell an organization who they are allowed to invite to debates.

the representative for "pro" seeming relatively indifferent to the issue in general.

What makes you say that?
Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked and a columnist for the Big Issue. ‘The right to choose’, he has written, ‘frees a woman from official prying into the decisions she makes about her body and her life; it increases her humanity, it makes her a fuller, more independent human being.’
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:26 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


What is your opinion on the "identifying as a woman" comment and does it impact how you feel about the intellectual honesty of the proposed debate?
posted by Drinky Die at 11:32 AM on November 24, 2014


I think the comment is weird and gross. I also think that a lot of people would say weird and gross things when they've been forcibly silenced. And that heckler's don't get a veto on letting people who say weird and gross things speak when they've been invited by a recognized student group.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 11:49 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there a quote from the institution refuting this statement? Because it certaintly sounds like they had concerns about security and welfare issues.

There is nothing there about threats, thinly-veiled or otherwise, as you claim. There is evidence that OSFL did not go through the proper procedures in obtaining the venue, that the owners of the venue were afraid of being at 2x-3x capacity, and that the student union themselves voiced these complaints.

If you are using threats to security to prevent people from speaking, that is a problem. Whether the speaker or the institution is the one frightened into silence is not particularly important.

Again, there is nothing from either the institution or the student union committee that ever once refers to threats.

This is simply untrue, even if you believe only women should be permitted to publicly speak on the issue.

Come now, don't play dumb. I'm sure you're aware that "not just men should speak on the issue" =/= "only women should be permitted to speak on the issue."

You do not get to tell an organization who they are allowed to invite to debates.

This is just another ridiculous version of the argument that freedom of speech requires freedom from criticism.

What makes you say that?

His Facebook stunt, for one, which makes it seem that at best he's not serious and sees this as an intellectual exercise rather than women's choices about themselves.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:51 AM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


For those interested, O'Neill has printed the text of the speech he intended to give.
"This is why I am pro-choice. I’m not pro-abortion. It makes not a bit of difference to me whether a woman chooses to continue her pregnancy or end it. It’s none of my business, or yours. All I care about is that it is she who decides. The content of the decision matters only to the woman and her loved ones; but the act of making a decision, the act of exercising moral choice, is something we all have a very real interest in defending. It isn’t the abortion I cheer – it is the fact that a choice is being taken by an individual over a key aspect of her life and future. There’s a phrase for that: moral autonomy."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:56 PM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


O'Neill has printed the text of the speech he intended to give.

It's been posted several times already, yes. Parts of it could be talking about anything -- take this, for example:
It is time we got serious about moral autonomy. It’s the most fundamental issue of our age. Our autonomy is under attack. It’s being tamed and constrained and in some cases flat-out undermined. Our right to think and speak for ourselves, to act on our consciences, to pursue what we consider to be the good life, to determine our destinies for ourselves, to be the authors of our circumstances, is under attack.
Note that this isn't a defense of abortion access, it's an attack on the pro-choice students on campus who objected to the debate. 'Our autonomy is under attack.' Not by pro-life activists who -- by the author's own statements elsewhere in the piece -- attack women's autonomy. But by students who 'present' themselves as pro-choice.
The alarmingly intolerant students who wanted to shut down tonight’s debate also call into question the idea of autonomy. They claim tonight’s discussion will harm female students’ ‘mental safety’ and ‘self-esteem’. The irony is terrible: they present themselves as pro-choice but want to deny people the choice to attend this debate; they claim to fight for women’s bodily autonomy but don’t think women have the basic mental autonomy to attend a discussion like this, listen, think, agree or disagree, and then get on with the business of cultivating their own minds.
Drawing a parallel between being pro-choice with regards to abortion access and 'denying people the choice to attend this debate' is the worst sort of false equivalence, and it's unbefitting of someone interested in a real discussion.
posted by cjelli at 2:17 PM on November 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Because it certaintly sounds like they had concerns about security and welfare issues.

To someone not used to dealing with UK universities, perhaps. To those of us who are, that sounds like 'just because'. "potential security and welfare issues" is about as boilerplate as it gets. If they'd said "specific concerns over safety" or somesuch, it'd be different. 'Security' in 'security and welfare' generally means venue capacity, fire procedure concerns, damage to university reputation or brand value, or absolutely nothing at all.
posted by Dysk at 4:09 AM on November 25, 2014 [5 favorites]


« Older Tiny buildings. Make me happy.   |   Where the rubber meets the road Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments