Yes: Censorship does not inform public debate
By Eleanor Prescott
When Dapper Laughs was banned from performing at the SU last year, I was one of the majority of students who voted to ban. I found his whole shtick lazily sexist and like many others, was unimpressed the SU was offering space for him to parade it in. It was only on reflection, whilst we were all still patting ourselves on the back, that I wondered what we’d actually achieved.
The answer is I think, a whole lot of not much. Did we fight lad culture? Well… we stopped one prat from having an audience on one evening of his tour. Anyone who was going to see him probably saw him somewhere else anyway. Cardiff 1 – Sexists nil. At the very least though, Dapper’s whole act was based on lad culture, and that did rather conflict with the SU’s no-tolerance policy on it.
But sadly, Cardiff SU’s gained a bit of an ‘anti-free speech’ reputation in recent years. If that sounds ridiculous, look again at Women’s Officer Rachael Melhuish petitioning to cancel a Germaine Greer lecture here because of her views, a story that blew up this week.
Greer’s offence according to Melhuish is “misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.” Then she went one step further, claiming that granting Greer the opportunity to speak means Cardiff University is actually endorsing those views. Horseshit. This isn’t 1984 and ‘thought crimes’ aren’t real.
Now Greer’s views on transgender people are, in this writer’s opinion, ignorant as well as utterly lacking in empathy and humanity. Awfully, views like Greer’s play a role in implementing policies denying transgender rights, when the speaker holds a position of high influence. But it’s total rubbish that allowing someone a platform to speak equates to endorsing their views. A university has to offer an impartial, equal platform because we include people of all faiths and backgrounds. That’s just how a university works.
Walt Disney is believed to have been an anti-semite, but if he was does this make fans of Disney then “by extension” endorsers of antisemitism? No, of course it doesn’t. But we can still fight antisemitism more meaningfully than if we were to ban Disney films being shown in the SU, just to point out we object to it. Suggesting someone’s stance on an issue taints every little thing associated with them in some way is illogical – but these are the same people implying I’m transphobic for questioning the point of a ban.
Along with others who disagree with the ban for the same reasons, I’ve been lumped in by Melhuish of striving to “debate the validity of trans lives” (uhm, no) belonging to the “freeze peach brigade” and by Payton Quinn of not caring about trans people – ad hominem at its baffling worst. A transgender man I was debating with flew into a rage, told me I was ignorant and should never call myself an ally, basically for suggesting that if Greer’s expressed views were legally defined as hate speech under UK law, she might have been arrested by now for broadcasting them on national television.
Overreactions aside; if we banned every speaker that some of the student body disagreed with on some issue, who’d be left to talk here? Most of us have come to university to expand our worldview, and banning speakers – however problematic – is counterproductive to that.
Even if Greer was going to bring those views up, the Q&A would have stopped the exchange being one-sided. No one had to hear Greer speak, but there will be people who were interested in what she was actually supposed to talk about. Instead of exercising a right to protest, you’re calling for nobody to have a choice. Taking a stance against hate speech where it occurs is important, but that just isn’t what happened.
So I raise Melhuish this: why not channel your opposition into promoting education around transgender rights? This would be useful to those who don’t have as sophisticated a grasp on the subject. We’re all ignorant of something, and without being transgender it’s impossible to have an inherent understanding of those unique, varied experiences.
But sometimes potentially offensive questions need to be asked so that other people can learn, mainly in order to be less offensive. If people cut off conversation completely for fear of causing offence to a group – as is happening across university campuses in this country – no one benefits. In trying to be as inclusive as possible you make the pool of people allowed to speak yet smaller and smaller.
What this petition has done is bring transgender issues to the surface of discussion here at Cardiff. Melhuish trying to no-platform Greer hasn’t really worked – it doesn’t matter if she speaks here or anywhere else. Her transphobia has been broadcast nationally in the process of trying to ban one unrelated lecture. So don’t waste the opportunity this exposure has given Cardiff University to raise transgender voices – we can counter that sort of ignorance, and we should.
NO: The University shouldn’t be giving a platform to promote transphobic speakers
By Emma Tranter
Germaine Greer, writer and so-called feminist, has hit the headlines recently in a spectacular fashion. Not only does she have a substantial record of transphobia and trans-misogyny, she’s also gone on this week to belittle one of the biggest trans cases of recent times, Caitlyn Jenner. In order to show support and solidarity with trans people, I personally believe the University should cancel the event.
Women’s officer Racheal Melhuish, who created the online petition to cancel the event which now has over 2,600 signatures, told me: “The University should not be giving a platform to someone who is so frequently and explicitly transphobic. Greer is seen as a feminist icon but feminism that excludes trans women is not feminism. The harmful attitudes that Greer perpetuates directly contribute to a culture where trans women face high levels of violence and discrimination.”
The oppression and violence that trans people face, particularly trans women, is by no means an exaggeration, as Greer suggested in her interview with Newsnight when asked about the petition. But how does she know? As a white, middle-class academic, I can imagine she has never received the discrimination that trans people do on a daily business. Employment discrimination, a major issue is trans life, leads to high rates of homelessness and often leaves trans women with few options besides sex work.
Suicide rates in the trans community are shockingly high – one study found that 84 per cent of respondents had considered suicide and 35 per cent had attempted it. Trans women, particularly trans women of colour, also face a horrific amount of physical violence, and often even murder – so much so that trans day of remembrance was created as an annual event to remember all the trans people murdered in the past year. As if Greer’s presence in the university isn’t insulting enough to trans students, her talk is scheduled just two days before this year’s day of remembrance, which is the cherry on top of inappropriate cake.
The presence of such a vocal transphobe has a great impact on the trans students at Cardiff. Nonbinary trans student James says “I was really saddened to hear that my university is hosting Germaine Greer. Greer’s offensive views and policing of gender, and of womanhood in particular, are completely at odds with the university’s zero tolerance policy for acts of discrimination against minorities, including LGBT+ people. Misgendering trans people like myself is, to quote Laverne Cox, an act of violence.”
Many people are concerned that no-platforming in this way would censor and silence Greer, and is an affront to free speech. This, frankly, is ridiculous – Greer is a well-known public figure and respected academic, and whether or not this talk goes ahead, she has the reputation, audience and career history to access platforms that will reach an even wider audience. She has had books and many articles published over the span of her career, and cancelling this would not even prevent her from asserting her views elsewhere with a much wider reach than this talk will have. This is something often misunderstood about no-platforming – it is not about free speech, it is about the message inviting an individual with harmful and oppressive views to this institution sends to the most marginalised students within the university.
On many other occasions universities have not platformed harmful speakers. Feminist writer Julie Bindel has been given refusal several times due to her trans-misogyny and just last year here in Cardiff Dapper Laughs had a gig cancelled at the student union. Even the National Union of Students has a no-platform policy against a number of organisations including the EDL and BNP.
These incidents of no-platforming and protest are not about censoring these individuals, but about the impact on marginalised students as a result of providing oppressive and harmful individuals with a platform. This is not the first time student activists have protested against Germaine Greer out of concern for trans students – earlier this year a protest event was held in Cambridge while she gave a talk at the Cambridge Union society.
Trans student activist Em Travis, who helped organise this protest, said “I wonder if those who dismiss TERFism [trans exclusionary radical feminism] and other transmisogyny as a mere difference of opinion, rather than recognising it as violence, have ever considered what it’s like to be part of a community where a standard day involves news of another murder or suicide. I’m consistently astounded by the incapability of free speech warriors to recognise that verbal bigotry and physical violence, even when not perpetuated by the same person, are two handles of the same knife.” Greer’s views are not just an opinion, but a part of a larger societal problem that causes a vast amount of violence against trans people.
If our University really are committed to their policies of support for trans students, they would consider the message they send when paying a trans-misogynistic public figure to speak here, and cancel the talk.