Snowflakes and Safe spaces

What sensitive flowers they are! You cannot move these days for some commentator dismissing students (especially women and LGBT students) as lacking resilience and unable to cope with criticism, contrary views or even a bit of banter.

But would we really want to go back to the university culture of thirty or forty years ago – particularly for women? The revelation in Harriet Harman’ s biography “A Woman’s Work” that her tutor threatened to downgrade her degree if she did not sleep with him does not come as a big surprise to those of us who went to university a few decades ago.

Mid eighties, London School of Economics – at 18 the very first words spoken to me by my tutor at our first meeting were: “You are much prettier than the picture on your application”. No discussion whatsoever of the “A” grade achieved for History A’Level! But then A’s at A Level were two a penny for LSE entrants – being pretty was a bit rarer and clearly deemed of greater value.

In my twenties and a newly elected Lib Dem councillor I agreed to meet for a chat with another newly elected councillor with a connection to the LSE. He was working on a PhD and was a maverick Labour councillor on the same council who was making noises about defecting to the Lib Dems (he later did). We met in an unexpectedly empty Government Department Common Room. We chatted for a few moments and then he came out with: “Seeing you in that dress makes me want to jump on you” followed by a repulsive sexual question. Some years later he tried to gate crash a private party I was holding and loudly denounced me as a racist when he was shown the door.

I was 50 last week so these events were a long time ago. Why on earth did I not complain at the time? Probably for the same reason that Harriet Harman has waited until the age of 66 to go public. I might well have been believed but would it have been deemed a matter of any importance? Such incidents were hardly rare. I am sure my tutor would say he was just being complimentary. The councillor would say there was a “cultural misunderstanding” or that I worked with him later without complaint. I was horrified when he defected to the Lib Dems but at the time there was a febrile atmosphere in the council and my local party and I feared being accused of racism if I called him out. Most of all I feared being mocked for meeting him in the first place. Who would I have complained to: LSE, the Labour Party, my own party, with its chequered history on such things? Looking back I wish I had spoken to Harriet Harman (Labour MP where he was a Labour councillor).

If I could go back in time and provide my young student (and councillor) self with safe spaces and a chance to be a “snowflake” I gladly would. If you condemn women students now for seeking the chance to attend university and simply feel equal and safe, listen to those of us who know what went before.

Written in solidarity with “C” a young person who is currently standing up to bullies.

References to Harriet Harman are made with her permission.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Dec '17 - 1:57pm

    A very good article, sensible and thoughtful. The era is mine, we are contemporaries, I was even at LSE for part of my degree , though the courses were a little after that in my third year.

    I wonder though if as ever , the answer to that which is wrong , is not, another wrong in the opposite direction. Too often the answer to that which we do not like, is offerered as the complete opposite of it.
    As Liberals surely we must see that the truth is often in between or elsewhere in that false or too stark a choice or contrast.

    The antidote to the terrible , rather astonishingly stupid behaviour you correctly show up, is not to retreat into so called safe spaces, but to make all spaces safe for discussion, debate and exposure, not to vulgarity or insult, but to openmindedness and ideas.

    It was not all as you say. Queen Mary College , Politics dept, the very year or thereabouts. I was in a class on international politics. Youngish German, West German, then, tutor.

    Tutor:( very gentlemanly, glasses, softly spoken ) So who would like to start first , with a topic for discussion… ?


    Tutor: Well…er…any thoughts…?


    Tutor: Er… Would anyone like to start… how about I pick someone …?

    Silence …I am thinking about speaking , but often do , and do not want to be pushy , which I am not…

    Tutor: Shall we , say, er ladies first… Miss .. er..

    Student:( female, in Sandinista t shirt, not softly spoken) I object to your comment !

    Tutor: Er, er, perhaps you could explain…er..

    Student : It’s offensive , it’s really sexist!

    Tutor: Er.. I am very sorry… I did not mean to offend… it is merely an expression… you see.. I was just trying to get us to begin to…

    Student: Well it wasn’t right , you should n’t have said it that way!

    Tutor: How do others feel? Perhaps you agree , or … why do we not have a discussion about this…

    There then takes place an excellent , gentle but informed and strong debate for the whole class about the very use of language and whether it is appropriate…

    True story almost word for word thirty years later!

  • Ruth, the complaint regarding “safe spaces” in universities is the push from certain quarters (which is less so in the UK but the where the US goes there is always some idiot trying to copy it later) to have ideas restricted.

    The original concept was perfectly sensible as it was a tool as part of therapy. The desire to extract a concept from one context where it has great value and transport it to situations where it is not useful, is what is criticised when people discuss this. I’m not convinced that it is as wide spread in the UK as some of its critics seem to believe, but I have not seen anything more than people citing anecdotes in either direction.

    I would point out there is a significant difference between some students (or more depressingly some academics) following the latest fad of demanding that ideas other than their own are restricted, and people asking that their work places, volunteer spaces, political parties etc are not full of sexual harassment and crime.

    You could even go further. Point out that those who oppose the “safe space” fad at universities are asking that these institutions remain a place where ideas are brought to light, challenged, developed etc. In the same way those who want their work places free of criminality and sexual harassment are asking it to be about work, or the volunteer activity etc.

    It is unfortunate that arguments now appear to be conducted via forms of linguistic activism where people try and just redefine their opponents or their positions to something more easily dismissed rather than refuted. Perhaps you have seen people representing the arguments of the likes of Jonathan Haidt when criticising “safe spaces” as advocating for it to be ok to engage in criminal activity against each other. I would say from what I have seen that is not the position (though I’m sure it is possible to cherry pick some obscure figures who are).

    As for the term “snowflake” it seems to be this decades ad hom, it is far more widely used that the University debate and probably no more useful than previous decades insults for over sensitivity.

  • Tristan Ward 5th Dec '17 - 4:07pm

    As I understand it the “safe space” requirement is about students being “protected” from contact with historical – or even contemporary- issues they may find unpleasant. Such as discovering that the British Empire was very racist.

    If that is a correct characterisation I do think it’s pretty wet. How will they cope in the real and unpleasant world?

    To be clear the kind of behaviour RUth B describes does not fall into that category and will never be acceptable.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Dec '17 - 5:04pm

    “As I understand it the “safe space” requirement is about students being “protected” from contact with historical – or even contemporary- issues they may find unpleasant. Such as discovering that the British Empire was very racist.

    If that is a correct characterisation I do think it’s pretty wet. How will they cope in the real and unpleasant world? ”

    Seems to me that ‘protecting’ students from contact with issues they may find unpleasant is airbrushing out history. Dangerous. The only possible situation for doing it might be cases where the historical person / artefact or whatever has been or is in danger of being highjacked for extremist purposes.

  • David Pocock 5th Dec '17 - 7:46pm

    Well… I think in fairness the first incarnation of this was to protect people who had ptsd from books with rape or sexual violence in them wheich is a reasonable thing. Unfortunately it is some what out of control now with a reasonable principle abused.

    A greater point that worries me is that universities seem to be producing some really radical people who have a very left wing and authoritarian friendly attitude. The things they are currently asking for; asking for censorship, legitimizing political violence, laws to stop all sorts of stuff that is quite fringe will be used tyrannically in the future.

    I find it absolutely frustrating to even try and talk to them; if you disagree with them in the slightest you get this hysterical “racist sexist white male nazi” stuff coming back to you. The other one that makes me laught is when they start throwing thewir degrees around and call you working class if you dont have one.

    These people call themselves liberals but they are really not.

  • Safe spaces were designed to give people chance to meet and to talk free from intimidation and abuse. IMO a perfectly laudable attempt to ensure a level of decency and respect. Snowflake is mostly just an overused jibe aimed at the liberal Left by the Right. Ironically, there are just as many snowflakes on the political Right, especially in print.
    The issues surrounding censorship and no platforming seem driven by campus politics. They have gone on for decades.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Dec '17 - 11:36pm

    ‘But would we really want to go back to the university culture of thirty or forty years ago – particularly for women?’

    Well… I was at university 25 years ago, and actually in SOME ways I’d answer that as a yes. One person I lived with springs to mind in particular. Adele. She was from Northern Ireland and she had…strong…unionist views. To say the least. At the time she was able to arrange speakers and for a group to go and hear strong political views. Would she be able to do that now in today’s university culture?

    Frankly we seem to be at a point where people don’t want a ‘safe’ space, rather they want a bunker from where they can shoot at will. An assertion of victimhood, any victmhood, seems to regarded as better than argument today. At my university at least 25 years ago this would, I think, have been seen as definition inflation of the idea of ‘needing’ protection. Male or female – it wouldn’t have mattered. University should not be a politically safe space. The hall where Adele, I and other politically-minded students lived would have been proud NOT to be a safe space. This is not to say that we didn’t know limits, we did, but they were for us as students, as members of civil society to work out and respect. And police. The idea of a political victimhood contest would have received short shrift on a gender-blind basis. What exactly is ‘safe’ about self-cert victimhood being placed above all else?

    Adele would probably not have wanted a 2017-style safe space, nor would we have wanted to live in one. It was a safe space back then exactly because irrespective of identity and politics we were able to talk and be a civil society on our own. I can’t say I ever agreed with Adele particularly. But she was never the victim and never wanted to be and we could police our own lives without having to beckon authority in to do it for us.

    I for one would go back to that culture in a heartbeat.

  • Little Jackie Paper 5th Dec '17 - 11:38pm

    Glenn – One thought (following the mention of LSE in the article).

    My impression is that this seems to be a much bigger issue in London than elsewhere. I don’t know if that’s just me…but it has seemed to be a mostly London thing for some time.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Dec '17 - 11:58pm

    Little Jackie

    Yours is a very fine comment in it’s eloquent heartfelt description.

    As we are near in era or age with university years , as we are with Ruth, perhaps we have a leap to relate to this one, but we can, as does Ruth , well, in the article.

    My view is in between as ever or regularly.

    My story I told shows that in those days, there were always debates and male and female who engaged in those without the nastiness of the mean who have led to the fear or retreat by those who crave safe or such like spaces.

    There still are, and our university age Young Liberals who I know are a credit to the young today, engaged in open and frank discussion , with each other and way beyond with those o us a little older , whether wiser or not.

    There is a lot to be said for safety. As I said , we need to make all spheres safe from the hate that is to prevalent.

  • I can’t really speak to the culture in universities thirty or forty years ago as I wasn’t there, but can’t then and now at least try and meet somewhere in the middle?

    To be frank, the examples you give aren’t really anything to do with the type of things many people are now getting fed up of.

    This culture of safe spaces, trigger warnings, victimhood; the constant taking offence at absolutely everything; and the social media bullying and public shaming of anybody who dares disagree with or deviate from the agreed opinion – has simply gone too far.

    Its not liberal – its authoritarian, damaging to both freedom of speech and critical thought, and increasingly counterproductive for general progressive causes.

  • @ Cllr Mark Wright “I think this is a pretty weak article”.

    I think it’s a perfectly reasonable article Councillor Wright, and you’ve introduced issues not mentioned anywhere in Ruth’s article.

  • Cllr Mark Wright.
    A lot of these ideas actually filter in from America. The point is that Universities are increasingly businesses and come under pressure to give consumer satisfaction, so they become more susceptible to the pressure of organised complaint. Paying customers and all that. . Noplatforming is in a sense similar to refusing to buy certain products and putting pressure on organisations to remove products from shelves, but it’s also a market response. Businesses like to keep customers on board, because it makes commercial sense.

  • Cllr Mark Wright
    I suspect that this is a case of someone having received their information second hand and therefore having a distorted view of the original position. Ruth doesn’t appear to be the sort who would actively misrepresent her opponent but we are all at risk of getting the wrong impression from only coming across secondary sources that are increasingly distorted(/dishonest).
    David Raw
    “you’ve introduced issues not mentioned anywhere in Ruth’s article”
    Mark Wright has actually gone in to the detail on the topic of “safe spaces” what Mark describes is exactly what the discussion is about. There is nothing wrong with accurately expanding on a topic because the original author didn’t have the space/time to go in to vast detail.

  • Glenn
    “The point is that Universities are increasingly businesses and come under pressure to give consumer satisfaction”
    I would disagree, Haidt gave a talk at the Manhattan Institute where he covered the reasons to be positive in the current climate of campus censorship. The issue is not that a majority of students are actually in favour of censorship of ideas, but that a small vocal minority developed some tactics that caught everyone else off guard. He points out that once everyone else had found a way to respond the silliness reduces (well retreats back the to the departments that it came from in the first place).
    I would also add that (in this country) it is not so much universities who are banning students putting on talks by certain speakers but Student Unions. Given the relative facilities (for providing a lecture) the Universities still offering the option renders the bans fairly toothless.

  • “You are free to express your views, but not to make anyone else feel threatened or unsafe”

    No Joe

    At the very most (and that is not completely agreed upon) you can say:

    “You are free to express your views, but not in a way that would make a reasonable person feel threatened or unsafe.”

  • Ruth Bright 6th Dec '17 - 5:41pm

    I have been very good and created a safe space for you all to comment by keeping away for a bit – but will have my say a little later!

  • Joe – to follow up on what Psi has said – who decides whether something makes someone feel ‘threatened or unsafe’?

    There’s a worrying trend towards framing ideas or even simply comments as traumatic in some way rather than just a difference of opinion.

  • This snowflake fashion is an unwelcome trend sweeping eastwards from the US. If these people went to university to broaden and deepen their minds, then every stupid snowflake activity demonstrates that they fail at the first hurdle; they do not have the maturity to handle higher education or life in general.

  • PSI
    My point is that Universities are selling themselves as places it’s nice to spend time at, emphasise how many courses they offer and that kind of thing. A lot of them don’t want a lot of controversy and fuss because the Humanities are a small part of what they provide. Politics and arguments either way are really the province of vocal minorities. These are places with advertising budgets and PR. They are trying to attract customers from all over the world. It’s not like the old days when self-serious men in tweed jackets grew goatees and discussed Camus. A lot of these arguments are meaningless outside of a very narrow context and are not applicable to the industry model as it now is.
    The problem with the silent majority argument is that silence means nothing and is as often as not is less a sign of approval than it is of apathy.

  • nvelope2003 6th Dec '17 - 9:30pm

    University for many people is a rite of passage so that those attending can have a nice time before starting work. Obviously those who run them have to make them fun places.

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Dec '17 - 10:29pm

    Glenn – (With respect) I suggest that the main difference now is the internet. Not much else.

    What you have now, the ‘culture wars’ stuff was always there alongside other political views. The difference now is that the internet allows the culture wars stuff to crowd out everything else.

    Now we can argue about whether or not the visibility the internet has provided is a good thing or not. On balance I think not. But what you see now was always there I suspect. Just it was on pamphlet rather than online.

    The more worrying development is not the culture wars stuff per se, but the idea that safe spaces are a natural corollary of them. I mean it’s clear from the article where this leads – ‘ I feared being accused of racism if I called him out.’ Whatever that is it is not the product of anything that can reasonably be called a safe space. It’s nothing other than self-cert victimhood.

  • Ruth Bright 6th Dec '17 - 10:48pm

    Contrarily enough much of the no-platforming in “my day” took place from the right. Conservative students did not want to hear from Sinn Fein or picketers from the Wapping dispute or people who believed the Birmingham Six were innocent.

    Sometimes (and Lorenzo alludes to this in a more delicate fashion) it is possible to feel as a half-centenarian like someone from a faraway alien planet – planet eighties. On planet eighties female students were fighting (certainly at my university) to be seen as valid. It really was that bad.

  • Ruth Bright 6th Dec '17 - 11:10pm

    Little Jackie Paper it is not easy (even after all these years) to talk freely about being threatened sexually. It is hard for someone like me who is not prominent. It is much braver when someone as high profile as Harriet Harman speaks out as she is bound to be subject to a much greater level of abuse and mockery. There is no wish to wallow in victimhood. I respect your wish to hide behind anonymity please show some respect to those who speak out about their experiences and their assessment of the consequences had they spoken out earlier.

    It is often queried why women don’t speak out at an earlier stage. It is frequently because we do not want to be portrayed as victims or we fear spurious counter allegations.

  • Little Jackie Paper 6th Dec '17 - 11:10pm

    Ruth Bright – ‘On planet eighties female students were fighting (certainly at my university) to be seen as valid.’

    Can you elaborate on that – and I’m being serious here. Maybe I just went to somewhere that was a very different environment to you. Maybe the early 1990s were a huge leap on the 1980s in some way. Maybe I just hung around with women with a different outlook. Or maybe I was missing something.

    But I’d be interested to hear you elaborate because you seem to have had a rather different experience and, I’m still not really clear how safe spaces would have helped.

    ‘Conservative students did not want to hear from Sinn Fein or picketers from the Wapping dispute or people who believed the Birmingham Six were innocent.’

    Sure. But I don’t think this is quite as politically-exclusive as you think it is – or again maybe this is a difference between institutions. As I said earlier, London institutions do seem to be different.

  • Little Jackie paper

    The main difference is massive expansion and paying customers. Universities advertise all over the world and they mimic corporations. If you went to University before the 2000s you went to a place that was essentially a mono culture, with no fees and where you were actually given money to go there. That’s simply no longer true. You’ve got students from all over the world in large numbers paying large amounts of money and thus there is more pressure to keep the fuss down, to not antagonise, to be to be more business like. Most corporations emphasise the same things. Diversity, good care, good facilities, a nice environment, worker and customer satisfaction etc. People on here don’t seem to have grasped the reality that British (mainly the English ones, really) universities are now businesses. It’s a double edged sword. The internet is basically, the Wild West. Universities in contrast are like Costa or Apple. They want to look responsible, modern, attractive and hip. Not spiky and old and too exclusive. So rather than being accused of fostering or harbouring ists and ism they go with a less controversial approach . It’s more sound in business terms to say ” we’re responsive to this or that group and have this or that policy”. The result is cleaner and is in some ways a friendlier experience, but in others not as interesting.

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Dec '17 - 1:03am

    It would be nice if someone – anyone – in this discussion could point to (with links) some actual examples of the terrible things they imagine are being done in universities in the name of “safe spaces” and “snowflake responsibilities”. Otherwise one is left with the impression of a tabloid storm of faked-up outrage based on wild misrepresentation of attempted cultural and psychological sensitivity that may sometimes miss the mark. Or to put it in more old-fashioned terms, a storm in a teacup.

  • Malcolm’
    I agree with you. On the other hand, I do like the wild west. There are lot of contradiction inherent in free speech. and in taste.

  • Malcolm Todd

    It looks to me like everyone thinks Snowflake is just a meaningless insult that doesn’t hold any value for discussion. So I’m not sure who you are expecting to defend it?

  • Malcolm

    Regarding the discussion of “safe spaces” it is the topic of Ruth’s piece. As others have pointed out it is the new branding given to the old authoritarian attitudes to silence ideas, an attempt to dress up the same old behaviour with a gloss of respectability, despite it being pointed out that it is a misappropriation of that term.

    In the US context
    As I pointed out above there is quite a difference between the North America (where these the whole make up of things is different) and the UK. Are you wanting examples of North America? In the last month there has been a blow up at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, where the academics were disciplining a PhD teaching assistant, claiming university students were to young to hear a clip from their equivalent of Newsnight. But are you specifically asking for where the word “safe space” was used, then presumably the example that would spring to mind would be the University of Missouri where one of their academics was fired after being charged with a crime against a student to enforce one (a low level crime, over here her action would just be an assault). But as I said even in the US people probably more positive than people believe as set out in the talk I referred too:

  • In the UK context
    But as I said above the UK is a different place and best not too be judged by the US standard. However Mark Wright cited Maryam Namazie and Richard Dawkins. Namazie, I think, illustrates my point as when she was banned from Warwick it was by a vocal minority and once it became more widely known that was dropped:
    There was the “shutting down” of the abortion debate at Oxford between Tim Stanley and Brendan O’Neil:
    And there are lots of minor incidents where “safety” ill-defined “harm” are cited as justifications for demanding someone is stopped, often not particularly effectively as in the UK we appear a bit more willing to just go on through quite often.

    Personally I think it is dangerous to confuse the UK situation with other locations as we have different approaches. However the original point being made by Ruth was a positive one in relation to “safe spaces” and UK universities. In that context it is worth understanding what the advocates for them want, I think Ruth is assuming the meaning is something different from what it is, hence why people are going to react negatively to that suggestion.

  • Jayne mansfield 7th Dec '17 - 3:32pm

    @ Ruth Bright,
    Has the culture in universities as far as female harassment and violence really changed since our day Ruth? i don’t know the answer to that.

    An article in the Guardian ‘ Sexual harassment ‘at epidemic levels’ in UK universities” . gives some Freedom of Information figures. And the NUS is conducting the first survey of staff sexual misconduct experienced or witnessed , plus the person’s experience when the behaviour was reported to the authorities, ( if indeed it was reported).

    If little has changed, I am starting to believe that my late Mother ( born 1903) might have had the right ‘non- snowflake’ response to those who have a sense of entitlement/ unequal power relationship that makes them think they can get away with such behaviour as that experienced by Harriet Harman and yourself ( and many more of us). That being, ‘give ‘ em a sharp knee between the groins’.

  • Tristan Ward 9th Dec '17 - 9:36am

    Here is an example of “safe spacing” likely to be of particular interest to Liberals.

  • Jayne mansfield 9th Dec '17 - 3:47pm

    When young people leave home for university, they often meet up with a more diverse group of fellow students and new ideas. It is exhilarating.

    Do I believe in no platforming? No I don’t, and in the past I have argued on here against the no -platforming of people like Maryam Namazie, Germaine Greer, Peter Tatchell, something that others on here supported. (One could also look at the intimidating treatment that Maryam Namazie received when she was allowed to speak at Goldsmiths University)

    Universities are crucibles for argument, the development of new perspectives and change. I don’t worry that some students argue for the suppression of viewpoints within the environment that they inhabit if they do so peacefully. They have as much right to make that argument as for example, the editors of this website who determine what is allowable on their site. Instead of descending into using derogatory Daily Mail type terms to insult them, it would be better if one restricted oneself to arguing why one believes their approach is wrong and counter-productive?

    If ever there was an example of allowing someone whose views I found personally loathsome, exposure, it was allowing Nick Griffin to appear on Question time. Giving him a platform and exposing him to the challenge of wonderful Bonnie Greer and fellow panellists, at a time when the BNP were gaining traction, a wide audience saw him through a new lens and he and his party never really recovered from his exposure.

    In my view, there is a difference between ‘no- platforming’, and ‘safe – spaces’ for women where they feel free from sexual harassment and violence. Perhaps we need to agree a shared definition of these relatively new terms before we start arguing about them.

  • Jayne mansfield

    “Perhaps we need to agree a shared definition of these relatively new terms before we start arguing about them.”

    Perhaps we just leave phrases with their original usage rather than using an existing term out of context when there is an existing one available. I know certain people don’t like to be bound by the restriction of being clear and specific about what they want but this simply makes communication less and less effective. Things are very poor with regard to communication right now and it only gets worse with people blurring the meaning of everything.

    If someone advocates for something that is an poorly understood phrase or a buzzword and is unable to set out clearly their concern in terms of problem, mechanism, solution (being very specific and where possible quantification), then you don’t have a solution to discuss. That may be fine, if someone only has a concern they are wanting addressed but has not worked it all through, but in these cases buzzwords don’t help them either they need to be clear about as much as they can be for others to be able to understand what the concern is.

  • Jayne mansfield 12th Dec '17 - 10:03am

    @ Psi,
    I have reached an age where I am losing my ability to articulate my thoughts with clarity, I am losing words at an alarming rate. However, I do not object to the development of new words and phrases that articulate a persons thoughts. I simply would like to reach a clear shared agreement with what they mean by the use of words.

    This thread is not about linguistics but I always find Noam Chomsky’s views articulate my thoughts on the subject rather better than I can articulate them myself. ( See youtube videos ‘Language and thought’ and ‘Thought without language’.

    I would be interested in your views on the widespread use, and I believe misuse of the term ‘phobia’ as a suffix. The latest being wh-orephobia which is used against feminists who it is argued by some should be ‘no platformed’ because they argue for a Scandinavian approach to prostitution. Do you pick and choose which new terms are acceptable ? Shouldn’t we be challenging the fact that phobia is no longer used in its original context?

    The reason I want to find a shared definition of terms used, is not because I object to new terminology, it is because it makes both people in the communication, transmitter and receiver of the communication, does exactly what you think should be done, ‘think’.

    It seems to me that there are different motivations for no-platforming, ( not allowing people to speak at universities), one is control, an attempt to suppress views that one does not like, and one is a well meaning attempt to protect the vulnerability of some groups or individuals.

    I can understand the latter but I believe it to be misguided. I would question how preventing someone from articulating views that one does not like, has helped the vulnerable individuals or groups that the strategy is supposed to help. I would argue that it does not diminish the phenomena, it just drive it underground, unchallenged, ready to burst forth when the opportunity arises?

  • Jayne,
    You have hit on one of my personal hates, the (inappropriate and over)use of “phobic.”
    I see certain people branded with those when it is an entirely inappropriate use, the “whorephobia” is a really good example, of this. People I disagree with like Julie Bindle are regularly called this, though I think she has come to the wrong conclusion on the (frankly often tragic) topic, but she doesn’t have an irrational fear of people in the sex industry. I would also say the term islamophobia is another term i can’t stand, if we are talking about anti Muslim hatred then it under plays the severity, if we are talking about criticism of a religious practice or belief then it is nonsense. I am very keen for Phobia to be reclaimed from the (ab)uses it has been put.

    I don’t object to new terms but I think they need to be logical with other parts of the language (phobia being a good example), and need to avoid being fuzzy to allow people to engage in persuasive redefinition as a weak attempt avoid getting specific and making a clear case for or against something.

    In terms of the “no platforming” being to “protect” I’ve never been convinced. A good example was the arguments used against Germain Greer at Cardiff (obviously this was just a petition not a ban) as the argument her attendance to talk on an unrelated topic was considered threatening to people who could choose not to attend.

    That is obviously an extreme case but the ability of someone to attend and not have to interact with the person with whom they disagree renders the “protect” excuse very weak. As you say I think the driving it underground aspect is very real, particularly as I believe it tends to amplify the cause that is de-platformed and makes everyone else weaker when it comes to addressing it.

  • For clarity Jayne, I’m not suggesting that you or Ruth are engaging in the linguistic games simply that there are those who do and we are all susceptible to finding ourselves engaging in discussion on the terms of those who are not completely honest in the use of language.

  • Jayne mansfield 17th Dec '17 - 8:57pm

    I did not intend to be rude by not responding to your post sooner. I just feel that I have said all that I can be said within the rules of this website.

    As an old fashioned feminist, I feel aggrieved that it is feminists who are so often ‘ no platformed’, and that it is women’s issues that are so readily sidelined .

    I attended a talk by Germain Greer last year, and know that she chose not to attend a university discussion when a ban was overturned, because as a septuagenarian, she feared violence against her .

    I agree with Councillor Mark Wright that liberals, ( but as far as I am concerned, both small ‘l’ , AND, large ‘L’ are part of the problem. There is a failure to see and challenge those who exploit tolerance, as a means of imposing their own dogmatic intolerance.

    So many women , (and their children), have been let down by this moral cowardice.

  • Thanks for posting on this again Jayne. Going back to the incident I related from 23 years ago. I would happily have taken the risk to free speech of hanging a “safe space” notice on the door of the Government Common Room at the LSE. Perhaps it would have made the person in question think twice before making his threat. No-one mentions this is in the discussion but the safe spaces idea has been used with great success to promote dementia friendly communities and protect breastfeeding women from criticism. I don’t doubt for a minute that the term can be misused but it does seem to me that many of the safe space critics oppose the term even in its narrowest form.

    Any advice from your Mum should be held in great honour. Nonetheless I would counsel women against hitting back physically or even verbally unless they are in the direst danger. Double standards prevail about women’s behaviour. Even in justified retaliation.

  • Jayne mansfield 20th Dec '17 - 10:13am

    Thank you Ruth. I must admit I always quote my Mum with my tongue in cheek. She was a feisty woman but I don’t think she ever followed her own advice. I was, however, interested in Julia Hartley- Brewers response to the unwanted invasion of her personal space. In recent comments she downplayed the incident, but at the time obviously felt it serious enough to threaten violence if it was repeated.

    Looking at the evidence from America, Canada, Australia, as well as the UK, it appears that predatory behaviour and violence against women on campus has not changed much. My argument is that at some point, women have to leave their safe spaces and enter a world that is largely unchanged. We have to be out there and arguing, not afraid to cause a ‘scene’ . If women admitted to university retreat into safe spaces ( no platforming), and are unable to argue on their own behalf, or on behalf of the next generation, who will have the confidence of academic success and ability to do so?

    What are breast feeding and dementia friendly safe spaces by the way?

    I have helped some of my lot find places in shops, restaurants etc. to breast feed because they feel vulnerable to criticism, but I myself always breastfed discretely in open spaces. That is their choice, But my battle was, and remains opposition to the idea that women should have to breast feed in a ‘safe space’, still a lavatory for some.

    I host an informal knit and natter session for a small group of older women who live alone, the underlying rationale being to counteract loneliness and depression, and to keep the brain active through concentration on knit one purl one production of baby blankets that I can take abroad with me. I was however unaware of official dementia safe spaces. Again, I can see why they are currently necessary, but I am concerned that one needs such places. My own approach would be to take the fight to those who make them necessary. I have never believed in isolating groups from mainstream society.

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