3 things have managed to make my blood boil this week, not only because I fundamentally disagree with the arguments posed but because the opposing arguments just totally miss the point. Swing and a miss.
The three things are;
- Meninism and men’s issues in feminism
- Why University free speech rankings say more about the frailty of privilege than free speech on University campuses
- Petty politics and why the Lib Dems need to get over tuition fees
Number 1 – meninism and men’s issues in feminism.
This morning I came across this article on Twitter about how men are becoming increasingly objectified in the media. Despite knowing not to, I decided to read the 9 comments that had been left in the hope that something positive would be said about the article, or more generally about feminism.
As you’d expect all I had to read were aggressive responses (from men) about bigotry and bile and drivel, the “ineffable effortless expression of feminist hypocrisy“. Nothing new.
Trigger warning: suicide.
One comment stood out;
“Meanwhile in the real world, men are suffering in almost every way that counts. Lagging behind in education, killing themselves, dying on the job, becoming homeless, drug addiction, never seeing their kids, even being paid less as young adults. But I suppose I’m just a ‘bitter meninist’ that needs to watch more trashy TV?”
He’s not wrong, these things are true of modern Britain. Unfortunately he seems to take issue with the word meninist and the association with trashy TV than the underlying issues.
The point is that these issues can be addressed through greater gender equality and by championing the type of society that feminism seeks to create. The comment above highlights some of the outcomes that a less equal society has for men – poor education outcomes, not speaking up about mental health, access to children during custody.
Feminism is about changing gender roles, sexual norms, and sexist stereotypes that limit and punish men when whenever we deviate from them. Whether that’s expressing and talking about our emotions, being told to “man up”, unrealistic body images or being unable to talk about true interests and having to talk about ‘men’s things’. Men don’t talk about depression, sexual assault, domestic violence.
So feminism is in men’s interest, but women have been and still are subject to sexism, oppression, unequal pay, unequal political, social and economic representation, are told that rape is their fault, are told to look and speak a certain way, not to act in a certain way, are expected to fulfil archaic social stereotypes, so let’s not compare apples with oranges?
Number 2 – Why University free speech rankings say more about the frailty of privilege than free speech on University campuses
Spiked Online recently released its 2016 rankings of Free Speech in Universities.
Spiked Online’s About Us page says that;
“The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) is the UK’s first-ever nationwide analysis of campus censorship. Through examining the policies and actions of universities and students’ unions, it provides a detailed, annual insight into the state of free speech, debate and expression in the British academy.”
My social media exploded after the release of the rankings with people calling out an assault on free speech and shitty political correctness left, right, and centre and condemning Students’ Unions and student democracy.
Spiked looks at the following types of policies when analysing a University’s free speech rankings. Their website says;
“The types of policies we examine include, but are not limited to:
– Free Speech and External Speaker policies
– Bullying and Harassment policies
– Equal Opportunities policies
– No Platform policies
– Safe Space policies
– Student Codes of Conduct
It should be noted that holding one of the above policies does not constitute an instant offence – they are each assessed on the basis of their content.
The types of actions we examine include, but are not limited to:
– Bans on controversial speakers
– Bans on newspapers
– Expulsion of students on the grounds of their controversial views or statements
We assess actions which have taken place in the past three academic years – the average lifespan of a campus ban.”
What we’ve got is a division between those more privileged and those who are less privileged.
Safe Spaces are about those who face endless oppression and discrimination creating an environment in which they’re safe to learn and succeed, safe to express themselves, and are safe to challenge damaging social norms.
What we’re actually seeing is more debate than ever, and a levelling of the playing field. Students are having nuanced debates and discussions about society and identity, and are claiming (safe) spaces to demand that they’re heard.
There’s a distinct difference between safe spaces (which cause poor Free Speech rankings) and echo chambers where people and their views aren’t challenged. Despite what you may otherwise hear from the guardians of the status quo (read; maintaining a society which still discriminates on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, disability) there’s still plenty of debate in these spaces. People who have traditionally been denied a voice are bringing their own personal experiences of sexism or racism (for example) and talking about how to tackle this sort of behaviour. It’s just that it’s uncomfortable, and people don’t want to hear about how their unchecked privilege is damaging to others.
The “casualties” are those who don’t face – and can’t comprehend – the systemic discrimination and oppression that minority groups face. The casualties are those who are being asked to think harder about what they say or do and challenge their views, attitudes, actions and approach and accept that they’re not as informed as they think they are (and naturally wouldn’t be, because they don’t define into those groups).
Maybe it’s now a term that’s overused and has the wrong connotations, but it forces people to check their privilege. It’s uncomfortable, but everyone benefits from people changing actions and challenging perceptions and assumptions.
Banning people or things and no platforming people who hold different views does need to be carefully monitored and challenged where necessary; but students are right to demand the ability to stop those practising hate speech from entering their campuses – entering spaces in which they should feel safe to learn.
I don’t even know what the problem is with a Code of Conduct which asks people to (frankly) just be respectful and decent. This article says everything you need to know.
Those who’ve dominated public discourse, dominated discussions, reinforced social norms, and fail to challenge damaging stereotypes, discrimination and oppression are finally being challenged; let’s not be fragile about it.
Number 3 – Petty politics and why the Lib Dems need to get over tuition fees
On Tuesday the government voted down an opposition motion to nullify a decision made – with no scrutiny or debate – by the government to convert maintenance grants for the poorest students into loans. This means that a large number of students will graduate with around £53,000 of debt – among the highest in the OECD.
NUS and Students’ Unions and their students have spent weeks lobbying MPs on the issue in order to secure the debate in the House and to vote in favour of the opposition motion. The protest during the debate on Tuesday led to London Bridge being occupied by protesters. NUS publicly thanked all opposition parties for their support in attempting to overturn the government’s behind-closed-doors decision.
Party members took to Facebook to ridicule NUS – a “we told you so” about targeting Lib Dem MPs during the General Election, which some claim led to a Tory majority in May. Anyone who thinks that Liar Liar led to the Lib Dems being left with just 8 MPs are kidding themselves.
Party members not only laughed in the face of NUS but inadvertently implied that we care more about party political gaming than we do about the issue at hand – the poorest gaining access to Higher Education. The words ridiculous, childish, and petulant come to mind.
- We promised not to raise fees. We promised a different type of politics, and lined up with the rest of them weeks after the election. Internal workings of the Coalition aside, it’s an out-and-out betrayal of trust.
- Liar Liar did not cause us to lose almost all of our MPs. That’s probably more to do with a long list of policies that were (and are) in direct contrast to what the party stands for and what the public thought the party stands for.
Whilst the party spent the last 5 years trying to appear as a credible party of government, while we scrape around for airtime and debate time, we’re playing politics with an issue that’s make or break for hundreds of thousands of people.
Whilst the numbers of young people from widening participation (disadvantaged backgrounds) get through the doors of Universities, the drop-out rate for those students continues to be far too high. Financial pressures mean that students are more worried about paying bills and their next meal than they are about engaging with critical debate and academic discourse – what they’re paying £9k a year for. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to do well at University, are less likely to move away from home to study, are more likely to work part-time to fund their studies. Like it or not, £9k fees are an awful idea.
So the Lib Dems need to forget tuition fees – move on, accept we were wrong, and do everything we can to deliver an accessible and inclusive Higher Education system which supports everyone to succeed, whatever their bank balance.