A Pox on the Patriarchy
In February this year, comedian Kate Smurthwaite had her stand-up show at Goldsmith’s cancelled. We got the usual excuses “oh we didn’t sell enough tickets” (it was a show that most people were just going to turn up to on the day, and for free); “oh, actually Kate pulled out” — she denies this and has the email correspondence to prove it. The reality was, as we all knew, that Kate had become the latest victim of the no-platforming rash sweeping contemporary leftist and feminist circles. The kicker? Her stand-up show had not been about prostitution (her views on which had resulted in the objection to her appearance), but about, wait for it, free speech. Yeah. Ironic, huh?
Many of us felt that this was the final straw. The censorship and no platforming debate had been rumbling on for a while, but this was such a ridiculous example, that some of us felt the time had come to speak up against it. I was one of the signatories of a letter printed in The Observer, calling on student unions to stand up to factions of malcontents who would rather silence speech they disagreed with than to debate with it (and presumably defeat it if it is so self-evidently wrong that we don’t even need to hear it).
So I was disappointed to hear today that Jane Fae has withdrawn from the Feminism in London conference, due to take place in November. Like Kate, this is due to her views on prostitution (and porn). Like Kate, these are not views that are due to be aired at the event. And like Kate, the event Jane is due to take part in concerns free speech. In fact, the only difference is that while Kate probably is closer to a radical feminist position on porn and prostitution (I don’t think I’m misrepresenting her here), Jane comes from more of a liberal feminist perspective. As a result, where Kate was in effect no platformed by some liberal feminists, Jane is being in effect no platformed by some radical feminists.
Having spoken to both Jane and the organisers of Feminism in London, my understanding of what took place is that a few people complained about Jane’s inclusion, the organisers informed Jane about the situation brewing, and Jane decided to pull out. I think Jane’s decision is an honourable one — she didn’t want the discussion to be derailed and to become about her. And it was her decision — but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that her hand was forced to a certain extent, even though I believe that this was not the organisers’ intention. But, as we are so often informed, “intention isn’t magic”. The effect has been that Jane has been put in a position where she felt unable to speak.
I am dismayed by the path feminism has taken over the past year or so. None of us has all the answers. None of us has the key to ending patriarchy. Some of us are right about some things; others are right about others. We all have different life experiences and this leads to different perspectives. The only way forward is to create respectful spaces where all opinions can be heard and debated.
It is with great regret therefore, and apologies to the organisers, who I am sure feel stuck between warring feminist factions, that I feel I must pull out of the conference too. I wish the conference every success and I know it will still be a great event organised by fantastic and committed feminists. But this is an issue of principle for me. I cannot in good faith even passively condone what I can’t see as anything other than an effective no platforming. I think the principle of free speech overall, and within feminism in particular, is too important.