Julie Bindel And Milo Yiannopoulos Both Banned From Free Speech Debate

Second-wave feminist Julie Bindel and gay conservative men’s rights advocate Milo Yiannopoulos were both banned from speaking at the University of Manchester in a debate titled, “From liberation to censorship: Does modern feminism have a problem with free speech?” And no, the irony of banning people from a free speech debate isn’t lost on anyone.

It’s unfortunate, because frankly, I can’t think of many better weekend-night activities than settling down on the couch with a hot toddy and reading through the transcript of a debate between Julie effing Bindel and Milo effing Yiannopoulos. I feel like we’ve really missed out on something, here.

If you’re not familiar with either of them, Julie Bindel is a second-wave feminist who has expressed the very second-wave feminist opinion that trans women should be considered men, and who has taken a lot of heat for that. She’s eased off of being as vocal on trans issues in the last few years, but still, she claimed to PinkNews that there’s a “trans cabal” that conducts “witch hunts” whenever they’re offended. A trans cabal? Why wasn’t I invited? I always wanted to be part of a cabal.

Milo Yiannopoulos, on the other hand, is a mouthy conservative who writes for Breitbart, which is all I should have to tell you. As a taste, he recently made a good faith effort to prove, using data from online IQ tests, that women just aren’t as smart as men – I won’t go into the multitude of problems with that reasoning. We’ll just leave it be for now.

Yiannopoulos has also voiced transphobic views, which is why both of them were banned from the debate – first Bindel, then, after a social media campaign, Yiannopoulos as well. The university said that Bindel’s views violated the school’s Safe Space policy, which states that “students should be free from intimidation or harassment, and from prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, marital or maternity/paternity status, race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or sexual activity, gender identity, trans status, socioeconomic status, or culture, or any other form of distinction,” and that “The Students’ Union believe strongly in the right to free speech however acknowledge that this should not be to the detriment of the rights of other individuals and groups. Freedom of speech is important, yet intention to incite hatred is never acceptable.”

The Students’ Union bet that Bindel, Yiannopoulos, or both would say something in the course of that debate that would alienate female or trans students. It’s a pretty solid bet to make. And I’m not sure that the problem is so much what Bindel or Yiannopoulos would say, but what kind of culture it would create on-campus, if it validated the views of transphobic students and made them feel encouraged in practicing their transphobia. I doubt that either of them would intend to incite hatred, though.

And it is true that there is some anti-intellectualism in transphobia, and promoting anti-intellectual perspectives really shouldn’t be a university’s business. Both Yiannopoulos’ and Bindel’s views on the subject are based on speculation and opinions, whereas, say, the American Psychiatric Association’s distinction of gender dysphoria in the DSM-V as not a psychiatric disorder or a choice might carry more factual weight.

It is a university’s job to create a learning environment that eliminates the distraction of harassment and social exclusion as much as possible for their students. The topic itself – free speech and censorship in liberal culture – is a worthy one (although the choice of speakers seems specifically engineered toward inciting outrage). But then, maybe it would be better to organize a debate like this elsewhere. Maybe universities and their student unions should really think hard about who they’re inviting to speak and whether or not giving those speakers a platform might be in conflict with the university’s policies or might come off as a tacit endorsement of those speakers’ opinions – you know, before they’re invited, and especially if the university winds up having to ban speakers from a free speech debate.

But look at this Twitter exchange:

Do you not want to see this debate, if only to really savor a good spectacle? If we’re willing to spend our mornings watching recaps of the GOP candidates saying horrible, hateful things about women, queers, trans people, and immigrants, I have no idea why this debate isn’t a top priority for us.

[The Daily Beast]
[American Psychiatric Association]

[Images via Twitter]

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