Monday, December 3, 2012

Fringe feminists oppose free speech

I had to stop myself from titling this entry "Feminism isn't a religion, it's a cult" because I started writing immediately after I watched the following video from the University of Toronto:

Feminist activists tried to stop men's rights and gender equality author Warren Farrall from speaking at the school defaced and removed promotional posters and blocked audience members from entering the venue until police forcibly removed them. They also assaulted police and harassed people who tried to enter.

I realize that the brutes who staged this violent protest do not represent all of feminism. That's why I wouldn't let myself use that pointed title I first came up with. However, the protesters who blocked the doors did behave like cultists. One of the hallmarks of cults is shutting out the influence of outside messages. That's exactly what they did here, try to block other students from hearing a message they don't like.

The target of these protests wasn't just Farrell, it was also the public. In a summary of the fundamentals of freedom of speech, Christopher Hitchens said:

It’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear. And every time you silence someone you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.

Hitchens went on to ask who would the listener entrust the great responsibility to decide what they should be allowed to listen to or read. The implied answer was no one.

Watching that video, I can't say that I would appoint a group of ignorant, self-righteous, close-minded angry fanatics to decide what I can hear.

I find it frustrating when someone tries to dismiss a thinker based on something tangential they said that is separate from the important ideas they contributed. Last week I tried reading what progressive writer Corey Robin had to say about Friedrich Hayek, but he was more interested in alerting people to Hayek's embarrassing support of Augustus Pinochet than to address any of his major ideas. This is a sign of a hack, and it's telling that the Toronto protesters focused on a single line Farrell wrote in 1993's The Myth of Male Power.

Farrell had criticized watering down the definition of "date rape" to include cases where women say "no," then change their mind and engage in sexual activity without verbally declaring "yes." Farrell was critical of labeling this as "rape" because no unwanted sexual activity occurred. Instead, the sexual partners did not follow a protocol established by certain activists. He then wrote "We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape and date fraud, we called it exciting."

That's where the out-of-context quotes of saying Farrell supports date rape come from. They have no interest in understanding his message, they just want an excuse to shut him down.

It is customary to blame media bias when stories like this fails to capture much media attention, even though reporters where there when it happened. I try not to make jump to those conclusions when a story like this fails to spread, but I would bet money that if this was a Christian group shutting down Dan Savage from trying to speak using the same forceful tactics it would be all over the news.

Is there anyone who would find tactics like this acceptable when used against a speaker they agree with?

These activists are brutes. They are so absolutely sure that their world view is correct that they are willing to stomp all over the rights of others to silence their opponents. This is fanaticism and it has no place in a civilized society.


  1. :( yeah, we're definitely not all like that.

    staging a protest is a fine way to exercise free speech & assembly, but harassing people and blocking entrances is hella uncool.

  2. Thank you. I'm very glad I cooled off before writing this, as it would have been wrong for me to condemn and entire movement because of a group of ignorant college students. I probably wouldn't have gotten the same constructive messages if I had made that mistake.