Feminism, free speech and keeping your enemy in plain sight

Journalist Nichi Hodgson takes a look at a feminism that justifies censorship in the name of fighting sexism. This article was originally posted on her blog, and is republished here with her permission.

If you’ve been thinking about feminism and free speech in the wake of the Julien Blanc debacle, I recommend you read Helen Lewis’ article for the Guardian on free speech and trolling. In it, she makes the little-mentioned point that the way we broadcast on social media is leading to ‘context collapse’. Yet to some extent this applies to Blanc too. The context for the PUA movement’s performative braggodocio is a country where the Westboro Baptist Church can caw for the death of homosexuals in the name of true faith in God, and where the right of abortion protestors to shout in the face of vulnerable womenleaving clinics is effectively a constitutional right.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we have to accept Blanc’s feckless brand of manipulation (as manipulative of men as it is women) out of some kind of culturally relative sympathy.  But it does help to explain how Blanc could establish his expensive workshops and get his stomp on in the grounds of maligned masculinity.

Lewis argues that it was right to deny Blanc a visa because his free speech is inciteful of violence against women. The problem, as ever, is proving incitement. It’s not impossible to do, of course, (although it raises serious questions about personal responsibility). But what the wider debate about free speech vs sexism is demonstrating is that it may be time to broaden our hate speech laws if we want to make it an offence to incite gender-based violence. To do that could throw up some interesting results – such as whether OBJECT constitutes a hate group, for example (here’s an interesting post from Sex and Censorship on the topic). After all, feminists against misogynistic language need to be careful. Labelling men rapists, where they have not been charged with a criminal offence, is defamatory.

Lewis’ argument is astute and articulate. But it is also unfortunately an argument diluted to censorship by campaigning feminists in their war against sexism. No More Page 3 have managed to persuade Tesco to censor the covers of tabloid papers on the basis of their sexism and so-called ‘harm’ against women. Yet they cite no independent, empirical research to back up their claims.

What’s more, they need to watch out that they don’t inadvertently curtail women’s sexual freedom. I’ve just been told that my next book won’t be for sale in supermarkets unless I tone down the title, for example. Guess what it’s about? Yep – female sexual liberation. Incidentally, there’ll be no scantily clad anything on the cover.

What’s more, the war against sexism is at risk of mis-serving its  most serious victims. We talk of ‘rape culture’ but seem to ignore the real details, causes and context of the 85,000s rape that take place in England and Wales. We harp on about the assault that is a street-side ‘hey baby’ while it’s revealed that Margaret Thatcher knew of the Westminster paedophile ring. Sexism and harassment manifest at every social level. Of course the government is going to round on individuals like Blanc – it helps deflect from their own multifarious abuses. But is Blanc really who we should be getting aerated about over a prime minster who turned a blind eye to eye – watering sexual assault, alleged murder and the abuse of scores of young men?

Personally, I’d rather be able to hear Julien Blanc. Milton’s argument in Areopagitica is that the broader the range if views we are privy to, the better we can crystallise our own. Keep your enemies in plain sight, especially when they are misogynists.

As the American academic Stanley Fish has it, “Free speech is what’s left over when you have determined which kinds of speech cannot be permitted to flourish”. Fish, of course, like Lewis, also believes that’s a good thing.

But that’s the thing about the internet. You can’t round on its dark, anti-social, hateful voices the way you can out there in civic society.

Nor can they hide.

That too, is a good thing.


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8 thoughts on “Feminism, free speech and keeping your enemy in plain sight

  1. Helen Lewis, aka Glosswitch, is a well-known ‘whorephobic’ SWERF (Sex-worker erasing Radical Feminist) and ‘transphobic’ TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) or GCF (Gender Critical Feminist – who claim transwomen aren’t ‘real women’). Her thesis, as with her fellow bigots,seems to be that only white, middle-class, cis-women like her have a right to have their voice heard. Those of whom she disapproves; transwomen, sex-workers, women of colour should be silenced, stigmatised. erased from public discourse. Of course OBJECT, SPUC, and other groups like it are hate-groups: whether their ethos is Hard-right, fascist, Hard-left, SWP, catholic, evangelical christians, wahabbi &/or salafist islam, militant hindu, they are all engaging in bully-tactics, because sadly, it works. We need to let these bigots speak freely and expose them for what they are, not let them claim to be victims!

    1. ‘Radical feminists’ espouse an ersatz Marxist-Leninist ideology, so one shouldn’t be surprised when they engage in vanguardism which attempts to elevate a small clique of white, middle class cis-women to elite status. As for their claims to be victims, some of them appear to have been studying the techniques of Slobodan Milosevic!

  2. I dont suppose anyone has complained about the Russian child model agencies which market videos of underage girls dressed up in adult sexualised clothing
    in order to sell this stuff to the japanese market , or is this ” free expression” too and not in reality child exploitation ?

  3. haha ” moral panic” ” its a witch hunt ” ” compensation culture ” heard that crap,all before, it was pathetic then as is now

  4. Interestingly, Suzanne Moore wrote an article which was published in the Guardian a couple of days ago, opposing the new curbs on porn introduced in the UK; a sign that anti-porn ‘feminists’ are becoming increasingly isolated from their ‘sisters’?

    Some quotes below:

    “No one really wants to acknowledge that porn is a part of life, except the flood of women who worry about their partners being ‘addicted’ to it.

    One pretend answer is censorship. Why anyone in their right mind would hand any more power to the state over what they can see is utterly beyond me. If feminists think that government has women’s interests at heart, they are deluded. Most of what we all find immoral is already illegal, and it can’t be made any more illegal.”

    “[The 2014 Audiovisual Media Services Regulations] consist of a bizarre and random list of sexual practices that are now deemed unacceptable in UK-made porn. This is supposedly to protect children from watching stuff that you generally have to pay for online; so, for those children who have credit cards, then? In other words, what is available must now be in line with what is already out there on DVD in the UK.”

    “Meanwhile, no one heads up the inquiry into sexual abuse, and rumours of a Westminster paedophile ring abound. Rotherham, we know, was the tip of the iceberg. If we actually wanted to protect children, we would.”


  5. And to judge by a recent article in the New Statesman, Object has already managed to alienate itself from many feminists:

    “There are several stories circulating about what happened at this year’s London Reclaim the Night march. The Sex Worker Open University have criticised the organisers for including a speaker from Object, a campaign group they claim oppresses those in the sex industry by picketing their workplaces and attempting to put them out of jobs. The SWOU have also alleged the distribution of transphobic leaflets by some march attendees. This has been corroborated from the other side of the political divide, with a group of radical feminists confirming that they carried a banner stating ‘Reclaim the Night is for WOMEN’ and distributed leaflets ‘to raise awareness of violence perpetrated by male transgenders’ [sic]. This group has also reprimanded RTN organisers for reiterating that trans women were welcome on the march.”


  6. I’m glad I’m no alone in thinking the thoughts echoed on here about keeping our enemies in plain sight. I felt I was in an awkwards spot despising Blancs cringeworthy teachings whilst defending against the banning of him coming to the UK.

    Now we will never know the outcome of his seminars which I thought would have inspired debate that would have highlighted why he was allowed to come here….Because we are democratic and gracious enough to do so.

    Apparently not.

    Banning Blanc just told me there is an air of zero tolerance in that it is out of sight, therefore out of mind but meanwhile misogynist behaviour carries on and the rapes slowly tick up to that 85,000’s figure and we can just blame it on porn instead.

    Thank the good lord for the AVMS regulations….Stop the kinky porn and the rapes will stop. NOT!

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