Safe Space for Shouters

The no-platforming of journalist Julie Bindel has been raised in a New Statesman article by Sarah Ditum. The below the line comments to the article quickly filled with trans activists wanting to denounce Bindel (and Ditum for supporting her). One of the commenters, NatachaNatacha, comes to the defence of an anti-Bindel trans activist, Roz Kaveney, who was quoted in the article. She quotes the full email that Kaveney sent to Ditum, presumably given to her by Kaveney, as it quotes more than appears on the latter’s Live Journal. NatachaNatacha then concludes in her own words:

Julie Bindel has the ear of a national newspaper to write, and to argue that she is no longer a transphobic feminist; she has failed to convince enough people that she is not. As a student at a university in the UK I do not want transphobes to have a platform on my campus and trying to intimidate people like me into silence.

It is interesting that she cites her status as a student considering that the account is using the image of a University of London lecturer, Natacha Kennedy. In 2011, Kennedy wrote in The Guardian about her role in campaigning against an academic conference at which Julie Bindel was on the panel. At the time I was drafting an article entitled Banning Bindle Baiting, in direct response to Kennedy’s campaign to silence her. I deleted the draft because Kennedy’s involvement in the campaign against Bindel appeared to lessen. I would hope this was because she was shocked as a lecturer at having a role in an academic conference being cancelled.

In 2013, students at the University of Manchester orchestrated a campaign against Bindel’s invitation to take part in a debate on pornography. This got so vile that Bindel withdrew after receiving death and rape threats and I resurrected the title and published a very different article entitled Banning Bindle Baiting, which has been one of my most viewed posts. Now I worry that if Kennedy has returned to the fray that I recycled that title too quickly. It is possible that NatachaNatacha is a fake account, but if the above quotation is coming from Natacha Kennedy, then it is a case of one lecturer (Kennedy teaches Education at Goldsmiths) seeking to exclude another (Bindel is journalist in residence at Brunel University). Presumably, Brunel students are not intimidated in the way that NatachaNatacha purports to feel.

When NatachaNatacha quotes Kaveney’s email to Ditum it opens with the idea that universities should be safe spaces.

You would, I trust, accept that such places as universities are supposed to be safe spaces that have a duty of care to their students. Hate speech is, almost by definition, something which cannot be allowed in a safe space.

I would trust that Kaveney would accept that Brunel University is a safe space that looks after its students, who apparently do not feel either unsafe or intimidated by Bindel’s year in residence. What Kaveney and NatachaNatacha want is a safe space to shout from. That is, they want it to be safe to shout without the fear that someone might voice a contrary opinion. As a former lecturer, I would not enjoy reading the essays of students seeking such a comfort zone, nor I suspect would Kennedy, who may or may not be behind the NatachaNatacha account.

Universities are safe spaces for debate and exploration of contrary and unpopular opinions. I hope that the students of today will ignore those trying to turn universities into unsafe spaces for debate. I also hope that if NatachaNatacha is not Natacha Kennedy that the latter will stand up for academic freedom and request the removal of this fake account. Most of all, I hope that trans activists like Kaveney and NatachaNatacha will get on with doing some good for trans people and not waste their lives pursuing Julie Bindel. Especially as Bindel is someone who does not do silence, while these activists are doing harm to the reputation of all trans people.

© Mercia McMahon 2014