University Feminists Are Betraying Their Movement’s Liberal Past

University feminists are tired of tolerance. Universities are banning anyone and anything their feminist professors and students take issue with. Cardiff banned Germaine Greer; apparently, she’s the wrong kind of feminist. Goldsmiths College banned Kate Smurthwaite; she’s the wrong kind of comedian. Oxford silenced a debate on abortion. For the architects of the safe space, nothing is safe from being added to the list of the unsafe. ‘Blurred Lines’ was banned for being the wrong kind of song. The Sun was banned for being the wrong kind of newspaper. What today’s feminists value, above all else, is diversity — except, of course, diversity of ideas.

Feminism wasn’t always this censorious. The university feminists of today do not reflect the motives of the classical past of their movement. The Swedish feminist — and personal heroine of mine — Margareta Momma wrote extensively in defence of tolerance during the age of Enlightenment. In her excellent essays she defends freedom of speech, freedom of religion and promotes the view that women are just as capable as men of discussing political and philosophical issues. So long as women enjoy the same fundamental liberties as men, Momma wrote, women will be able to deliver their cases against discrimination, and in turn, break free from the injustices holding them back.

In her writing, Momma trivialises the men who patronise women. She says they cannot handle discussing philosophy, politics, and contrarian views. Today’s patronisers of women, however, are not those old misogynistic men with illiberal standards; rather, they are the feminists who tell women what they can and cannot discuss, hear, and read. No longer are women encouraged to attack difficult and dangerous views; instead, feminists tell them to hide, avoid, censor and ban.

Unfortunately (and mysteriously), Momma had her last word — the last of her pioneering writing on social reform — with the publication of just her tenth volume. But now, with all of the academic and public freedoms Momma never had, university feminists are limiting themselves and others from the opportunity to debate and discuss pressing issues. How ashamed Momma would be if she could see this illiberal atmosphere of self-censorship for herself.

The infantilising and coddling nature of this regression is commonplace in most university feminist societies. At Oberlin College in the U.S., young women are welcomed to visit a “trigger dog,” should these students need to cuddle. At Oxford, women are invited to do finger-painting and cupcake baking sessions. And at Manchester, women are afforded a special, comfy “safe space” room, where they can gather without encountering any nasty voices. What is the female ideal these university feminists wish to promote? She will not be strong, she will not be resilient, but she will be girlish and unchallenged.

At Edinburgh, where I go to school, students who oppose campus censorship are shut out of the feminist society. For opposing the legalisation of the sex trade, dissident feminist Magdalen Berns has been banned from future feminist society events. Feminists on campus have treated her like a sub-human traitor to women. They don’t understand — surely in part due to their own unwillingness to hear and debate those who disagree with them — how someone could ever have the kinds of beliefs Magdalen has.

These regressives need to remove their intersectional lenses for a moment and see the world as it actually appears, not the world they’ve been taught to see — with its endless display of injustice. They should rise above their desperate sense of entitlement and demand for comfort to discuss real instances of injustice that affect women. If these regressives embrace a diversity of ideas, they just might develop a stronger understanding of the real challenges women face.

That doesn’t seem likely, though — despite the very serious and dangerous issues women worldwide face today, university feminists care most about their own feelings of ‘safety.’ This has led to some disturbing instances of avoidance and misplaced acts of solidarity. In December of last year, the Goldsmiths University LGBTQ Society announced their solidarity with the university’s Islamic Society following a talk by ex-Muslim Maryam Namazie. Members of the LGBTQ Society stood in solidarity with members of the Islamic Society, whose President described homosexuality as “a disease of the heart and mind.

This trend continues in online feminist forums. On university feminist society forums, criticising female genital mutilation (FGM) is often a cause for dismissal — it’s deemed to be an instance of islamophobic hatred. Standards of cultural relativism and censorship are pushing young women away from engaging these difficult topics.

Women don’t need to be protected from criticism, just as they don’t need to be protected from opposing views. What a sorry state feminism is in when, instead of empowering women to fight back against sexists and misogynists, feminists fight for their right to not have their feelings hurt.

The university feminists of today prevent women from solving real problems they’re likely to face because they ‘protect’ women from the kinds of spaces where these issues are raised — such as a debate with fiery back-and-forth and even outright derision. Instead of empowering women to influence these difficult conversations, university feminists tell women to steer clear of them — to value the fragile feelings of the few over the threats to moral autonomy and liberty so many women face worldwide.

Women — and indeed, many men — at university should look to one of the most famous symbols of the feminist movement for direction on this matter. Miller’s We Can Do It! depicts a woman with a stern glare and intense eyes, grasping her flexed bicep. The poster was used to inspire women to join the war effort, to seize the opportunity of empowerment, and to be just as productive and resilient as men. We must allow, and encourage women to do the same at university. If instead, feminists encourage women to retreat to safe spaces, where women don’t have to flex their moral and intellectual muscles, then all of us miss out on strong, robust public debate. With feminists in their safe spaces, we miss such potentially powerful voices.


Charlie Peters is a philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh. Follow him on Twitter: @CDP1882


Filed under: Feminism


Charlie Peters is a philosophy student at the University of Edinburgh.


  1. Feminism’s safe spaces are the new theology’s cloisters for Our Sisterhood of the Perpetually Offended.

  2. Your first paragraph (on the myriad of identity issues) squashes the rest of the post on feminism. There’s no “Feminism Issue” per se. Rather, it’s something far more straightforward, and frankly far more boring: For the most part, college is a rip-off. [At least with respect to the social sciences, and those degrees which really have no utility once the student (or professor!) leaves the comfy confines of academia.

    If you’re teaching at an institution that is charging $75,000 for a useless Gender Studies degree–you’ve got your work cut out for you. You’ve got to sell a Cargo Cult Degree at a HEFTY premium. Your best bet, then, is good old fashion pandering and distraction: Stoke passions, “have conversations” about “the important stuff”, like inequity, and the “Cultural Significance of Hip Hop”.

    From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult [Simply substitute “cult leader” with “academic”, Pacific Islander with student, and “airfield” with “education”…and so on…]

    With the end of the war (WWII), the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian (South Pacific Island) populations that promised to bestow on their followers deliveries of food, arms, Jeeps, etc. The cult leaders explained that the cargo would be gifts from their own ancestors, or other sources, as had occurred with the outsider armies. In attempts to get cargo to fall by parachute or land in planes or ships again, islanders imitated the same practices they had seen the soldiers, sailors, and airmen use. Cult behaviors usually involved mimicking the day-to-day activities and dress styles of US soldiers, such as performing parade ground drills with wooden or salvaged rifles.[14] The islanders carved headphones from wood and wore them while sitting in fabricated control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways. They lit signal fires and torches to light up runways and lighthouses.[citation needed]

    In a form of sympathetic magic, many built life-size replicas of airplanes out of straw and cut new military-style landing strips out of the jungle, hoping to attract more airplanes. The cult members thought that the foreigners had some special connection to the deities and ancestors of the natives, who were the only beings powerful enough to produce such riches.

    Cargo cults were typically created by individual leaders, or big men in the Melanesian culture, and it is not at all clear if these leaders were sincere, or were simply running scams on gullible populations. The leaders typically held cult rituals well away from established towns and colonial authorities, thus making reliable information about these practices very difficult to acquire.

  3. “Today’s patronisers of women, however, are not those old misogynistic men with illiberal standards; rather, they are the feminists who tell women what they can and cannot discuss, hear, and read. No longer are women encouraged to attack difficult and dangerous views; instead, feminists tell them to hide, avoid, censor and ban.”

    A fundamental misconception. These feminists do attack difficult and dangerous views. They make men (et al) hide, and avoid. They ban, and censor them. Without doubt, in this, they wield power. I wouldn’t – without reservation – say they patronize themselves, as despotic as they may be, Are they weak? That depends on what grants them power. The more interesting, and the pertinent, question becomes: are dissenters granting them power? Why, out of weakness? In particular, what are men doing?

  4. D. Trump says

    Charlie Peters will make Britain great again.

  5. Sam says

    disagree about the point about magdalen burns. she’s been banned from fem soc events because she has repeatedly and aggressively harassed trans students online and offline and has argued that trans women do not deserve to be counted as women and edinburgh uni femsoc believe that trans women already put up with enough harassment without magdalen weighing in.
    other than that, i think that your viewpoint on gender in general is a little skewed… encouraging women to be resilient and strong like men contributes to things like toxic masculinity (which contributes to a high suicide rate amongst young men who feel as though they cannot talk about their feelings or drop their guard and be emotional). allowing young women to be young women (and feel safe while doing so) – that’s something to protect and believe in.
    (just as a disclaimer, in my opinion safe spaces should exist alongside places of debate, so i have nothing to say re: censorship)

    • Dear Sam,

      You seem to have caught a disease of the mind known as “liberal feminism”. Such symptoms of “liberal feminism” include, making libellous statements of smear about outspoken women to uphold the will of men who wish to silence them. Those unsubstantiated remarks are further undermined by your failure to spell my name.

      In any case, here’s a link outlining why I was banned from EUSA’s Women’s Liberation group back in October 2015 who refuse to represent women with different views:


      Magdalen Berns

      p.s. I have never been a member of femsoc

  6. gruffles says

    Houellebecq’s latest novel describes the inevitable result of the encounter between Western feminism and Islam.

  7. Ian Martinez says

    This triggering is used to bully others, It is encapsulated in a great word, “crybullying”. The author did not really mention this

  8. Exactly. I had to leave my university post (without being given a fair opportunity to defend myself) simply for raising the point of feminism’s denial of its Western roots.

  9. Pingback: a university of censorship? | aharon's itches?

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