All posts filed under: Free Speech

It’s Time for Progressives to Protect Women Instead of Pronouns

On my way out of Edinburgh University last week, where I’d just delivered a speech on how feminists should resist male violence, I was attacked by a shrieking “transgender person” (to cite the term used in a Scotsman headline). Had it not been for the three burly security guards surrounding me, I would have been punched. I usually use female pronouns to refer to trans women, as a courtesy. But this is a courtesy I won’t extend to someone seeking to hurt me physically. This was a man—specifically, a misogynist who’d become notorious under the (since deleted) Twitter handle TownTattle. He was deeply offended that I’d been allowed to speak. That’s why he wanted to hurt me: for being a woman who opened her mouth. The event at which I’d appeared was called Women’s Sex-Based Rights. It focussed on the threat to women-only spaces and organizations posed by gender activists who seek to erase any legal distinction in regard to the treatment of male- and female-bodied individuals. In the run-up to the event, trans activists …

Watching My Own Excommunication—on a Facebook Video

I was officially excommunicated by the woke left on November 19, 2018. There is a Facebook video of the event, which anyone can watch. The social-justice left often is described as a manifestation of ideological, political or cultural forces. I no longer believe that to be an accurate description. The behavior on display in that video didn’t originate in a place of reason, but rather the realm of spiritual passions. I’ve already related to Quillette readers some parts of my story. In 1979, I founded Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, which for many years was Canada’s preeminent professional gay and lesbian theatrical company. However, the queer Buddies that exists today was truly born in 1985, when my friend Dr. Johnny Golding (a female philosopher and queer activist) became its president. Dr. Golding spearheaded Buddies’ 1994 move to its now permanent home on Alexander Street in Toronto, a 300-seat theatre (with a licensed cabaret) near the city’s large queer village. I resigned from Buddies in 1997 and handed over the creative reins to Sarah Stanley, a …

It’s Not Your Imagination: The Journalists Writing About Antifa Are Often Their Cheerleaders

On February 1, 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to give a talk about free speech at the University of California, Berkeley. But he was prevented from speaking by a group of 150 or so masked, black-clad members of a then-obscure movement calling itself “Antifa.” The protestors caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus and injured six people as they threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. Nine months later, again at Berkeley, an “anti-Marxist” rally descended into violence as approximately 100 masked Antifa members harassed journalists and beat rally organizers and attendees. Berkeley was where Antifa rose to national attention, but it hasn’t been the only place where the group has engaged in sustained acts of violence. At a Washington, D.C. Unite the Right rally in August 2018, Antifa members hurled objects at police and assaulted journalists. In Portland, Oregon, violent street clashes involving Antifa have become regular events. Notwithstanding claims that Antifa is a peaceful, “anti-fascist community-defense group,” it has adopted tactics that often are more violent than those of the right-wing movements that the …

Last Days at Hot Slit—A Review

A review of Last Days at Hot Slit—The Radical Feminism of Andrea Dworkin edited by Johanna Fateman and Amy Scholder. (Semiotext(e), March 2019) 408 pages. In my 2016 book Porn Panic!, I traced today’s anti-free speech, identity-preoccupied Left back to its roots in the pro-censorship, anti-sex feminism of the 1970s/80s and, in particular, to the writing of Dworkin and her sister-in-arms Catharine Mackinnon. Although I dealt in passing with Dworkin’s writing, as well as works from the contemporaneous liberal feminists who opposed her, I opted to focus more on her successors, especially Gail Dines, a Women’s Studies professor who has established herself as one of today’s preeminent campaigners for the censorship of sexual expression. At a time when feminism seems to be moving in an increasingly censorious direction, a new anthology of Dworkin’s writing, Last Days at Hot Slit, published earlier this year, offers a useful insight into the writing and thinking of one of the movement’s most influential, radical, and controversial writers. Last Days at Hot Slit was the early working title for Dworkin’s …

Policing the Creative Imagination

At a time when activist displeasure can sweep through social media and destabilize reputations and nascent careers overnight, publishers are taking unprecedented steps in an effort to mitigate the risks. Among these is the use of sensitivity readers—individuals tasked with reading a work of fiction prior to publication in an effort to determine whether or not offense is likely to be caused by an author’s portrayal of characters from demographics considered marginalised or historically oppressed. Many readers, I suspect, will have become aware of this emerging trend following a series of nasty controversies in the world of Young Adult publishing. In 2017, a fantasy novel by Kiera Drake entitled The Continent was attacked for its allegedly racist portrayal of Native Americans. The novel was hastily rewritten following guidance from sensitivity readers. In January of this year, Amelie Zhao’s debut novel Blood Heir, set in a fantastical version of medieval Russia, was denounced online because its portrayal of chattel slavery was deemed insufficiently sensitive to America’s own racist history. In response, Zhao thanked her persecutors profusely …

Imperfect Comedy in an Age of Perfection

While on stage recently, I had an interaction with a heckler which ended with him being thrown out of the venue. At comedy clubs, this is not a particularly unusual occurrence. But the heckler wasn’t noticeably drunk, nor had the joke to which he’d taken exception been especially offensive. So this incident stopped me in my tracks and made me think a little bit. Here’s what happened: I was halfway through a ten minute bit about the #MeToo movement and I was pointing out that some of us are better at managing our creepiness than others. “Matt Lauer,” I went on, “pulled his dick out at work and that cost him a 26 million dollar job. Some people do the same thing on the subway and it only costs them 2.75.” Before I could go any further, a voice in the audience cried out, “Are you saying that’s okay?” “Is that what you heard?” I replied. “It sounds like you’re saying sexual assault on the subway is okay,” he retorted. “You’re validating sexual abuse.” We …

The Moral Panic Behind Internet Regulation

This is a contribution to “Who Controls the Platform?”—a multi-part Quillette series. Submissions related to this series may be directed to pitch@quillette.com. In the present era of growing polarization, one thing that people from across the political spectrum now agree on is their dislike of Big Tech. The political Left complains that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Amazon have become “monopolies.” They also blame global technology platforms for Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and white nationalism. It is much easier, after all, to blame online manipulation for the downfall of the center-left than acknowledge the disconnect between the intelligentsia and the working-class voters that the Left once represented. Meanwhile, critics on the Right blame Big Tech for a comparable shopping list of evils, including being biased against conservatives, giving a platform to terrorists, enabling pedophiles to groom children and distribute indecent images, and boosting populist figures on the Left and Right who threaten the center-right’s own electoral base. This is mixed, particularly in the U.K., with a traditional conservative refrain of “Please, won’t someone think of the …

How to Prevent Campus Deplatformings: Lessons from Harvey Mansfield and Concordia University

It’s been a year since Atlantic magazine hired, then abruptly fired, conservative writer Kevin Williamson. Shortly after the story came full circle, I caught up with a friend who then worked closely with the Atlantic. He told me that hiring Williamson had been a mistake from the get go. “So you agreed with the decision to fire him?” I asked. “Not quite,” he replied. “Imagine you have this friend who tells you he’s going to get a puppy. And you say, ‘Don’t do it. I know you. You’re not a puppy person.’ But he gets the puppy anyway. Then the weeks pass, and he comes to you and says, ‘You were right. I shouldn’t have gotten the puppy.’ But now it’s too late. Your friend is stuck with the puppy. That’s how life works.” It’s an allegory I come back to often in this age of deplatforming. Universities have no obligation to invite any particular public figure to speak on campus. But once they’ve promised someone a platform, the stakes are raised: Both speaker and …

How Our Little Humanist Club Got Taken Over by Social Justice Dogmatists

I love living in this Canada of 2019. Just as it’s okay for my 20-year-old grandson to live with his girlfriend without being married, it’s okay for me to live with mine. No big deal, you say? Of course not. But such arrangements were unthinkable when I was 20 and living in South Africa. And in this Canada, I can hang with a gay friend and not think of him or her as “my gay friend,” but simply as my friend. And spend time with my other grandson and his girlfriend, who happens to be of South Asian ancestry, and not think of her as “a person of colour,” or “a Muslim,” but simply as the young woman who she is. And no one feels the tension and fear that such a relationship would have produced in the South Africa I inhabited as a young man—where interracial relationships of this type were prosecuted as crimes. And even though I’m an old white man, I feel at ease and at home in a society that’s moving …

Cambridge University’s Shameful Treatment of Jordan Peterson

On Wednesday, March 20, the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge sent the following tweet: Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review. — Faculty of Divinity (@CamDivinity) March 20, 2019 The circumstances around this event bear careful examination. For they reveal not only a betrayal of the university’s fundamental purpose, but also the loss of something far more wide-reaching, something without which no higher civilization can survive: a shared understanding of ourselves. First, a little background. Jordan Peterson is an academic and clinical psychologist who has taught at two of North America’s most prestigious research universities (Harvard University and the University of Toronto), and whose academic work is prominent, widely-cited, and non-controversial in his field (see a list of his research publications here). His courageous and articulate defense of free speech, of our political, cultural and religious inheritance, of unpopular but incontestable truths of science—especially biology—and his radical opposition to identity politics of any kind, including that of …