Friday, 11 July 2014

The Trouble with Safe (I mean "Safer") Spaces - Part 2

Here is the second part of my "The Trouble with Safe Spaces" article. Feel free to read the first part if you have not already. Remember that this blog represents only my thoughts and not the views of the radical feminist movement.
Let us now examine the last of the NOWSA conference's “safer space” rules.

Some More Rules – Privilege and Victim-Blaming

We will begin where we left off last time (yes, I will be critiquing every rule on the list.)

“-Try to be conscious of and communicate your own needs while also being attentive to and respecting of other people’s.

- Be responsible for your own action. Be aware that your actions do have an effect on others despite what your intentions may be.”

I honestly have no idea what these rules are about. They are far too vague, but once again the liberal inventors of these safe space rules appear to stressing the importance of merely thinking the right way instead of acting the right way through their use of phrases like “be conscious” and “be aware”. I call vague or otherwise difficult to understand statements like this “liberish” (the word is a combination of “liberal” and “gibberish”.)

“- Challenge inappropriate and oppressive behaviour, including your own, and if possible support people to challenge their own behaviour. This includes an awareness of your own or other peoples privileges, which may include: race, class, gender, age, sexuality, experience and ability.
(see the “feminist discussion group” discussion thread on “The UMSU Wom*n’s Department!” facebook page for links to readings on privilege!).

Again we see the importance which liberals attribute to “awareness” of problems. I have never really liked the concept of “privilege”, which is not to say that what liberals call "privilege" does not exist, rather I do not think "privilege" is a useful term for understanding how men and women, whites and blacks, rich and poor, etc. interact in our society. 

I think focussing on all the ways in which we are “privileged” encourages us to downplay our own oppression and thus discourages us from engaging in political activism. There is always going to be someone who is more oppressed than you, but that does not mean that you should shut up and deal with the oppression that you face. Even white, middle-income males are by no means the most powerful group within our society (though white males do tend to be more powerful than non-whites and women.) That would be the capitalist class and yet I never see anyone telling capitalists to “check their privilege”.

I fail to see what we accomplish by asking people to acknowledge that they have privilege. Is our aim to create some sort of humble feeling among males, whites and other dominant groups or are we trying to bring about actual changes in the way these groups behave? Any man can “check his privilege” by reading some formal statement in front of a group of women and then continue watching hard core pornography every night, interrupting women when they speak and so forth. I suggest that instead of telling males to ceremonially “check their privilege” so that women can have warm, fuzzy feelings, we should be telling them to stop behaving in an aggressive, dominating and masculine manner and instead behave like decent human beings, so that women can actually be free from rape and abuse in the real world (that liberals seem determined to ignore.) 

Of course, readers are free to disagree with me about this point and to express their disagreement in the comment section. Unlike liberals I think that criticism and self-criticism are good things. If anything I say ever seems racist, homophobic or unjustifiably prejudiced, feel free to criticise me for it and tell me how I can do better. I fail to see how simply informing people that they have “privilege” over and over and over again, can help them improve the way in which they behave towards others. I think "check your power" would be a more useful phrase than "check your privilege" and should be followed by "stop behaving in a dominant manner". It may not be a terribly catchy phrase, but it is more honest and useful, since it addresses something individuals can actually change, their actions.

“Get help to assure your safety/wellbeing if you need it (see grievance blurb for more info r.e. support on offer).”

This implies that it is the job of women to prevent rape and other traumatic events from happening to them. Women do not need rules mandating that they look after their own safety, since not getting raped/attacked is already in their self interest. I have nothing against women who try to protect themselves from rape, but creating rules which make such action mandatory implies that women who fail to prevent their own rapes are guilty of wrongdoing. The last thing rape victims need to be told is that they should have gotten “help to assure [their] safety/wellbeing” beforehand. 

This points to a more general problem with this list of rules and perhaps liberal discourse in general. It seems they cannot tell the difference between behaviours that may be good ideas (e.g. asking for consent before hugging someone, protecting yourself from violence) and behaviours that ought to be mandatory (e.g. asking for consent before having sex.)

“- We would like all the workshops to be sober spaces. During events where alcohol will be present be aware of how the consumption of alcohol and other substances can affect your behaviour in ways that impact on others. If you so choose, drink & be merry, just make sure you do so safely & responsibly.”

Alcohol companies never define what they mean by “drink responsibly” and, apparently, neither do liberal feminists. I guess they would rather not interfere with the alcohol industry’s profits.

“- Any group or individual engaging in violence (including sexual violence and harassment) or offensive behaviour of the nature outlined above may be asked to leave immediately. This includes expression of pro-non-consent views.”

If we assume that this statement is meant to be taken literally, then a person can be kicked out for speaking too much, touching somebody in a non-sexual, non-aggressive way without their consent or making a statement that is not an “I” statement, since the other points on the list imply that these behaviours are “offensive” and wrong. Of course actual violence and sexual harassment should not be allowed and people with “pro-non-consent” (which I assume means “pro-rape”) views should not be attending the conference to begin with. 

That said I have only ever heard of one case where the organisers of a liberal feminist conference forcibly evicted a group of attendants. In May of 2013, members of an anti-pornography organisation called “Stop Patriarchy” were removed from a liberal conference regarding abortion rights. They were allegedly removed for breaking some of the rules listed above (they had the guts to make general statements about women and abortion, how horrible) but given that some of the rules are downright ridiculous, I suspect that everyone was breaking them and I do not think it is a coincidence that they got expelled right after an argument that they had with a group of “empowered sex workers”. I daresay that the rules were used as an excuse to censor anti-pornography discourse.


This brings me to the end of the list of liberal “safer space” rules. I hope you have enjoyed this journey. If you have, I doubt you will want to attend the NOWSA conference or any similar event which involves listening to liberals make “I” statements about how much they love pornography and boob jobs while trying very hard not to touch each other by accident. I hope you find a more pleasant way to spend your time.

“This is the Safer Spaces Policy from UMSU’s Queer & Wom*n’s Departments’ "Rad Sex & Consent Week 2012

 I am not at all surprised to find out that these rules came from an event devoted to discussing the benefits of hard core “feminist” pornography, BDSM and painful anal intercourse. They clearly promote individualism and encourage us to put more emphasis on changing our thoughts than changing the world. Oh and by the way, critically analysing sexual activities to determine whether they are egalitarian or not is way more radical than having sex will ever be. 
An event involving workshops on "Feminist Porn", "BDSM", "Fisting" and "Anal Play for Everyone"
That concludes my discussion of liberal "safe spaces". I was going to feature the whole the poster for "Rad Sex and Consent Week" , so you could all see for yourself what was being promoted, but the writing on it was too small, so you will just have to trust me. I guess even liberals can be embarressed by what they promote.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Trouble with Safe (I mean “Safer”) Spaces - Part 1

Since I finally have a follower, I thought I should post something, so that my one follower does not get disappointed. This article turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it would be, so I am posting it in two parts. Here is part one of "The Trouble with Safe Spaces".

Sometimes the world can be a pretty frightening place, especially for women. The desire for a special space, free from rape, sexual assault, harassment and other forms of bullying, is thus understandable, but is that really what liberal feminist “safe spaces” are about? I feel that so-called “safe space” rules place too many restrictions on what ideas can be expressed in such spaces. Some restrictions are necessary to prevent anti-feminists from telling women they deserve to get raped or spewing hateful garbage about how feminists are worthless because they do not conform to social norms regarding physical appearance, but challenges to the liberal status quo should not automatically be labelled as “hateful” or “bigoted”. 
In order to examine the ways in which liberals suppress disagreement in the name of creating “safe spaces”, I will be examining the “Safer Spaces Policy” for the 2014 NOWSA conference. I think NOWSA stands for the National Organisation of Women Students Australia. The “Australia” part kind of makes the “National” part redundant. Perhaps liberals wanted their group to seem hip, cool and new by including “NOW” in their acronym. Keen observers will have also noted that the conference organisers have decided to label their spaces as “safer” rather than “safe”. Maybe they have finally realised that they cannot put an end to rape, sexual assault, body hatred and the numerous other horrors that women endure without losing some of their precious orgasms and, unsurprisingly, they decided that their orgasms are more important. So here are some of the rules that liberals have come up with to make their spaces “safer” (but not actually safe) for women.

Defining “Safer Spaces”  
All the “safer space” related quotes in this post come from this site over here. I have to admit that the liberals have managed to make their website more professional this year. There is not a single LOL-cat on the site. Oh wait, no, despite being so hip and NOW they have posts from last year’s conference on this year’s site. If I were to guess the average age of the conference’s participants from the title and image of this page, I would say that they were about eleven or twelve. In reality they are university students trying to give viewers the impression that they are our BFFs. Sorry, not buying it.

Safer spaces are welcoming, engaging and supportive. We want this conference to be a space where people support each other and can feel free to be themselves. A place where abuse and discrimination is not tolerated.”

So far, so good, although many of the rules they introduce later severely limit one’s ability to “be yourself.” I guess you can be “be yourself” so long as you are being your liberal self. Of course, conservatives could just as easily claim that they allow you to be yourself at their events so long as you respect the rules of conservatism. As we will see, liberals have their rules just like everyone else and their notion of what counts as “abuse and discrimination” is pretty broad.

“Attendees are asked to be aware of their language and behaviour, and to think about whether it might be offensive to others.”

Attendees are not required to change their language or behaviour or anything. No, they are just suppose to “be aware” of its effects. Just “think” the right way and everything will be better, idealism at its most blatant.

“This is no space for violence, for touching people without their consent, for being creepy, sleazy, racist, ageist, sexist, hetero-sexist, trans-phobic, able-bodiest, classist, sizeist, whorephobic or any other behaviour or language that may perpetuate oppression.”

The “this is no space...” introduction suggests that these behaviours may be acceptable in other spaces. I guess they had to put that in there since even Laci Green (the YouTube queen of liberal, “sex positive” feminism) admits that BDSM is a form of “consensual violence”. As for “touching people without consent”, are they seriously suggesting that I need permission to touch people on the shoulder and do other totally harmless things? I will say more about that later. 

“Creepy” and “sleazy” are difficult to define, the whole of liberal feminism seems pretty sleazy to me with its insistance that women become prostitutes and pornography performers in order to empower themselves. I have never understood why “ageism” is such a bad thing. It makes sense to treat people differently based on their age (e.g. elderly people deserve to be treated with respect and children should not be given all the liberties that adults have.) 

The term “classism” fails to encompass what is really wrong with capitalism, but my readers (if I have any) will have to wait for other posts to find out how I feel about “classism”, “able-body-ism” and “size-ism”. All I will say for now is that sticking the word “-ism” on the end of a word does not constitute inventing a useful political theory. Oh, and as for “whore-phobia”, we all know that really means “presenting the viewpoint that becoming a prostitute or pornography performer is not the most empowering career choice ever”.

The Actual Rules - "I" Statements and Other Issues

This is a list of What we need to do to create a safer space according to the NOWSA conference organisers.

 “- Respect people’s physical and emotional boundaries.
- Always get explicit verbal consent before touching someone or crossing boundaries.

The first point is clearly unnecessary given that the second point forbids attendees from so much as rubbing shoulders with somebody else without first getting explicit permission to do so. Could you imagine living in a world where every touch required explicit verbal consent? Every interaction would be so mechanical. You would have to ask for permission before you could hug a friend who was feeling sad and if they nodded in response, you would have to demand an explicit, verbal “yes”. 

Explicit verbal consent is of course very important for sexual activity, but do we really need it in ordinary interactions? Of course, this rule cannot actually be enforced, but I wonder how many caring, non-sexual and completely harmless interactions between women have been prevented by this ridiculous rule. I also wonder what the attendants are supposed to do when a group of them have to enter a room with a narrow entrance. I guess, they all have to go in one-by-one in case some non-consensual, shoulder-to-shoulder touching between females occurs, because we all know how horrible that is.

“- Try to notice how much you speak in meetings, workshops, and discussions. Try to share the knowledge you have whilst also allowing others the space to do so (especially to those whose voices are heard less often) and practice active listening.”

The last thing women need to be told is that they talk too much and that they thus need to shut up and practice “active listening”. What does that even mean? Listening is a pretty passive action if you ask me. I do not think this rule can fix the fact that certain oppressed groups speak less during meetings, because it does not address the reasons why they speak less. Women in general are not terribly eager to speak up during political discussions so I doubt that speaking time is a scare resource in women-only meetings. The issue could be that certain women are afraid to speak up in case they anger others in the group and since there are so many rules that you have to follow when speaking to liberal feminists and so many ways to go wrong, can you really blame them?

“- Speak from your own experience (e.g. use “I” statement) and try to avoid generalising or universalising your experience in a way that invisibilises other people’s experiences.”

In other words, do not make statements (or “statement” as the above quote says, I guess liberals are not too fond of decent grammar) about the oppression of women as group. Speak only about yourself and your personal “reality”. This rule promotes relativism, idealism and individualism all at once. It discourages any attempt to learn about the broader systems that govern the social world (e.g. the domination of men over women, capitalism, etc.) It encourages people to forget about fighting for the rights of women as a whole, let alone humanity as a whole, and instead focus on their individual selves. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with making “I” statements that provide real life examples of the various problems that women experience, but those personal stories should be used to try and understand the bigger picture. The problem with the above rule is that it tries to limit women to only making “I” statements and condemns generalisations as inherently bad. In reality generalisations are necessary for understanding the world. In order to understand reality we begin with broad generalisations and then refine them over time as we learn more. Early generalisations will always be inaccurate in some cases, but without them we would never get anywhere. We would have no choice but to stare at individual bits of data and marvel about how mysterious and complex the world is (which seems to be all that liberal academics ever do.)

The rule also fails to take into account that women might have something other than their own individual experiences to bring to the table. A generalisation based on one’s individual experiences may not be justified, but what about a generalisation based on the experiences of a large group of people? Such experiences can be summarised in a book or scientific article, which a conference attendant may have read. The attendant can then use their personal experiences to shed some light on the claims made by the article. For example, if an article claims that watching pornography makes a man more aggressive, an attendant may have a personal experience that matches that claim and which can provide more detailed information on how watching pornography influences male behaviour.

Lastly, you cannot “invisibilise” someone’s experience simply by making a statement. Experiences are “invisibilised” by real social forces. The most effective means of communication (television, films, books, etc.) are controlled largely by the rich and powerful. They decide whose ideas will be visible and whose will not be. The need to work long hours every day can also prevent people from having their voices heard as can the fact that the culture implicitly and explicitly tells women to shut up in various ways (one of the earlier rules is a perfect example of this.) The notion that one can somehow prevent a particular viewpoint from being heard merely by expressing a viewpoint that conflicts with it attributes way too much power to an individual and discourages disagreement within the liberal feminist movement.

“- Respect people’s opinions, beliefs, differing states of being and differing points of view (this doesn’t mean you can’t critique beliefs etc. you don’t agree with, just that you should do so respectfully! E.g. criticise what has been said not the person who said it).”

I am not sure what they mean by “different states of being”. It sounds like something a New Age spiritualist would say. I am not sure how “respecting” a viewpoint is compatible with criticising it. I try to respect people so long as they are not being total jerks, but ideas should only get as much respect as they deserve. I agree that we should aim to criticise the idea, not the person expressing it, but liberals are far too eager to take criticisms of their beliefs and behaviours personally (e.g. “how dare you try to tell me that I as pornography performer/prostituted women/BDSM submissive am not a feminist because of my sexuality”.) This rule appears to grant intellectual freedom, but in practice any idea that is contrary to accepted liberal thought is likely to be denounced as “disrespectful” and thus attendants will be prevented from expressing it. 
I hope you enjoy the first part of "The Trouble with Safe Spaces". I would like to thank Meg for following me and thus inspiring me to finally write something. The next part will hopefully be posted very soon. I would like to give the people who re-blogged my first post a pat on the back, but according to liberals that would require their explicit verbal consent. So for now I will just say thanks.