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.


  1. It's interesting to note that even though they have included "sexist" on their list of "ists", they have left out misogyny. I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that their double-speak ("whorephobia") serves to cloud to the realities of misogynistic industries. I honestly feel that conformity, rather than consciousness-raising, is at the heart of what is being asked with these sorts of things.

    Consent has sort of become linguistically weaponised. The fact remains that no amount of verbal clarity will cleanse certain behaviours of harm. Yet this seems to be precisely why the liberal perspective on the culture is both decontextualised and scornful of morality. The rules of this game are rather absurd to my mind. We can consent, but we cannot pass judgement or critique. To do so would seem to destabilise the dissonance so evidently at play here, which is held together by the invention of tenuous "isms" and "phobias." So they take it upon themselves to *judge* that the act of judging is an evil, for there is apparently very little beyond the individual's feelings and choices. I suppose this is why they discourage connecting individual experience to a stratum of others. I think this might even actively weaken (or "invisibilise") shared oppression, as well as opportunities for true solidarity.

    This "explicit verbal consent" business conjures up images of totally mechanised interaction. There is more to interaction than words; body language accounts for a major proportion of it. Touch (along with gaze) is one of the first ways infants learn to communicate before speech develops, and it carries on into adulthood. Obviously crossing boundaries is a vile thing to do, but this approach to boundaries seems to necessitate scrapping very effective and common means of communication. Not to mention that social touching is somewhat culturally programmed; Southern Europeans, for instance, will make use of touch around 3x more often than Northern Europeans over the course of an interaction.

    I share in your mistrust of the open platform they are presenting. Again and again do I see the crux of debates being distilled to choice rhetoric and / or the use of anecdotes to "trump" cultural truths. Critiques are rarely met with openness and honesty; opposition is consistently contorted, silenced and shut down.

    As a side note, I'm happy to be following your blog! I think I found your blog via Feminist Current, but I can't quite remember now because I've been on such a blog spree lately. I always enjoy your comments over on FC though; looking forward to more. :)

    1. Thanks for being the first person to comment on my blog. Do you every leave comments on Feminist Current? If so, under what name? I think the site is a great forum for discussing feminist ideas because it has just the right level of moderation to allow interesting debates to take place without letting in vile garbage, unlike liberal spaces which allow very little real debate and disagreement because every minor thing you say can be labelled as highly offensive and deserving of censorship.

      I think they use the term "sexist" rather than "misogynist" because the former is a milder term. The fact that "sexist" is easier to spell may also be a factor. LOL. Ironically the term implies that women are discriminated against based on their sex (i.e. which genitals they are born with) a claim they angrily denounce in other situations in favour of the idea that society hates femininity. Personally, I prefer to talk about "male domination", because the problem in my view is not that men dislike/hate women (although a lot of men do) but that they want women to be subordinate to them. Some men claim they like/love women because women are so much "nicer" (i.e. more subordinate) than they are. I do not see that as a truly egalitarian or non-sexist view.

      I agree with the rest of what you said. The "do not judge" command is paradoxical, because it itself is a judgement and by not wanting to "invisibilise" anyone, they "invisibilise" the bigger picture. The term "invisibilise" is somewhat suspicious because it suggests that a single statement or speech, somehow has to describe all of reality, an impossible feat, and if any group is left out (and usually some group has to be) than the statement/speech is bad and evil.

      To be fair, we do not know how literal the "no touching without consent" command is, but I think that rules which are vague and cannot be enforced can still influence behaviour through creating fear, especially for those whose viewpoints are different to the status quo. They also provide excuses for censoring opposing views when those who promote them innevitably fail to follow the rules.

      I did not take into account cultural difference in communication, thanks for bringing that point up. I have encountered people from different cultures who are more keen on social touching than I am. The experience was slightly awkward, but enriching in the long run. The "no non-consensual touching" rule is affront to the very cultural diversity that liberals are so keen on promoting. I guess that in Liberal Land cultural diversity is okay when it hurts women (e.g. female genital mutilation.)

      Speaking of the silencing of opposition. I once had a lecturer rant loudly about how personally offended she was by Adrienne Rich's concept of "compulsory heterosexuality". In no other academic context would such behaviour be considered acceptable. I do not know much about Rich's ideas so I will not pass judgement on them, but the woman won many awards for poetry and that ought to have earned her some respect.

      What are your thoughts on the "try not to talk too much" rule? I understand that they want blacks, lesbians and other minorities to speak up more, but surely there's a better way of doing that than further reinforcing the idea that women speak too much. I should have pointed out at the start that NOWSA is a "women-only" conference, although only in the sense that everyone there thinks they are a woman.

      Keep an eye out for my next post and feel free to comment on some of my other articles.

  2. You're welcome! It's only recently that I've started leaving comments on FC though I've been visiting the site for some time. I go by "Tigermilk" over there, after the Belle and Sebastian album. It's my go-to site for discussion on feminist issues; the articles and lively comments section always enriches my mind, and encourages me to keep on thinking critically. Not so in the rather more liberal spaces, as you described.

    It's never sat right with me that society could loathe femininity. It is femaleness that is rejected in favour of femininity. The only time I have seen femininity being scorned is by extension, when males are judged to be exhibiting feminine coded behaviours and / or appearances.

    I have a rough understanding of the concept of compulsory heterosexuality, but am myself also unfamiliar with Rich. However, it does seem that the lecturer acted inappropriately and reminds me of some of the lecturers I had who openly derided or denounced alternative theories, which sort of killed my academic confidence in exploring different viewpoints in my assignments. At one time I believed universities to be places where minds flourished, and of course they are in a sense, but I was deeply disappointed at the implicit bias of ruling ideas, not to mention the politics driving them.

    I reckon they had good intentions in laying down the "try not to talk too much" rule, but it is worded so poorly that it sort of pre-emptively inhibits those who may have a low estimation of the legitimacy of their experiences, thoughts and feelings. They could have stressed that it is a sharing space and that no-one will be denied the opportunity to speak up. And, ah, the good old "women-only" debate. It's ironic, as I tend to withhold my very strong opinions on this matter for fear of being crucified on the internet, so in all likelihood I would not feel at all at ease at that conference.

    Looking forward to your next post! I just want to add that I'm sorry if I've skipped over anything in your response as I'm sleep deprived. It feels good to engage, anyhow. c:

    1. Yeah, males are attacked for not conforming to masculinity just as women are attacked for not conforming to femininity. Even if femininity were under attack I would not see that as a bad thing because femininity does not equal femaleness and the former is actually very harmful.

      I used to think that universities supported critical thinking too, than I went to one of them. I actually think critical minds can flourish anywhere, in the sense that anyone who has the time can learn how to think critically and challenge the ideas that are being presented to them. Universities are supposed to be a place where critical thought not only happens in the head but gets expressed openly and I definitely do not see a lot of that happening. I think lecturers have a right to argue against certain theories so long as they exercise a certain amount of respect and use rational/empirical arguments. My lecturer had zero respect for Rich's ideas and her
      "argument" against them was basically "I am straight woman and I am offended". In any other context, a decent academic would keep the fact that they are offened to themselves.

      By claiming that you withold your very, strong opinions you are in fact implying that you have such opinions. LOL. Someone might come along later and "crucify" you. I'm hoping they at least have some kind of decent argument, beyond "I find your ideas offensive and scary".

      I don't mind if you skip over stuff. I tend to skip over a lot of stuff myself, especially if I agree with it.

    2. I think that femininity socialises women into ritualised masochism, yet society calls it "health" or "beauty", so there are two kinds of harm at play - the psychological harm has to occur and become internalised in order for the physical practices (like waxing, wearing shoes that wreck the feet, etc) to be considered as normal, and thus practised as norms. Femininity involves removing women as far from their natural state as possible; specifically, the natural (physical) state of womanhood. So much of what is considered physically acceptable or even sexy is the result of having constricted the adult female form into a pre-pubescent aesthetic.

      I'd like to see an end to gender - of the pointless and regressive associations between a person's sex and arbitrary notions of normalcy for each sex. That being said, I think de-gendering certain states of mind and behaviours and practices should not require them to be relativised, if that makes sense? For, if they were, it might overlook the inherent harm and / or meaning of certain states, traits, and practices.

      Now that I've had the experience of being at university, I can appreciate much more that an academic environment isn't necessary to cultivating a particular kind of mindset. Sometimes I even felt my mind was being hindered. I strongly support autodidacticism. There's something quite liberating about being able to educate yourself at your own pace and via your own methods, but I also appreciate that not everyone has the means to do so. For example, many academic journals require institutional access (something I sorely miss) or else expensive subscriptions.

      Haha, I realised that I was revealing my position when I said that. Perhaps my wording was strong, but the backlash I've seen people receive on the internet has even been rather frightening. I suppose that's the intent of the opposition, though - to intimidate you into silence.

    3. You are totally right about beauty practices and the value of self-learning. Everything I know about gender issues that is not either totally false (e.g. boobs jobs boost your self-esteem), painfully obvious (e.g. "there are different sexual scripts for men and women", "some people do not conform perfectly to gender norms", [insert other supposed grand insight which I have known about since I was a kid]) or pandering to corporate interests (e.g. "fashion is a language ladies, you express yourselves through what you wear"), I learned outside of university. Largely through my own thinking and experience, but also through being exposed to radical feminist writings and literature. My advice to aspiring university student would be to avoid taking subjects that have a political character to them (e.g. politics, history, sociology, gender studies, etc.) unless one really wants a career in those areas. Otherwise study them on your own. In fact, if you are studying them at university, study them on your own as well. You will be exposed to a wider variety of viewpoints that way. People may prefer to read the writings of those who agree with them, but most people engaged in self study will occassionally come across alternative viewpoints presented by their advocated. In universities you will most likely be taught the liberal viewpoint regarding pornography, BDSM, beauty practices, etc. and if alternative viewpoints are brought up they will be mocked and ridiculed and you will be left with very little understanding of what non-liberals of various kinds think.

      I don't think the internet backlash against "transphobic" radical feminists is any worse than the general internet backlash against feminism (keep in mind the number of males who respond to criticisms of pornography with threats of violence and aggression.) So I am not that concerned about internet backlash. The real life backlash is far worse though. At least anti-pornography events, are allowed to happen, while "transphobic" events are regularly shut down. I hope there will be more intellectual freedom for radical feminists and other critics of liberalism in the future, but for now things are looking pretty bad for those who believe in the importance of intellectual debate.

  3. How do we "follow" you? Even though I'm logged in, I don't see any link to do that.

  4. There's no follow link on my blog, I will see if I can get one to appear.

    In the meantime, if you have a blogger (blogspot) account you can go to your reading list, press "Add" and type in the URL for my blog. I used the same method to follow your blog.

  5. When I click on your username (at the top of the comments you left on this page) it takes me to a blogger profile which has two blogs on it which you don't seem to be using nowadays. You can that blogger account to follow me. A blogger account enables you to follow any blog if you type if you type in its URL. If you go to my profile you will see your blog on the list of blogs I follow (on my profile your blog has the name "Check Your Premises", maybe that's an old name?)

    I have added a button to the blog that lets you follow it by typing in your email address, but if you used that you probably would not be listed as a follower of my blog and I would like to have more than one person listed as a follower (yeah, I'll admit that I am kind of narcissistic.) Anyway, thanks for checking out my blog.

    1. Never mind, I got it. It's been such a long time since I've used Blogger.

  6. Yea, Check Your Premises is the older name of my current blog (The Prime Directive). Where do I type your URL?

  7. Looks like you figured it out. Thanks for following!

  8. This was, again, excellent.
    I could've sworn you had another post recently about postmodernism and how it is in fact a Western concept. May I ask what happened to it?
    Also, where is your other blog?

    1. The post about post-modernism is on my other blog, which is here

      Although you might also be thinking about my cultural relativism post (which is on this blog), since I also spent a great deal of time going after the west in that post

      I use the other blog for posts less strongly related to feminism. I didn't expect feminists would be that interested in general philosophy articles that did not make any explicit references to gender. This is not to say that I thought feminists were less interested in philosophy than the general population, rather I considered feminists to be part of the general non-philosopher population. If feminists continue to show an interest in posts of a largely philosophical or political nature, which do not explicitly discuss gender I will probably end up merging the blogs, but for now I have two.