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.


  1. " I never see anyone telling capitalists to “check their privilege”."
    BA-ZING!! I've been thinking lately that all this focus on identity politics is really preventing us from addressing the fact that global corporations are ruling over us and we should maybe pay some attention to that HUGE problem.

    1. I am opposed to "identity politics" as well, although I will admit that I have a hard time understanding what the term means. It seems to be one of those terms that everyone defines differently.

      I define "identity politics" as turning either demographic traits (e.g. sex, race, etc.) or sexual desires (e.g. being gay/straight/bisexual, being into BDSM, etc.) into "identities" and then basing your politics on your "identity" and assuming everyone else will do the same. In reality, not everyone bases their politics on their identity. There have been men who supported feminism (although there aren't enough of these men in my opinion.) There have been whites who supported black rights. Political views are determined at least in part by one's values and not simply by their "identity". Not to mention their concept of identity makes no sense either. I am human being, not a set of demographic characteristics. Although it is important to be conscious of the way in which society treats people differently based on their sex, skin colour, etc. and therefore encourages some groups to rule over others.

  2. Excellent post, thank you. Your discussion of privilege is especially helpful to me, since I'm still covered in liberal feminist goop, which I picked up while swimming to the deeper, intellectually rigorous feminism. You’ve helped me grasp a crucial point, which is that the only ‘privilege’ that men initially need to grasp is that the very idea of man is defined by power over women, and a consequent capacity to enact violence and harassment. I’d particularly like to address this passage:

    “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.) “

    I’m in the ‘man’ category, although I no longer cling to masculinity in theory or practice. I’m determined to demisognify other men, using a combination of my personal experience and feminist theory. My current focus is on creating a blog for this purpose, and consequently I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to dismantle sexist behaviours and attitudes as quickly as possible.

    I think John Stoltenberg’s approach is effective at its core. The first step has to be an acknowledgement of the suffering of women, and the power over them which intrinsic to the construction of maleness. This cannot be done as long as the man gets off on the graphic depiction of their rape, hence why porn will be my primary focus.

    What I’ve realised from reading your writing is that privilege-checking, as it is used colloquially, describes the process of acknowledging and ostensibly undermining biases and bigotry accrued through existence in an oppressive society, such that conversation is not severely impeded by them. It does not describe the acknowledgement of the systematic injustice underlying those ideas and behaviours, nor does it intrinsically promote effective action against that injustice.

    This doesn’t mean that such biases and bigotry shouldn’t be ‘checked’ in discourse, especially within the context of a movement like feminism, but that practice alone does not systematic political change make. I gather that we both have a similar problem with feminism and sexuality. The phrase ‘personal is political’ is ripe for narcissistic interpretation outside of its original context.

    I actually don’t think it’s possible for a man to truly induce ‘warm, fuzzy feelings’ in women at any meaningful level while still clinging to masculinity anyway, which is another reason why privilege-checking in the liberal context is a farce in this sense. At best, the practice could minimise outright sexist comments, but it would do nothing to affect the deeper hostility and bigotry.

    This business of disentangling radical ideas from their liberal interpretations is tricky, especially since the radical ideas themselves need to be subject to analysis, so thank you for sharing the work you’ve done on it so far. I’m attempting to do the same with the concepts of gender and patriarchy. I feel like I’m making progress, but goodness me it is complicated.

  3. Thanks for commenting!

    It's great that you have decided to not adhere to masculinity and rejecting pornography is definitely an important part of that. I wish you luck with your blog, but I would caution against using the term "porn". The term is severly overused. All kinds of minor, silly things have been referred to as "porn", so I think the term has lost a lot of its emotion power and it gives the impression that pornography is a far more light-hearted matter than it actually is. I suggest sticking to the term "pornography", since it evokes far more negative feelings. At least it has in my experience.

    I will definitely address pornography in a future post, but I could never devote myself to spending a large amount of time on a single topic (especially if that topic were pornography) so I am glad that other people are addressing that topic.

    My impression of "privilege-checking" is that it is less about admit one's biases than it is about feeling gratitude that one is not "oppressed" like members of other groups. It reminds me of original sin, the traditional religious notion that people are born evil and cannot be redeemed. Men are deemed to be "privileged" no matter what they do. On the surface this may appear to be a "misandrist" (as MRAs would put it) notion, but it actually reinforces men's dominate position by ridding them of any moral responsibility. If you are already born with male privilege and cannot do anything to get rid of it, why bother trying to improve oneself (e.g. by giving up pornography.)

    I think drawing attention to harmful male behaviours and urging men to give those up is a far more productive approach than getting men to "check their privilege", so thanks for doing that.

    The term "personal is political" has indeed been hijacked to promote the opposite of what it was intended to promote (blind endorsement of sexual practices, in place of critical thinking about the personal sphere). Now liberals are trying to adopt the term "radical" into their politics as well. I am concerned that this may lead to people forgetting about genuine feminism. As you high-lighted at the start of your comment it can be difficult to untangle genuinely radical thinking, from mainstream gobbledy-gook that pretends to be radical.

    In case you could not tell, I was using the phrase "warm, fuzzy feelings" in a mocking way, to describe feelings which are inherently empty and meaningless. Of course we should strive a world in which women experience long lasting happiness and liberation, but that is another thing altogether.

    If you enjoy my posts, feel free to "follow" me and spread the word to others who are interested in this way of thinking.

    1. Thanks for the tip about porn vs. pornography, I'll definitely go for the latter term. I'm familiar with both the feminist and men's health arguments against its use, so I want to combine them to make a strong case. I despise the approach that the men's health side tends to take (i.e. why fantasise about degrading women when you can do it to them in person!), but some of the research is useful.

      I'm not sure I agree with your comparison of privilege and original sin. There are in general significant advantages to being male in our society, which exist regardless of the behaviour and attitude of any one man within it. There are no modern laws or customs I know of which specifically limit the bodily sovereignty of men purely by virtue of their maleness. The same cannot be said for women. Recognising this injustice can be framed as recognising that one is privileged by virtue of these factors, simply due to being assigned male status.

      Of course, that male status tends to be associated with abundant, willful ignorance of the suffering of women; there is ample evidence for this. As long as that ignorance remains strong, feminist criticism of pornography will not compute, because the women seem to be enjoying it, right? As those sexist attitudes and behaviours are deconstructed, outrage against the misogynistic laws and customs - and the capitalist system which helps perpetuate them - can grow: that has certainly been my experience.

      Original sin is to me a mythological construct, a carrot on a stick which cultists are beaten with. As I currently understand it, privilege is effectively the flip side of oppression, an empirically recognisable set of legal and social (not necessarily psychological) advantages conferred due to being in a certain group of people. I agree that privilege-checking is not a useful term, but I don't think privilege itself is mythological, especially on a systematic level. Liberal use of the word has confused things considerably for sure, as has the over-simplified intersectionality model.

      In conclusion, I think that it is crucial for men to recognise the suffering of women, through their oppression under patriarchy, in order to change their sexist behaviours and beliefs. Those changes should induce greater outrage at the system which they are learnt from. I certainly wouldn't frame it as feeling grateful for privilege, because I wouldn't associate that realisation with the word 'gratitude', but that doesn't there aren't grounds to do so. After all, nothing terrifies the average man more than feminisation.

      My views on this topic are mostly based on those of a certain spinster aunt, with whom you may already be familiar. Here is an example of her work, relating to what we're talking about:

    2. In using original sin as an analogy, I was not trying to imply that privillege is mythological. What liberals call "male privillege" is definitely real. However, it is something men are born with and cannot do away with as individuals (that is what makes it similar to original sin.) Liberals constantly ask men to "check their privillege", but never ask them to be critical (internally or openly) of their behaviours (except when their behaviours violate the rules of liberalism.) The only thing men should feel guilty about, according to liberals, is their "privillege" and since they are always going to have that there is no point in being a good person, because they are already "tainted".

      Men should definitely be aware of the suffering of women and there definitely not enough awareness of that. What concerns me is that the practice of "privillege-checking" implies that men should feel bad, not because women are suffering, but because they (the men) are not suffering in the same way. To use the example you gave, it is true that men's bodily sovereignty is not restricted, but is this a problem? I don't think so. The problem is that women's bodily sovereignty is restricted. I think men should recognise that this problem exists and should feel sympathy for the women who suffer from it, but they should not feel guilty about the fact that the problem does not apply to them.

      As you said, men should feel outraged that the capitalistic system is perpetuating the oppression of women, but I have heard liberal men "check their privillege" and they never struck me as being particularly outraged.

      I would not call expressing outrage at the oppression of women, "privillege-checking". As far as I am aware, the practice of privillege checking, as a supposed solution to patriarchy, has always been liberal. I first came across it in the context of anti-BDSM women being told to check their vanilla-privillege. The concept of "privillege" by itself may have started out as a radical term, but like many other terms it has been appropriated by liberals and I think the term "male power" is more useful, especially since privillege is a result of power.

      I am familiar with IBTP's writing and totally agree with her claim that women should not capitulate to men's pornography use, though I would guard against accepting the claim that "all men watch pornography", because I think that claim further normalises male pornography use.

      I should be posting my next post tomorrow, make sure to check it out.