Where does Freedom of Expression end, Welfare & Safety Begin?
From politics to history, sex, gender, sexuality, race, disability and more, the subject of free speech continues to raise its banner and is countered by calls for safe spaces and freedom from hate speech. Is espousing hate, bigotry, religious or ideological beliefs, however extreme, ever palatable on the basis of freedom of expression? Or, should all speech be fair speech? Does freedom of speech come with a social responsibility not to hurt or harm? Do trigger and content warnings do more harm than good? Harm, that is, to exposure to all points of view and further education. Or, should education be a safe space, away from exposure to harmful points of view? Should comedy be an exception? Should extreme opinions be given airtime, so long as they are balanced with a variety of opposing views? Who defines extreme? What happens when repressive regimes occupy the role of policing speech and define freedom fighters as enemies of the state, atheists and agnostics as apostates worthy of execution, or women as required to be silent and absent from political life? Is safe speech a luxury of a free society – or the sign of one? Is freedom of speech the holy grail of a repressed one and the sign of an enlightened one? Julie Bindel says that:
“censorship is becoming the new normal?” – Julie Bindel
Stephen Fry tells sex abuse victims to ‘grow up’
Fry subsequently apologised but waded in with oversized feet to this issue prompting social media outrage.
Anorexia assertion apology
Joan Bakewell had to issue an apology after linking anorexia among young people with narcissism. Bakewell said she was “alarmed” by the amount of young people suffering from anorexia, “which arises presumably because they are preoccupied with being beautiful and healthy and thin”. She said: “No one has anorexia in societies where there is not enough food. They do not have anorexia in the camps in Syria. I think it’s possible anorexia could be about narcissism.” After mental health and eating disorders charities criticised Bakewell’s “unhelpful” comments, the Baroness tweeted to say that she was “deeply sorry” for any offence caused.
Can you ever joke about rape?
There’s a passage in Sara Pascoe’s new book, Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body, in which she debates whether rape can ever be joked about. While at a comedy festival in Melbourne last year, the 34- year-old comedienne witnessed the furore that erupted after a fellow stand-up made a joke about rape. An audience member lay down beneath a table in protest, and when social media caught on, an international debate was sparked about whether rape jokes should be banned. Pascoe doesn’t make her own view clear in the book, but in the meeting room of her publishers’ Bloomsbury headquarters she’s upfront on this and every issue.
“I don’t think there are any subjects you can’t joke about because human beings are forgiving of subject matter when we find things funny. That said there are definitely things I would never be able to make sound funny.” – Sara Pascoe
NUS Free Speech v Safe Speech protests
March saw a counter protest in retaliation to the Peter Tatchell Foundation’s protest with supporting organisations outside the NUS Headquarters which cited three basic principles:
- Freedom of speech should not include giving platforms to discrimination on university campuses.
- It should never justify the bullying of others.
- It should never support the discrimination and persecution of others.
Open Letter on Peter Tatchell, Censorship, and Criticism
Universities are challenged to be a safe haven from censorship, a sanctuary of free speech and tolerance, rather than a health and welfare safe space from tough or sensitive debate, argues Peter Tatchell, Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Mary Beard, Rod Liddle and others. Should no-platforming be banned or practised?
“We are in danger of making censorship the standard response to anything that offends, argues Julie Bindel. Recent attempts to ban Donald Trump and pick-up artist Roosh V from the UK would have achieved nothing politically constructive, she says. Movements like civil rights and feminism made progress because they were able to hold people to account.”
Student responses showed solidarity with Fran Cowling, the NUS LGBT+ Officer who refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell.
An Open Letter to Peter Tatchell Regarding Fran Cowling, Power, and Public shaming.
An article in the Independent challenges the free-speechers, that they might be the oversensitive ‘special snowflakes’:
“We are witnessing an attack on free speech, we are told. The right of activists and thinkers to express their convictions openly is being curtailed by an oversensitive mob – “special snowflakes”, to be exact.” – Independent
Celebrity Gagging Order/Superinjunction
Should someone’s private sex life be public news? Particularly when the Internet is impossible to police making localised injunctions farcical when compared to the power of globalised googling? More interesting was the disinterest shown once the celebrity couple were revealed to be husband and husband, not husband and wife, prompting gagged newspapers to switch to partner rather than wife terminology, and to be less worried about a straight celebrity threesome scoop.
Verbal Hate Crimes
Is psychological injury from freedom to criticise one’s sexual or gender identity from bigotry, phobia or religious condemnation, any less important than physical injury? Do differences of opinion on homosexuality, women, trans etc, based upon ideology or faith, grant free opportunity to judge and challenge, on freedom of expression grounds?
China has banned depictions of gay people on television as well as those portraying adultery, showing cleavage and more as content that “exaggerates dark side of society”