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A good article by a Marxist about “safe spaces” for women

I found this article by Yassamine Mather in Weekly Worker, which describes itself as “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity”. The “safe spaces” policy put forward by Felicity Dowling to which Yassamine Mather refers is described here.

Comrade Mather writes,

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures – actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

And

In an echo chamber nobody learns anything new or expands their perspectives. Similarly if women, blacks or LGBTQ activists refuse to confront their opponents, ‘safe spaces’ risk becoming ‘echo chambers’. A 1998 study by Robert Boostrom questions the ‘safety’ aspect of ‘safe spaces’ in universities as counterposed to the mission of higher education to promote critical thinking. If critical thinking is desirable in higher education, it is essential in a political organisation of the left.

Any group has the right to exclude people or behaviours it does not like. It tends to be self-marginalising politically, though.

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31 comments to A good article by a Marxist about “safe spaces” for women

  • Mr Ed

    Those of us who want to change society must take a much deeper, more serious approach to this issue, precisely because of the points raised by Simon Hardy speaking at the Left Unity conference last weekend. If we had adopted the proposed ‘safe spaces’ document we would have been legitimising the exclusion of working class activists who exhibit any hint of sexism, homophobia, racism or Islamophobia. What is more, the ‘pure’ Left Unity envisaged by some would have had to constantly make difficult choices on precisely who to exclude. If there were a dispute between the championing of the hijab as a cultural religious demand by activists of Muslim origin and its rejection by feminists, ‘safe spaces’ officers would have to choose between the priority they give to fighting Islamophobia and fighting sexism. Where are we going to draw the line? Who is going to decide which minority’s oppression is worse than the others’?

    If you don’t believe my prediction that this will be lead to vicious, anti-socialist, postmodernist battles, I suggest you take a look at the dead ends produced by existing ‘safe spaces’-type policies on university campuses.

    Weapons Grade Marxist verbiage.

  • Rob

    “officers would have to choose between the priority they give to fighting Islamophobia and fighting sexism. Where are we going to draw the line? ”

    That one is easy. Fighting ‘Islamophobia’ would always take precedence as Islamists are a far more effective anti-Western force than mere feminism.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Mr Ed,

    “Weapons Grade Marxist verbiage”

    “Weapons grade” in the sense of being quite sharp, yes.

    “What is more, the ‘pure’ Left Unity envisaged by some would have had to constantly make difficult choices on precisely who to exclude.”

    A similar tension between maintaining purity and actually ever managing to gather enough supporters to fill a medium-size hall comes up for Libertarians.

    “If you don’t believe my prediction that this will be lead to vicious, anti-socialist, postmodernist battles, I suggest you take a look at the dead ends produced by existing ‘safe spaces’-type policies on university campuses.”

    Apart from considering anything “anti-socialist” to be a good thing, I agree with her view on this. Universities in the US, where the idea of “safe spaces”, and the linked idea of “trigger warnings” being necessary before the poor frail womyn read anything outside the “safe space” of feminism, are both firmly established, are even worse for postmodernist feuding than UK universities.

  • Gene

    Appalled as I am by her ideology, I’ve got to say that Mather comes across as significantly smarter than your average commie. Smart enough, in fact, that I’d say there’s hope for her yet.

    And frankly, it would be entertaining to see a group of the people Mather is talking about trying to make their case to the old-time commies of the ’30s and ’40s, especially the Russian ones. Talk about Bambi vs. Godzilla.

  • I sneeze in threes

    “The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’,

    Wasn’t there a scandal in the SWP recently where lady members need a bit more protection from some the gentlemen?

  • Rich Rostrom

    OT1H, I object to the flagrant anti-male bigotry of radical feminists.

    OTOH, I rather appreciate their unconscious acceptance of the biological fact that men and women are different by nature, and that one cannot put them together as if they were fungible. Men are physically stronger and psychologically more aggressive than women.

  • patriarchal landmine

    ultimately, women are the most statist people alive.

  • Richard Thomas

    Natalie, I’d say there’s a difference in that the modern left are defined more by what they are *not* than what they have in common. They’re not white or they’re not male or they’re not straight or they’re not Christian or whatever. Thus whereas libertarians may be working to define what are their core principles, the left must work to avoid their core principles stepping on each other (Islam vs homosexuality for a well known example).

    There must surely be some way to leverage this and have them start eating their own.

  • Cynwulf

    ultimately, women are the most statist people alive.

    Er, what? Do you realise you are talking about half the planet’s population? Wild pointless generalisation much?

  • Tedd

    Do you realise you are talking about half the planet’s population?

    Well that does make the odds 50-50 that Richard is right, purely by chance.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    I think this observation is true. Most of the women here in Australia are joined to socialoid parties. Our Green party now has a women as leader. When the Democrats were deal-makers, they were left-leaning, and lead by women. The right-wingers do have some, but I think that more women are on the left side. How do things work out in other places? (We already know about Hilary’s ambition.)

  • bobby b

    “Any group has the right to exclude people . . . it does not like.”

    Dissent.

    If our objection to a person is based on some characteristic of that person that is considered to be immutable, most of Western society holds that the “right” may no longer be claimed.

    A white group excluding blacks because of their blackness may not exercise this “right.” A male group excluding females because of their femality may not exercise this “right.”

    Thus we have the struggle to claim immutability. If a gay person can choose to be heterosexual, then there is no immutable characteristic, and thus no protection. If sexual orientation is fixed as of birth – i.e., if a person has no power to change it – then it is an immutable characteristic deserving of protection. “Protection” usually means that the rest of us must ignore the characteristic, no matter that the characteristic truly reveals information about that individual which might be useful to others in analyzing that individual.

    And there’s the rub: yes, women may well need extra protection due to their statistical tendency towards lesser upper-body mass and strength, but that is a characteristic that they cannot alter or affect, and so we must politely pretend that it ain’t so.

    We choose to blind ourselves in this way on the theory that we avoid so many very egregious human rights errors through this blindness that it is worth the logical disconnect that this voluntary blindness entails.

    But we are then forced to ignore how some people use this coerced blindness for purposes that are at odds with its true driving principle. We must not exclude people from entry based upon their race, but we are then confronted with the argument that we must allow people entry based on that same factor; e.g., holding that race should not be a factor in our decisions leads to the holding that race must be a factor in our decisions.

    We’ve gone from enforced blindness to enforced quotas. We now must protect the weak from the strong while refusing to recognize strength and weakness. What began as a social-construct politeness is turned against its adherents by the very groups who were its beneficiaries. Because they can, and because we dare not be called impolite.

    So, logical debate seems to be inapplicable.

  • Mr Ed

    Bobby b

    Thus we have the struggle to claim immutability. If a gay person can choose to be heterosexual, then there is no immutable characteristic, and thus no protection. If sexual orientation is fixed as of birth – i.e., if a person has no power to change it – then it is an immutable characteristic deserving of protection.

    In British law, there are under the Equality Act 2010, designated ‘protected characteristics’ or ‘PCs’ in the jargon, I kid you not, including ‘sexual orientation’, and discrimination etc. on the basis of sexual orientation is unlawful. You don’t need to have a PC yourself to be unlawfully discriminated against however, as the law also covers a perception of someone having a PC, e.g. taunting an ex-Public School boy from an all-male boarding school about being ‘gay’ etc. even if he is known not to be gay, and also association with someone with a PC, e.g. a parent of a disabled child might raise ‘associative discrimination’ if required to attend work etc.

    There is the PC legendarium if what non-discrimination is about, but the law is rather different, this often surprises some PC types when they get round to suing people.

  • Lee Moore

    “Wasn’t there a scandal in the SWP recently where lady members need a bit more protection from some the gentlemen?”

    Sort of puts me in mind of the IRA’s recent decision to apologise, at last, for………sexual abuse.

  • Lee Moore

    “If our objection to a person is based on some characteristic of that person that is considered to be immutable, most of Western society holds that the “right” may no longer be claimed.”

    Then most of Western society would be wrong, thereby solving your conundrum.

  • Lee Moore

    “yes, women may well need extra protection due to their statistical tendency towards lesser upper-body mass and strength, but that is a characteristic that they cannot alter or affect, and so we must politely pretend that it ain’t so”

    But gender is extremely mutable, as you must know by now. It is assigned – nothing to do with biology. I wondered for a while why this is not a knock down argument against the protestations of people – like the Oxford students recently – who claim that men should shut up about abortion. Since men are only assigned maleness, and could be reassigned if they chose, doesn’t it follow that men are potential childbearers too ?

    But then I realised I was missing the point. The postmodernist left’s war is not with men, or whites, or the bourgeoisie. The enemy is the whole concept of consistency.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    bobby b, just to clarify by “right” I meant “moral right.” I’m quite aware that we no longer have the legal / political right. I have tried to get into the habit of always making the distinction clear, but I forgot on that occasion.

    Any group should be free to exclude people or behaviours it does not like, irrespective of what the law says, and irrespective of whether the excluders are acting immorally or stupidly.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    This is was all very confusing until I figured out that “safe spaces” does not mean “a space that is safe” but rather, well, um, do you know what? These people need to learn to write in a less tedious way if they want me to listen to them. I have no idea.

  • Mr Ed

    When the South African National Party started a “Safe Spaces” programme, it caused no end of bother.

  • Snag

    If our objection to a person is based on some characteristic of that person that is considered to be immutable, most of Western society holds that the “right” may no longer be claimed.

    What if most of Western society is completely wrong?

  • Islamists are a far more effective anti-Western force than mere feminism.

    I do hope that you were being sarcastic, Rob.

  • Regional

    When the Allies entered Germany they found the most fanatical supporters of National Socialism were women but that’s not all women, probably a small percentage. Feminism poses a much bigger threat to our future than militant Islam as it allows below average people to gain power to push their agenda of entitlement and crushing dissent.

  • I sneeze in threes

    “But gender is extremely mutable, as you must know by now. It is assigned – nothing to do with biology. ”

    Lee, so that I don’t let my hetronormative privalge bias my understanding of identy politics I always find it usefull to remember that gender is what the French think tables have and is nothing to do with actual people.

  • bobby b

    Ms. Solent: I did read your comment as calling out “moral right” as opposed to a purely legal right. I was addressing both, really, at least to the extent that I hold such anti-discrimination principles myself.

    And I do, to a large extent. We live in what is fast becoming a world-wide society of all humanity, as opposed to small, insular, homogenous tribes. Back when the tribes seldom interacted, we could afford to let the pinks despise the blues and the reds; there was no cost to doing so, as the colors seldom mixed.

    But now, tribal boundaries are gone, while the generations that lovingly embrace the hatred and fear of other colors still live. It’s during this boundary period in which we need social rules that quell the haters until they’ve died.

    So, we pretend – in both a legal and a moral sense – that racial differences are mirages perceived only by the small-minded, specifically in order to beat down the harm that could be caused by the small-minded. It’s artificial and illogical, but we simply don’t have the time to wait until it becomes a clearly-accepted human truth that most diferences in people that count are cultural, not physical.

    And I, like most, accept this somewhat irrational approach for the greater good that it allows.

    Do I, as a white rental-property owner*, have a legal right to refuse to rent a room to a black only because he is black? No, I don’t (at least, not in most parts of Western society.)

    Do I have a moral right to do so? Again, I don’t believe that I do.

    But here’s where the system gets gamed, time and again: Do I have a legal or moral right to refuse to rent a room to a black man who has committed crimes in the past?

    Clearly, I would make such a decision based on my being able to discriminate between a renter who has no criminal past, and a renter whose past behavior clearly shows that my property would be at a higher risk of harm should I allow such a renter. But the mongers have learned to climb into the rational gaps of our contrived system by claiming (e.g.) that since blacks are more often convicted of crimes than are whites, I am actually making a race-based decision.

    So, I am claiming that we have knowingly given up the moral right, as well as the legal one, to make associational decisions based on those specific immutable factors. In doing so, we’ve left ourselves open to be gamed by the dishonest.

    But isn’t that the way it always goes?

    —————-

    *Not that I own white rental property, but that I, a white, own rental property. You can’t be too careful these days.

  • Lee Moore

    I am claiming that we have knowingly given up the moral right, as well as the legal one, to make associational decisions based on those specific immutable factors.

    We who we ? You seem to be saying that moral rights are determined by the balance of opinion from time to time. I don’t think so.

    I still claim the moral right to discriminate between P and Q based on whatever criteria seem to me to be morally justifiable. That will include, from time to time, a mere statistical association between factor X and population group Y, where I do not have the time, resources or inclination to do further researches on whether Mr P, a member of population group Y, happens to have factor X . (Which is not at all to say that such discrimination will always be wise, nor that there may not also be cases where I think the discrimination is wise, but immoral.)

    But I also deny the moral right of you – or anybody else, including majority popular opinion – to prohibit anybody else from discriminating on whatever grounds they feel like, even if their grounds appear to me to be daft or wicked. Always excepting acts which are breaches of other people’s liberties or property rights.

  • Laird

    I agree with Lee Moore.

    @ bobby b: “Do I have a moral right to do so? Again, I don’t believe that I do.”

    It’s entirely your prerogative to make that moral decision. But it is not your prerogative to impute (or impose) your conception of morality to me, or to anyone else. And I don’t accept your earlier statement that “we choose to blind ourselves in this way on the theory that we avoid so many very egregious human rights errors through this blindness that it is worth the logical disconnect that this voluntary blindness entails.” That’s an “ends justifies means” argument, always a first step down a slippery slope. It’s the refuge of those who can’t make a better argument and, ultimately, merely a justification for the initiation of force to achieve a political objective. Offensive and unacceptable.

  • bobby b

    “And I don’t accept your earlier statement . . . ”

    It’s what we’ve done. It’s the entire basis for our system of anti-discrimination law.

    Maybe you don’t think it’s a good idea. Maybe you think it’s offensive. But it doesn’t seem to have paused to wait for your acceptance.

    It IS an “end justifies the means” argument. So is “I need gas, so I’m driving the car to the gas station.” The end – getting gasoline – justifies the means – driving to the gas station.

  • Lee Moore

    It’s what we’ve done. It’s the entire basis for our system of anti-discrimination law

    Sure, but I thought you had extended your comments from law to morality. Thus :

    Ms. Solent: I did read your comment as calling out “moral right” as opposed to a purely legal right. I was addressing both, really, at least to the extent that I hold such anti-discrimination principles myself.

    The fact that anti-discrimination law may insist that we behave in some way has precisely the square root of diddley squat to do with how we should behave.

    It IS an “end justifies the means” argument. So is “I need gas, so I’m driving the car to the gas station.” The end – getting gasoline – justifies the means – driving to the gas station.

    A short digression on ends justifying means. The view that “the end justifies the means” and the denial of that view are generally taken to refer to the proposition that if the end is itself justifiable, the means used to get there are irrelevant. Which is quite different from the argument that particular means X are justified to achieve particular end Y.

    Thus eliminating AIDS may be thought to be a good end. Eliminating all people with AIDS might be a way of achieving that end. Or increasing income tax by a penny in the pound to finance anti-AIDS programmes might also be a way of achieving that end. A proper “ends justifies the meanser” would say both methods are OK. Some – libertarians perhaps – would say neither means was justified. But the view that the latter means, but not the former, was justified would not usually be thought of as a traditional “ends justifies the means” argument.

  • Laird

    What Lee said.

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