James Williamson observes how radical feminist censorship is damaging to genuine feminist speakers.
Controversy often has a habit of following certain people. Many of these people, condemned by the media and the public alike, may choose to lay low; disgraced celebrities may develop a keen passion for agoraphobia, denying accusations presented against them. Shamed politicians may resign from the spotlight, replacing party politics with an unassuming pair of gardening gloves somewhere out of the way. Perhaps retire to a cottage in the Chilterns, and wait for all this pesky controversy to blow over. As it happens, Godfrey Bloom MEP is not one of these people.
It undoubtedly requires a unique determination to be hounded out of UKIP – a party priding itself on saying what the traditional parties purportedly will not – for being too outspoken. Mr Bloom, now an independent MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has managed exactly that. Of course, politics is not generally a particularly forgetful field, as Mr Bloom witnessed on Friday night, as he spoke at the Durham Union Society supporting the motion that we do indeed live in ‘a woman’s world’.
It undoubtedly requires a unique determination to be hounded out of UKIP.
The wording of this motion was perhaps deliberately controversial – it would be difficult for anybody to confidently assert that women do truly benefit in society over men. Whether or not one believes that equality has been achieved, particularly in the developed world, the debate was almost certain to provoke some of Mr Bloom’s more infamous opinions. Surely disappointingly for some, the evening’s controversy was not in fact provided by Mr Bloom himself, but by a group of protesters bearing the banner of student group ‘Durham University Students Against Austerity (DUSAA)’.
The placement and timing of this protest was, at best, misguided. The DUSAA do, in fact, express concern at issues which are clearly valid for many people in Britain – measures of austerity undertaken by the Coalition government, for example. The unfortunate decision to voice genuine and important concerns by opposing a debate, however, is perhaps the worst venue at which to do so without shooting their own cause in the foot.
In this particular case, the DUSAA’s focus was somewhat more specific: as one protester remarked that the protest was ‘about showing the Union Society what a ****ing abysmal thing it is to invite such a misogynist piece of ****’ to debate his views. Unfortunately, the desire of the protesters to be seen making a stand seemed to hold more importance to them than their cause itself. If Mr Bloom’s views are quite so unjustifiable, nothing could support the protesters’ cause more than allowing himself to voice these opinions on a public stage and be proven wrong.
If Mr Bloom’s views are quite so unjustifiable, nothing could support the protesters’ cause more than allowing himself to voice these opinions on a public stage and be proven wrong.
Those protesting were even detrimental to the voice of those in agreement with them. One of the members of the opposition to Mr Bloom in the debate was Social Secretary of the Durham University Feminist society, Flo Perry. Throughout her opening speech in the debate, Ms Perry was an extremely engaging speaker, winning over much of the audience and bringing a genuine feminist viewpoint and cause directly to Mr Bloom. Meanwhile the protest outside, attempting to drown out the controversial MEP’s speech through a combination of megaphones and angst, simply risked devaluing Ms Perry’s engaging and valid feminist arguments, to the extent that she was forced to begin by apologising for the disruption.
Thankfully, despite the best efforts of Durham’s most valiant social warriors to devalue their own cause, both sides of the debate were civil, orderly and provided thought-provoking arguments, as Union President Rishiraj Goenka effectively quashed minor attempts at disruption from the audience. Furthermore, as the motion and Godfrey Bloom (alongside Sebastian Payne of The Spectator) were defeated through formal debate, the protest outside was indeed proven to be entirely futile, if not utterly detrimental to its own ostensible purpose.
It is worth reiterating, as mentioned above, that the cause of the DUSAA is to many people a valid and important one. As proven time and time again throughout history, peaceful yet vocal protest is an effective way to raise awareness of political and social opinion. An absurd decision, however, is to attempt to further one’s own cause through attempts at censorship of opposition, as was the case in Durham on Friday. The students outside the debating chamber, disagreeing so strongly with Mr Bloom’s views, should have welcomed the opportunity to debate him and challenge somebody whose views they so strongly dispute – particularly if the group were quite so certain his views were easy to defeat. Whilst attempts at censorship will only serve to validate those whom are censored, there is no greater triumph of opinion and democracy than a public consensus such as was reached against the Godfrey Bloom and Sebastian Payne’s proposition in Durham – a result that the DUSAA and feminists alike should proudly aim to broadcast and promote, not aim to censor. DUSAA and feminists alike should proudly aim to broadcast and promote, not aim to censor.
There is no greater triumph of opinion and democracy than a public consensus.