‘Male privilege’ workshops are an insult to women

The University of Melbourne Student Union recently held workshops on ‘male privilege’, in which students were taught about ‘how privilege manifests in tutorials’. These workshops were apparently held in response to female students who had voiced their concerns about being interrupted in class by their male counterparts, and which had resulted in them ‘second-guessing their opinions’. The aim was to promote gender equality in the classroom, and urge male students to speak ‘more like women’ in order to allow female and minority students to participate more.

As a female undergraduate, I can’t think of anything more demeaning than the idea that men need to tone down their classroom contributions in order to accommodate me. This does not facilitate gender equality. In fact, it does quite the opposite, by promoting an outdated idea of women as vulnerable people who can’t speak up without help from student officials. This robs women of their agency by supporting the notion that we are nervy, modest and meek. That’s the real sexism at play here.

What’s more, aside from belittling women, these workshops also denigrate men and undermine free debate itself. The idea that anyone – male or female – should be deterred from speaking ‘with absolute confidence when they are in fact not sure or expressing an opinion’ is chilling. University should be a place where all opinions – good or bad, thought-through or off-the-cuff – are freely expressed and readily debated, so that students can develop and strengthen their views.

Those pushing for these workshops don’t represent the majority of the student population, and they should not be allowed to dictate what students can and can’t say. Liberal, free-thinking students have a duty to defend free speech and push back against the patronising policies that are making their way into the classroom. Let’s allow men to speak their minds, and trust women to speak for themselves. Away with identity politics and authoritarian guidelines. Let’s work towards more freedom in the classroom, not less.

Deniz Karaman is a writer and student based in Australia.

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