Julie Bindel vs ‘the stupid little bellends’
The radical feminist on the pampered students who No Platform her.
‘Any time I’m invited to an event or a talk, as soon as the privileged PhD-seeking Foucauldian types hear about it, then I get threatened with a picket, and the organisers get harassed, harangued and threatened relentlessly. And, eventually, it just doesn’t seem worth it for the organisers to go ahead. If the organisers are a student body, for example, they face the threat of having their funding withdrawn.’
In the week we at spiked launched the UK’s first-ever annual assessment of the state of free speech on British campuses – the Free Speech University Rankings – who better to speak to than Julie Bindel, radical feminist, co-founder of Justice for Women, and, according to the National Union of Students (NUS) LGBT campaign, a ‘vile transphobe’. She is certainly familiar with the student censors. Over the past few years, she has become a No Platform staple, about as welcome on campus as small pox or Nick Clegg, booked to speak at a campus event or debate one week, only to be shouted or shut down the next. And why? Because she criticised so-called transgenderism on the basis of its conservativism and anatomical violence. That was too much for many oh-so-right-on student politicos. As the NUS LGBT officially put it in 2012: ‘Julie Bindle [sic] is a transphobe and [we have] agreed that no representatives of NUS will “share a platform” with her because of her hateful views and statements about trans people.’
‘My last experience of being screamed at by students was at a debate on pornography at the University of Essex in October’, Bindel tells me. In fact, there was even an attempt to ban her appearing at Essex at all, as this po-faced, jargon-drenched petition indicates: ‘We don’t believe any university that claims to be trying to create safer spaces for women can tolerate the presence of Trans* Exclusionary Radical Feminism on Campus, and we need to do our best to cancel this event.’
As it turned out, their best wasn’t very good. ‘The picket was late, probably because the students were lying in bed wanking, rather than doing what they were meant to be doing, which was picketing me… But as I was leaving the lecture hall, I could hear the little babies screeching on about how unsafe the space was because I was on campus. I tried talking to them, tried to open a dialogue, to which they shouted [Bindel does a good whiny voice at this point] “You want me to tell you how you’re transphobic? You want me to tell you why you hate women? You want me to tell you why you hate bisexual and polyamorous people?” and all the usual fuckwittery.’
Bindel sheds an interesting light on the systematic nature of this ‘fuckwittery’: ‘[Student campaigners] attach a phobia to virtually every one of my belief systems, which stem from my feminism. So I am now Islamophobic because, along with Muslim feminists, I think the veil is an insignia of women’s oppression; I’m biphobic, because I suggest that bisexuals have fuck-all oppression; I’m transphobic, of course, because I suggest that men with beards and penises shouting “shut up, you transphobe” at women, “you’ve misgendered me”, might be a bit Nineteen Eighty-Four; I’m whorephobic because I suggest that the sex industry is a site of abuse and perpetuates inequality between men and women, etc, etc.’
The prolific use of that weasel-suffix ‘phobia’ plays a key role in the stifling, conformity-inducing logic of campus censorship. Students’ unions, and the small army of self-proclaimed young radicals policing campus, deal with dissenting views, opinions that diverge from their cosy consensus, by repackaging them as fears, ‘phobias’, thoughts as irrational as a fear of spiders or wide-open spaces. Bindel isn’t simply criticising strains of Islam or transgenderist advocacy, then: she is giving vent to her ‘phobias’, her irrational hatreds. The speech some students hate is magically presented as hate speech; dissenting intellectual positions become mental conditions; and contrary opinions are delegitimised – after all, there’s no need to argue with a mad man or woman. This is censorship by way of intellectual pathology. As Bindel puts it of her supposed transphobia, it is as if her student opponents are saying ‘how dare someone say there is something called a woman and something called a man and the difference is material and based in reality, even though we would like to see the end of those categories, because we’re all human beings’.
Of course, Bindel is far from alone in this student-built, No Platformed mental hospital. It is crammed to the rafters with speakers whose views are deemed to be beyond the bounds of sanity, be it UKIP or Islamists. I ask Bindel why vocal student cliques are so inclined towards censorship and the outlawing of views they don’t like.
‘It’s because they don’t know how to debate, to discuss, to rationalise’, she says. ‘They have become so obsessed with their own privileged upbringing, their own privileged status, that they think they are literally accessing a commercial service at university… They’re just pampered and they think everything should go their way. They could just as easily be fascist dictators with views akin to Hitler or Pol Pot, but they’re wrongly viewed as being on the left.’
‘They think that any disagreement with them makes them feel unsafe’, she continues, ‘which is absolutely how they’ve been brought up, because, with nanny looking after them, they always had their own way, from what they ate to their fathers never threatening them with a backhander.’
While Bindel perhaps overplays the poshness of universities’ intake today, there is no doubt that students’ unions and many student activists do strive to enforce an intellectual consensus. They crave intellectual comfort, a mental Safe Space in which their prejudices, their cherished notions, can fester without a single discomfiting argument to challenge them. The result is startling. University life is becoming a huge echo chamber, in which variations of the one right worldview reverberate, undisturbed, unquestioned and unthought-through.
‘[Many students] are anti-intellectual’, Bindel explains. ‘They wouldn’t know the word “intellectual” if you slapped them around their smug little faces with it. They’re not learning now. They’re just terrifying their lecturers into not saying certain things, not approaching certain topics, not entertaining certain views. Sheila Jeffreys, who is an Australia-based radical feminist I sometimes agree with, and sometimes don’t, she has been advised to take down her name plaque from outside her office because of attacks. She has her lectures picketed.’
But Bindel isn’t pinning all the blame on the ‘stupid little bellends’ turning universities into their own postmodern, identity politics-riven fiefdoms. As she points out, ‘they’ve actually got all this power because the stupid liberal lefties have given them it’. She cites the case of columnist Julie Burchill, who wrote a scathing attack on ‘trannies’ published originally in the Observer and republished by spiked here.
‘Burchill’s column was so outrageous, it probably should have been tempered or spiked – who knows? But it was published, and that should have been it. Burchill was unrepentant, though, and what these transgenderist Foucauldian fuckwits always demand is that you apologise. So they harassed the Observer editor into taking down that piece, which I think was a fucking disgrace.
‘So this piece was taken down, and once they’d won this little victory, the demonstration outside the Guardian and Observer offices was greeted by the assistant editor of the Observer, loudhailer in hand, shouting out his abject apologies to this group of rat bags. Now, never in the history of those newspapers has that happened. So a corner was turned. They have managed to cancel venues that feminists have booked, not because we were going to talk about transgenderism, but simply because we are feminists, and feminism is hate speech now – you’re not even allowed to talk about gender as social construct because that’s “transphobic”.’
Bindel is not without hope, however: ‘They think they’ve won, but they haven’t. They love censorship, because they want to shut up the voices of dissent so that they sound reasonable… That’s because they’re such idiots that if they don’t shut up the voices of reason they will come across as exactly what they are.’
Julie Bindel is speaking at the spiked debate ‘Challenging the Campus Censors’ on Tuesday 24 February 2015. Reserve your free tickets here.
Tim Black is deputy editor at spiked.