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Are we getting more safe-space sissy than Sassy?

Is Theresa May right about safe-spaces? This pc-weary woman thinks yes.

If you are a Sassita over 50 you will remember the days when we formed our beliefs and values through debate, demonstrations, demanding answers from our elders and deriding politicians with whom we disagreed. Many a beer was thrown in the student debates – but debate we did.

More than that, we went to hear opinions and people with whom we would never want to share a room let alone a bed. I fondly remember offering a certain arrogant oik the full cost of his vasectomy to ensure he never bred (and now look back at my arrogant, young self with a roll of the eyes). Anyway, it didn’t work. He is the proud father of three wonderful children.

 

Were we harmed? No. Were we hurt? No. Were we emotionally damaged? No. Were we offended? Often. Were we often indignantly, self-righteous? Yes. But did we learn and grow? Certainly.

But today we find ourselves in a sanitised world where debate and opinion is stifled by the threat of a social media clamour of indignation and demands for retraction – or even resignation.

Over the last weekend a classic, if tiny, example angered the Sassitas. Fern Britton hosted the Radio Two breakfast show. She made a joke – or, as she said on Twitter, ‘a tiny, puny joke’ – about older women in the media. Within the morning she was attacked publicly for her comments and accused of undermining older women. She was gracious enough to apologise only to have another wrap on the knuckles for ‘normalising’ through jokes.

Let’s look at the bigger picture. Fern Britton is a sassy, hard-working, honest, funny, talented, female broadcaster. She is never precious, works for charity without expecting to be lauded for it; she supports great causes such as Genesis Research Trust. She is disarmingly self-deprecating and does not try to ‘create a face’. Now, no doubt she has her moments as we all do. But having trawled the internet we can find no evidence of Fern Britton getting to the top by stamping on her fellow Sassitas. She has done it by being damn good at her job. Yet one little joke (from a position of experience) and she is attacked. Shockingly, when @staying_sassy challenged the attack we were asked if we supported rape jokes – that most heinous of oxymorons. So a challenge is met with venom and disproportionate, offensive vitriol.

A little look at the past few years shows a worrying trend in our public debate. Here are just a few examples:

  • Calls for Germaine Greer, one of the world’s greatest supporters of women, to be banned from speaking at Cardiff University for her belief that people who had transgendered retained their birth chromosomal type (male or female). The NUS try to de-platform Julie Bindel, founder of Justice for Women, because they deem she ‘is vile’. Now you may strongly oppose the stance of these women, but do you take away their voice? According to Spiked, 90% of British Universities are curbing freedom of expression. As so eloquently said by Joanna Williams, an expert in education at the University of Kent, in her book Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity “Instead of an intellectual robustness to challenge and debate views, academics are teaching that words can inflict violence and oppression and should be censored.” Also “many students have come to expect freedom from speech.”

     

  • Universities, under the claim of creating “a safe space” where feelings cannot be hurt, ban tabloid newspapers, Robin Thicke songs (who?) and sombrero sun hats. Now, we cannot work out how the sombrero causes pain unless someone shorter than you jabs the brim in your eye – but banned they are.

     

  • Tim Hunt made a stupid, sexist (yes, very stupid and sexist) remark about women crying in the lab. He apologised, but the venom only grew and there ended a 40 year career and the science of physiology loses a Nobel laureate. By all means give him hell – no doubt Mrs Hunt had a few words – but do we need to lose such talent for the sake of a few very badly chosen words or misplaced belief?

     

  • This month, American universities are using a very dubious 1970s theory of micro-aggression to ban words such as ‘you guys’, ‘male/female’, ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’. Worse than that, it has been deemed micro-aggressive to tell a women she has ‘great shoes’. Sorry but here in the Sassista world, if you ignore our best efforts to look great, we will get macro-aggressive.

 

  • Men are told not to hold open doors for women for fear they are infantilising us and demeaning our strength and equality. Cobblers! – they are just polite people who happen to have an XY chromosome (getting dangerously close to Germaine Greer territory here) and who opt to save us getting whacked in the face. I do not need to struggle through a swing door dragging three bags and a coat to prove I am equal in importance.

 

  • I could wax lyrical about the demise of Easter Eggs (Spring Spheres), Spotted Dick (Spotted Richard) and ‘Hello dear’ (deemed demeaning to women! So supposedly there are no males warranting the term ‘dear’).

 

I know you will not all agree with me on the above. That’s good. Out of disagreement comes debate; out of debate comes depth of knowledge. Out of knowledge comes real progress.

Lack of opinion both sanitises and deadens debate and, I think, infantilises us. Women need to stand up for themselves, not be protected by a few who believe they know what is good for us all and limit what we may hear. Our daughters are facing an ever-tougher world. Letting them think that there is a constant flow of cotton wool to plug their ears and dab their tears is doing them no favours. We made them Generation Snowflake.

Now, none of us would condone anything which causes harm or incites aggression. But where does the line between protection and political correctness lie?

As for me, I believe:

  • We have the right to an opinion and to speak it

  • Others have the right to disagree with me and say so

  • None of us has the right to impose an opinion on others

  • No-one has the right to patronise us by saying what is good for us adults to hear – or not to hear

  • Words which incite and goad people to harm others is not an opinion, it is an attack and a  crime

It seems a very simple set of rules. But is also means that we do not accept the current scenario in which gauche remarks and ill-considered words lead to vitriolic attack and a total diminution of everything else about that person. More than that, it means I do not accept anyone’s self-appointed right to protect me. The law protects me.  As a thinking woman I claim the right to:

  • Hear varying opinions and choose my response

  • Hear the opinions of people I think are just wrong – Mr Trump included

  • Say what I have to say without fear of being accused of sexism, pandering to men or betraying woman

  • Choose for myself what is hurtful without my right to hear it being curtailed by a voluble few

  • The right to argue – though I do not have the right to be deliberately offensive in a weak attempt to win an argument (please take note - the media lady who asked if @Staying_Sassy condoned rape jokes!)

 

In the spirit of fairness I send out my apologies to the man for whom I offered to fund the vasectomy. I hope, in response, you also regret telling me that women should stay at home after their first child (though a quick check of your wife on LinkedIn tells me you have also grown up too!).


 

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