Quick summery: Germaine Greer, a second-wave feminist famous for her 1970 book The Female Eunuch, was invited to give a speech at Cardiff University. Ms. Greer’s transphobia is well-known, gross, and undeniable. Rachael Melhuish, the Women’s Officer at Cardiff Unversity Students’ Union, started a petition asking for Cardiff to dis-invite Greer (aka “no-platforming” Greer), due to Greer’s bigoted beliefs, which 1346-and-counting have signed. The University said they wouldn’t rescind the invitation, but Greer now says she’s not going to go. And, of course, the usual suspects are calling this “censorship.”
1. Disinviting Greer wouldn’t be censorship.
It’s not censorship for activists to create a petition saying Cardiff University should cancel Germaine Greer’s scheduled speech. On the contrary, debates about who is or isn’t invited to speak are part of free speech. As Angus Johnston tweeted, “Censorship is suppression of speech. Criticism of speech isn’t censorship. Criticism of a decision to host speech isn’t censorship.”1
Greer has a right to free speech. She has no right, however, to be an invited speaker at Cardiff. Nor, once she is invited, does she have a right to not have that invitation questioned or criticized.
2. But it’s not great behavior, either, if we favor a “culture of free speech.”
Just because it’s not censorship doesn’t mean it’s a tactic I agree with. Universities, in general, should create a “culture of free speech” where contested issues – and unfortunately, transphobia is still within the bounds of acceptable beliefs in our society – can be spoken and debated. Pressuring Cardiff to disinvite Greer goes against that ideal. IMO, it would have been better to respond to the Greer lecture in other ways.
3. Attempting to disinvite Greer has been a publicity bonanza for Greer.
In the petition, Rachael Melhuish wrote:
Trans-exclusionary views should have no place in feminism or society. Such attitudes contribute to the high levels of stigma, hatred and violence towards trans people – particularly trans women – both in the UK and across the world.
While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.
I agree that trans-exclusionary views should have no place2 in feminism or society. I agree that the existence of bigoted views such as Greer’s make the world more dangerous for trans people.
But getting Cardiff to cancel Greer’s speech (or, as things have turned out, persuading Greer to cancel) does not make the world any safer, or views such as Greer’s any less prominent. In fact, just the opposite. Due to the Streisand effect, dozens or hundreds of media outlets that would have ignored Greer are quoting her views. The petition to revoke Greer’s invitation has given Greer an infinitely bigger megaphone than just speaking at Cardiff could have.
And in a context of a university (or any other forum which makes a practice of hosting a variety of views), allowing someone a platform isn’t the same as endorsement of their views.