Zero Squared #68: Unsafe Spaces

May 13th, 2016 | By | Category: Articles, Zero Squared

zeropodcast68Tom Slater is the guest this week and we discuss his book out from MacMillan entitled Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus which came out from MacMillan books in April. Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked, UK. He coordinates spiked’s free-speech campaigns Down With Campus Censorship! and the Free Speech University Rankings, the UK’s first university league table for free speech. Tom has written on politics, pop culture and free speech for the Spectator, the Telegraph, Times Higher Education, The Times and the Independent.

In this episode you’ll hear from some Yalies who are afraid of Halloween, Joan Baez, instructions on how to freeze a peach, and clips from John Adam’s “The Chairman Dances” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on” and the Vitamin String Quartet cover of Happy by Pharrell Williams.

If you enjoy the Zero Books podcast consider listening to the Inside Zero books podcast on Patreon!
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments to “Zero Squared #68: Unsafe Spaces”

  1. Honno says:

    Interesting interview. As someone who hasn’t looked into the topic much, my initial thoughts on free speech issues in universities was that it was some right wing tirade… and well it is for a lot of alt-right and predominantely young and internet-based punters. I’m quite skeptical of the claims made by Tom, usually about the blurred lines like knocking down offensive statues as being “just symbolic without action” when I believe preponents for these kind of causes are quite politically active, and quoting anti-feminist feminists like christina hoff sommers who have a lot of tie ins with right-wing think tanks and has horribly misrepresented feminists from my own viewing of her work (as well as enabling harassment). But alas, I’m not at university so have no possibility to encounter these issues myself, so I need to look into it more. Thanks for the podcast.

    • Douglas Lain says:

      Christina Hoff Sommers works for the American Enterprise Institute, which is a right libertarian think tank. That said, disputing Sommers requires doing more than pointing to her associations, history or origin. Rather you have to engage with the arguments and evidence she makes.

      I certainly don’t stand with Sommers on any overall politics. She’s a red baiter, for one thing.

  2. adikia says:

    This is a tepid foray into the comments section for this podcast. I am a regular listener and really appreciate the informed variety of perspectives that the Zero Books podcast makes available to the general public — it’s been great!

    That said, I have to say that this particular episode — the last segment in particular, was hard to listen to.

    I certainly appreciate a critique of the current campus micro-management/policing of speech acts, whether or not it is as significant a problem as various media sources may or may not portray it to be, and whether or not it is indicative of a culture of victimhood or solidarity. That said, while much of the podcast was interesting and informative, it was particularly challenging — and perhaps inherently so, to listen to two men criticizing student orientations regarding anti-sexual violence activities and anti-rape culture.

    From a purely subjective perspective (i.e., just my own personal perspective), I literally know of no men — zero, who undergo the constant, regular, vulgar, and fear-inducing gender-based sexual harassment that every single one of my female friends and acquaintances undergo on a daily basis. Hence, while I respect everyone’s right to say “whatever” they want, saying what one wants does not preclude one from hearing from and discussing things with other people (as you all have suggested).

    I’ll try to be straightforward here. I found Mr. Slater’s tone particularly dismissive of the experience of women, especially with regard to verbal harassment, if not physical harassment altogether. Knowing what my female friends have undergone and undergo when men harass them, I just found it incredibly trite and callous to suggest things like sometimes lads are just “ungentlemanly,” etc.

    I am sorry if this is obvious, but it seems quite clear to me that what seems like harmless teasing to a man can feel like a terrifying come-on to a woman. One man’s seemingly innocuous comment can really feel life-threatening to a lot of women, because sometimes it actually is. Why? It is because for most women (at least for those that I know and/or read) there can be a very real and pervasive sense of fear that accompanies them when they are out in public, a fear of very real verbal and/or physical harassment, if not worse. Moreover, it is a harassment that the women that I know do not always feel at liberty to safely push back against. Hopefully, it is not too painfully apparent that to live in the absence of this type of fear is a privilege enjoyed mainly by men. While yes, growing a thicker skin and/or learning how to not take unwanted comments/attention personally is a necessary trait for successfully navigating the adult world, the types of sexual harassment/assault that women face is of an entirely different order than what most men face — they are not even the same league.

    Hence, when a description of rape culture “seems” over broad and “feels” like it includes too much, perhaps it is worthwhile to consider why that is and then consider that maybe, at least for a moment, it should be over broad; maybe it needs to be too big in order to really grab people’s attention and change they’re thinking and behavior. A culture of casual sexism is precisely what helps maintain a status quo that thinks that it’s okay for women to feel unsafe out in the world and/or when they are around men generally. Yes, everyone can be free to be casually racist and sexist and on and on, but so what. Why not insist on a baseline culture of respect and decency instead? Why not insist on a culture that says that it’s not okay to harass women?

    Based on the other podcasts that I’ve listened to, I am almost completely certain that everything that I just said has already been said previously by better-informed folks on this podcast — so, my apologies for stating the obvious. To conclude and just for emphasis, I must reiterate that I just had a hard time listening to two men discussing the “failures” of women to adapt to the realities of a sexist culture that by design, consistently puts them at a physical/psychological/social disadvantage, realities that men just don’t have to face.

Leave a Comment