Women are systematically more hostile to freedom of speech than are men. As institutions, including universities, have become more feminised, they have become more hostile to freedom of expression and thought”Helen Dale, Cap X.
Men should respect. International Women’s Day and men should expect the same from women on International Men’s Day. That does not mean, however, that we are obliged to agree with every sentiment expressed during IWD. For example, the slogan on the left tweeted by feminist barrister Charlotte Proudman is something we could take issue with. Charlotte, it seems, likes posting feminist slogans as much as she likes posting pictures of herself. The aim of the slogan is to give the impression that, in some way least, women’s voices are being silenced. In western countries, at least, nothing could be further from the truth. In most of academia, the media and NGOs it is almost exclusively the feminist voice that is heard. In one sense, I might agree with Ms Proudman, in that only a minority of women identify as feminist, as few as 7% according to survey conducted by the Fawcett Society. Yet, that sceptical female voice that doubts feminist orthodoxy, is rarely heard. However I don’t imagine for one moment that is the kind of silencing Ms Proudman meant.
I would like to argue in this post that women are more keen than men to silence those voices they do not like. In particular, those voices that dare to challenge their orthodoxy. There is plenty of evidence to support my point of view.
Psychologist Cory Clark published an article in Psychology Today, ‘The Gender Gap in Censorship Support.’ Data in the article showed that female academics were less supportive of free speech than their male colleagues. For example 59% of female academics believed that protecting free speech was less important than creating and inclusive society. On the other hand, only 29% of men prioritised inclusivity over freedom of speech. This difference may stem from greater authoritarianism or may reflect the dark side of empathy. Sometimes that quality that makes us human, can lead us down dark paths when we over-identify with supposed victims. Censorship can be one of those dark paths.
A report published in the UK by Policy Exchange (Academic Freedom In The UK) showed a worrying state of affairs in academia where those with centre or right of centre views were hesitant about speaking out and were having to self-censor. Less commented upon was that female academics were more willing to allow their activism to interfere with their professional duty of impartiality and were almost two times more likely than their male peers to discriminate against an equivalently qualified job applicant with different political views – see figure below.
In academia, at least, a consistent pattern emerges of female academics and students being less supportive of free speech and in favour of a form of soft authoritarianism. A recent study published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) revealed just such a split between the sexes. Female members of faculty were twice as likely to support formal investigation of speakers who made controversial statements such as ‘black privilege is real’ or ‘all whites are recist’.
Once again, a study published by the University of Wisconsin in February this year, this time looking at Student Views on Freedom of Speech, found the same pattern. Female students were twice as likely as their male counterparts to believe than instructor should be reported for saying something controversial.
Freya India Agar writing in the online journal Aero (Social Justice Culture and Toxic Femininity) has gone further and argued that the rise of performative radicalism and cancel culture in our universities has arisen because of the feminisation of academia. Freya argues that aspects of ‘social justice culture’ represent the extreme end of the female personality. As with male virtues, female virtues taken to excess can become vices.
This is also a problem outside of academia. Lionel Shriver, writing in the Spectator, observes that it has become difficult to get mainstream publishers to publish books that may be controversial or depart from Social Justice ideology. She cites the example of Nigel Biggar’s Colonialism a Moral Reckoning that Bloomsbury was too timid to publish. The idea that empire did some good as well as bad was simply too shocking for them and they declined to publish. Luckily, William Collins came to the rescue and the book is on the best seller lists. Shriver cites other example of good and successful books that mainstream publishers have declined to publish. For example, Helen Joyce’s Trans and Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage. There is money in anti-woke books but English language publishers are often too timid to take it. Lionel Shriver observes ‘sorry to sound disloyal to my sex, but publishing’s pervasive timorousness must also owe in part to the fact that the book biz is now overwhelmingly the province of women‘. I think it is a bit more than timorousness and perhaps female publishers are more likely to believe in actively silencing voices they disagree with, rather than avoiding controversy.
“A young, mainly female demographic with strong political views, dominates every level of publishing”
James Innes-Smith – Publish of be damned, The Critic July 2021
James Innes Smith, writing in The Critic, made a similar observation in his article Publish-Or Be Damned that appeared in the July 2021 issue. He observed that a young mainly female demographic with strongly political views, dominates almost every level of publishing. This has led to a narrowing of the sort of books considered suitable for publishing. He describes how younger staff at Hachette viewed both Jordan Peterson and himself as dangerous right wing misogynists and negotiations to publish James’s very moderate take on masculinity had to be conducted in hushed tones and behind closed doors. Those who Meghan Daum has described as ‘passive aggressive prudes’ seem to be ruling the roost in publishing and they are not averse to silencing voices with whom they disagree; or at least attempting to do so.
So, returning to Charlotte Proudmans’s claim at the start of the article ‘women will not be silenced‘ – quite right, and they are not. However, behind the scenes a more problematic picture emerges, women are more likely than men to be silencing voices they disagree with. That should worry us all.
I’ve noticed that one of the issues of freedom of speech for many feminists is that there’s this terrible tendency for people to challenge their assertions and ask for things like evidence, instead of accepting their feelings are evidence enough.
Imagine being so oppressed that you can expect people to change how they act or live because of how you feel?