Progress requires discomfort. A lot of it. In order to facilitate change, people on both sides of an issue (yes, even the correct side), must be willing to listen to the opposition. At the very least, it lets you see what you’re up against.
This was why Williams College students chose to invite anti-feminist writer Suzanne Venker to speak at their school, a move that infuriated other students and caused an uproar on social media. Eventually the event was canceled, which is too bad. This could have been a learning experience for everyone involved.
Venker is a longtime critic of feminism whose talk “One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back: Why Feminism Fails,” is a hot mess of anti-feminist bullshit and misconceptions. But, as student/event co-president Zach Wood says, Venker’s views are held by millions of Americans. There is nothing in Venker’s books or talks that we haven’t heard from Fox News or Donald Trump ad nauseam.
The entire point of the series Venker was invited to speak for, “Uncomfortable Learning,” is to expose students to controversial opinions; opinions they might not otherwise hear. Venker’s work may be misogynist bullshit, but it’s the type of misogynist bullshit these kids will encounter again, and again, and again in the “real world.”
According to Wood, they chose to cancel the event after its Facebook page began attracting vitriol from other students. From Inside Higher Ed,
“The page has since been deleted, but one comment, which Wood quotes in an article he posted, said, “When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological and physical harm to students, but you are also — paying — for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters … you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.”
Apparently Williams faculty was concerned there might be violence and that they wouldn’t be able to provide proper security, but it was the student coordinators who had the final say. While Wood supports the student-led decision to cancel the event, he doesn’t agree with it,
“If it was just my decision, I would have brought Venker to campus …. Suzanne Venker’s views are views that are held by millions of Americans whether we like it or not, and if we want to push back against them, we have to try to understand them.”
Listen, I hate Suzanne Venker as much as the next person. I have for years. She writes drivel like The War on Men and The Flipside of Feminism that paint feminists as angry shrews who hate men, and men as downtrodden cavemen who are slaves to their biology.
Venker is the ultimate “Cool Girl,” rehashing hateful anti-feminist rhetoric and pandering to right wing fundamentalist in order to sell books and get speaking engagement money. She’s vile.
But burying your head in the sand and pretending people like Venker don’t exist (and that you won’t ever have to entertain their brand of bullshit) is unrealistic and naive.
Having a dialog with a bigot doesn’t allow hate and violence to flourish. Ignoring them does.
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