As back-to-school season has come upon us it is an appropriate time to take a look at what is going on in a number of university campuses throughout Canada and the United States. The ideology of “third-wave feminism” is coursing through the minds of many college and university students as the movement is growing louder and bolder.
This type of third-wave feminism that is commonly found on campuses is described by classical-liberal feminist and scholar at The American Enterprise Institute, Christina Hoff Sommers, as “gender feminism.” In an interview with Scott London, Sommers describes gender feminism as the belief that women are trapped in a sex-gender system, that gender roles are arbitrarily defined, and the purpose is to convince women that they are victims, that they are put upon by men in every aspect, that language has to be liberated, and textbooks and great works of art are all compromised by sexism. To illustrate the degree of extremism and bizarreness of this ideology she explains that there are some feminist professors who make their student identify themes of rape in Beethoven symphonies, and others who are trying to get scientists to change the name of the Big Bang Theory because they say it is sexist and frightening to women. Feminists who hold this type of ideology are commonly referred to as “social justice warriors” because they are often active in attempting to “fight the patriarchy,” which they believe is a system embedded in society where men hold the power and privilege, and women are seen as subordinate.
This ideology is often enforced on students through their college and universities. Many programs especially in the humanities, social services, and teaching, require students to take mandatory “equity and diversity” classes. These classes teach that gender is on a spectrum and that women are always oppressed. These ideas are presented as facts to accepted with question rather than theories to be debated. Some universities are spreading these ideologies by implementing mandatory lessons as orientations for their students. Oregon State University plans on making a social justice training course required for all students entering the university. According to the proposal, the goal of this training, which is to be presented through a series of online modules, is to teach students to “understand that systemic and local inequities exist and that we all play a role in creating an OSU community that resists and corrects injustice.” This ideology highlights how some groups of people are systematically oppressed – that everything is sexist, racist, and homophobic – and when individuals attempt to challenge or disagree with these claims, they are painted as sexist and misogynist.
This ideology contributes to policing of language and expression, which in turn is creating a “Safe Space” culture. It is important for post-secondary institutions to strive for an environment that keeps their students safe from physical harm, but now campuses are taking it upon themselves to keep their students from experiencing emotional harm. Many campuses are going to great lengths to shelter their students from being offended, or being exposed to speech or ideologies that may be “offensive.” This mentality can be extremely harmful for movements that rely on their right to free speech and freedom of expression because their views may not be aligned with popular opinion.
This is especially harmful for pro-life students who desire to share to the pro-life message on campus. For example, the Ryerson Student Union has a “pro-choice” policy which states that no “resources, space, recognition or funding will be allocated to enhance groups/individuals whose primary/sole purpose is anti-choice activities. Such activities are defined as any campaigns, actions, distribution, solicitation, or lobbying efforts.” This policy directly censors the pro-life message on the Ryerson campus. They Ryerson Student Union also refused to give club status to the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS), a group that aims to support men and discuss a variety of men’s issues such as how men have a high suicide rate, and how fewer men are graduating from college. Several RSU directors said that the recognition of the men’s group would make female staff and students feel unsafe, although Kevin Arriola, the president of MIAS, told the National Post that their group is not an anti-feminist group, and that they accept everyone and different ideologies. Ryerson has a whole safe space dedicated for women that is funded by the Ryerson Student Union, the Centre for Women and Trans.
This “safe space” mentality also appears to influence activities outside the classroom. Many campuses are banning invited speakers with conservative messages. For example Milo Yiannopoulos, a journalist and technology editor for Breitbart.com, has been creating an uproar among students on university campuses across the United States for sharing his views on feminism. He was scheduled to speak in Canada earlier this year at the University of Guelph in February but it was cancelled. According to Yiannopoulos’ Twitter (which has since been shut down by the social media company), his lecture was cancelled because some students found him “unnecessarily crass.” His events have also been cancelled at DePaul University in Chicago and the University of Central Florida. For the speaking engagements that do take place, he is often met with violent protestors who harass attendees and interrupt his lectures. At Yiannopoulos’ first lecture at Rutgers University in New Jersey, protestors shouted “this man represents hatred” and covered their faces in red paint during his lecture. At the University of Minnesota, protestors attempted to silence Yiannopoulos by making noises with blow horns while he was speaking. Students from DePaul’s Black Lives Matter group forced the event to be shut down by going on stage, taking his microphone, and threatened him with physical violence, all while the campus security present in the room did nothing.
Yiannopoulos encourages debate and wants individuals with opposing view to challenge him so he always includes a lengthy question and answer portion in his lectures, yet those who oppose him chose to silence him rather than challenge him with logical arguments. The University of Pittsburgh and DePaul University even had “safe spaces” created for those who felt offended by the Yiannopoulos event, and Rutgers hosted an open group therapy session for students the day after Yiannopoulos’ lecture. Similar instances took place on other campuses with other conservative speakers such as Ben Shapiro, editor in chief at DailyWire.com. Campus funds are being used to provide mental health practitioners to students who feel traumatized because people with opinions different from their own are being invited to speak at events on their campus, which they are not even required to attend.
Although conservative views and speakers are being silenced and marginalized on campus, universities have no problem inviting speakers who share the radical third-wave feminist ideology. In fact, the Ryerson Student Union hosted an event in 2015 where YouTuber Laci Green gave a lecture on feminism. Green has 1.5 million YouTube subscribers and has over 128 million views on her videos. She speaks on various issues such as a women’s right to abortion and contraceptives, and how groups such as women, members of the LGBT community, and people of colour are all oppressed and “victims of the system.” She insists feminism is the only solution to overcoming the oppression and those who disagree are sexist, racist, homophobic, and misogynist.
Some may see this type of radical ideology as just a phase that many young people go through that will have no real effect on the world outside of university campuses. However, this radical ideology can be toxic to the minds of individuals and put freedom of expression in danger. A 2015 Pew Research poll found that 40 per cent of millennials believe that the government should ban speech that may be offensive to minority groups. Getting the government involved with censoring speech could bring more harm than good, specifically when it is based on a matter that is subjective, such as “offensive speech.” Every individual has a different degree of sensitivity and may get offended at the smallest comment whereas some do not get offended at all. No one has a right to not be offended.
This ideology is not only censoring free speech, it is failing to treat post-secondary students like adults. University students are being shielded from ideas that do not fit the social justice narrative, as well as topics and ideas that may be offensive. Law professors at Oxford University are providing “trigger warnings” before lessons that discuss cases of violence or rape so that students can leave in order to avoid feelings of discomfort or dissent. If post-secondary institutions are intended to prepare students for the working world, how does giving them permission to avoid hearing harsh realities prepare them for jobs such as judges, lawyers, and officers that deal with these topics?
Post-secondary institutions are places of higher learning and should be where students are presented with new and diverse ideas. In the pursuit of knowledge, university should be a place where student’s views are challenged. They are now turning into feminist safe space sanctuaries that attempt to shield students from the “wrong” opinions. As Richard Dawkins said on Twitter “a university is not a ‘safe space’. If you need a safe space, leave, go home, hug your teddy & suck your thumb until ready for university.”
Teresa Mervar is a graduate of the social work program at Ryerson University who interned at Campaign Life Coalition this summer.