Why can’t we just all be friends?
XAVIER BISITS on Cambridge’s penchant for bickering.
Another day. Another spat between Get Real and members of the Women’s Campaign.
Martha Perotto-Wills calls it a “messy, thick, poorly-researched pile of steaming shit”. Tim Squirrell calls it a “shitheap”. Hesham Mashour – who provoked the shitstorm with his article in the first place – called it “Feminism’s Duty to Gay Men”.
Why was everyone so angry? Hesham had crossed a line in his article. Feminism, he argued, has a duty to gay men. At least some of the roots of homophobia, he insisted, can be traced to an implicit misogyny, the idea that men ought not to behave effeminately.
To be honest, it wasn’t a great article. But the worst part of all this was the subsequent online altercation.
Martha took to Gender Agenda – the Women’s Campaign e-zine – to express her disapproval: “This “thinkpiece itself is a pile of steaming shit on every level possible”. (A thinkpiece, it seems, is the new trendy way to describe something you disagree with.)
She goes further on Twitter: Hesham is a ‘dick’ and a #knobhead. And just to reiterate the point, the article was ‘pretty fucking misogynistic and homophobic’.
I’m sorry? Hesham’s piece was misogynist? That kind of vitriol should be reserved for individuals like me who insist on being men and running pro-life societies at the same time. Barking up the wrong tree, my friend.
Apparently, it was ableist too.
And Hesham couldn’t resist joining in. Apparently the Women’s Campaign was doing something with their white privilege other than checking it.
This problem is peculiar to student politics. The impression many people have – whether justified or not – is that in-fighting is rife in CUSU, the Women’s Campaign and Cambridge Defend Education (CDE). Earlier this year, for instance, CDE saw a faction claim there were ‘too many men’. And the Women’s Campaign has had at least one resignation over the past year for fairly petty reasons.
Maybe this stuff matters a little. But those of us on the outside can find it hard to take it seriously.
People on the left have important things to say. As do those on the right, for that matter. But no one will take you seriously if incidents like these are what people think of when they think of activist groups in Cambridge. It’s less that they sometimes say ridiculous things (#feministjazzhands, anyone?) and more that they so often fail to treat each other with respect.
When I first came to the UK, I was impressed by everyone’s civility. Australian student politics is a lot worse. The student union wasn’t insanely partisan, people didn’t accuse each other of dirty tricks come election time, and feminists – for whatever reason – were willing to concede that I might actually be sincere about my insistence that misogyny formed no part of my motivations for being pro-life.
But my optimism has faded over time. Constructive debate just isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. People are saying stuff that doesn’t get listened to because we’ve lost our respect for the people saying it.
We spend our days pursuing our disciplines to the highest standards; rigour and academic professionalism are of the utmost importance. It’s no wonder that the ‘activism’ and ‘discussion’ that actually goes on at the university is such a let down; it’s anti-climactic as much as it is anti-intellectual. It’s just a little awkward to watch.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t sometimes be outraged. The boycott of Gardies was a great example of the student community coming together to get something done of import. Empowering women, eliminating homophobia, smashing the patriarchy, eradicating racism and improving access are noble aims; they deserve to be taken seriously.
In the long run, though, it’s not a good sign if the same people who are running the student campaigns we should support can’t abide by pretty basic standards of human decency.
So what I’m saying is I wish we could be friends again. Just like in middle school.