CUSU’s Self-Care Group: The safe space that never was

The problem is greater than sharing prescription drugs online. The problem is a self-care group operating using censorship and fear.

CUSU self care

In light of the recent controversy surrounding the Tab exposé about the CUSU WomCam self-care group, the reactions to it on the group itself have served to highlight a much wider, more worrying fundamental issue with the operation of the self-care group as a safe space.

In the hours following the publication of the article, there was an influx of angry group members posting their thoughts. All of the opinions were very one-sided, but more importantly victimised the author of the article, some even going as far as to encourage sending her personal messages on Facebook and others stating that journalists “will never contribute to society”.

Finn has raised awareness of an important issue and was incredibly brave to do so in such hostile circumstances. She was very careful to only include the information from the group that was relevant. Despite the failure of the posts to acknowledge any of this, this is the not the main issue at hand.

When I dared to write a post offering my own reasoned perspective, I received around 20 comments accusing me of, among other things, “gas-lighting”, “guilt-tripping” and, bizarrely, homophobia.

One commenter even went as far as to compare me to Satan. I was then removed from the group without receiving any message to notify me of this and without any explanation of why I had been removed. Considering that some of the anti-Tab comments were much more aggressive and offensive, this is completely unjustifiable. Significantly, this isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with the group.

Anna Reynolds 1

Balanced and thoughtful?

Anna Reynolds 2

Stooping to the level you complain of does not fix the problem

The idea of a safe space – for marginalised groups to be able to discuss things and support one another – is a really important one, and the CUSU WomCam self-care group was no exception to this. Generally, it offered a supportive community where women and non-binary people could seek advice on all sorts of issues, and look to one another for general support.

However, the entire premise of the group involved everyone walking on eggshells so as not to offend one another, with moderators being able to pick and choose which views were allowed and which were not. For example, “kill all white men” and similar, extreme viewpoints were allowed to remain, but daring to suggest that not all journalists were scum was held to violate the terms of the group.

The group also missed opportunities to address these concerns. When I approached the moderators about the language used towards men in general, I was assured they would get back to me, but they never did.

radicalselflove

How can a group be a safe space when it is impossible to express any of your own opinions on matters where those opinions disagree with those of the moderators? The essential premise of the group was that there was only one correct opinion, and to suggest otherwise was offensive to all. Offering an opinion that you found their views offensive resulted in you being told to “check your privilege” – often in a situation where this was a completely irrelevant issue.

It begs the question – how many other people disagreed with some of the views posted there but were too afraid to speak up, particularly given the support the post received in a separate feminism discussion group? If people feel unable to challenge views they disagree with because they need to rely on the group for advice, this is hardly a safe space for those people.

Safe spaces are important for minorities but ultimately there has to be accountability for what goes on in them. With over 1000 members, several of whom were not members of the university, and several more who had graduated years ago, it becomes even more important. In a group full of vulnerable people, there is an inherent responsibility to the moderators as to what happens in that space. The sharing of prescription drugs is inherently dangerous, regardless of the intentions.

The abusive comments received on my post just highlight how unsafe this ‘safe space’ really is.


Anna Reynolds is a moderator on the Facebook group, Uncensored Feminism, a feminist discussion forum.

The Tab has disabled comments to forestall any possibly libellous accusations against elected officials.