Whilst everyone was preoccupied with silly hand gestures, far more sinister machinations took place in camera: here’s what the NUS really ‘achieved’ this week…
It was inevitable, really, wasn’t it? An NUS plea to replace the all-too-triggering ritual of clapping with ‘feminist jazz hands’ was always going to cause something of an online stir. And, to an extent, the storm which eventually hit the Twittersphere was justified. Indeed, the student’s requests seemed to epitomise the infantilisation at the heart of modern identity politics, and trolls (as those who dissent from the PC narrative are now known) pounced on the logical contradictions of the motion.
What about blind students, some asked, should we all just nod in agreement so as not to alienate those with no arms? As flippant as these criticisms may appear, they do outline a serious problem with safe space policies: safety for some is nearly always to the detriment of the safety of others.
Yet, I sort of wish that #jazzhandsgate had been avoided altogether. It only drew attention away from the truly pernicious motions passed that day.
Spend just a few minutes scrolling through the NUS Women’s Campaign Twitter page and you will see what I mean. Past the demands for free periods, free childcare, and freely forcing the rest of the nation to pay for the privilege of your university education (sorry, I mean the abolition of tuition fees), they are there: motions designed to police our thoughts and regulate our behaviour.
Take Motion 502, which called for the no-platforming of ‘Transphobic’ and ‘Islamophobic’ speakers. Firstly, the modern trend of pathologising those you disagree with as having an irrational fear is childish and serves only to shut down debate. Secondly, a serious question needs to be asked as to what constitutes Islamophobia. Criticism of Islam (surely something that is entirely legitimate in a secular society) ranges from an unreformed Tommy Robinson, to the late Christopher Hitchens, to feminists concerned about the treatment of women in some Islamic cultures. What is the cut-off point, and – more importantly – who gets to make that call?
This motion also continued the NUS’s war of no-platforming against Julie Bindel, for her article in the Guardian eleven years ago. I’m not sure what troubles me most about this. Is it the needless silencing of a feminist mostly concerned with the liberation of women from sexual objectification and violence? Is it the disproportionate reaction to her (admittedly ill-informed, but certainly not ‘fringe’) opinions on transgenderism?
No. I think it is the discourse surrounding the no-platforming of Julie Bindel: the claim is that her views “erase” the identity of transgender people. This perfectly exemplifies the thinking of the cultural left that words, not the actions that they may cause, but the very words themselves constitute some form of material harm. I am afraid my vision of liberation, indeed my vision of humanity, is a little more robust.
But the delirium did not stop there. Once the conference had clamped down on the free exchange of ideas, it moved in on our everyday behaviour. An obvious example is the motion which condemned cross-dressing as a ‘mode of fancy-dress’ and looked to student unions to ban clubs and societies from holding events which ‘permit or encourage’ cisgender people cross dressing.
This ham-fisted attempt to re-educate rugby lads who wear tutus to College bops is expertly taken down by Helen Lewis in her New Statesman column. Not only does Lewis illuminate the short-sighted ambiguities of this motion – can guys still grow their hair long, can goths wear black nail polish, can Scots wear kilts to a Burns supper? – she also captures its inverted social conservatism: “What this motion implies is incredibly reactionary: all straight cisgender people must wear gender-appropriate clothes in their leisure time”. It all seems somewhat counterintuitive for a group that places so much emphasis on gender-fluidity.
Clearly, feminist jazz hands are the least of our worries. Once again, the NUS has taken it upon itself to be the moral arbiters of the student population, deciding whom we are allowed to hear and how we are allowed to behave. Something has to be done. It’s time to fight back.